ABOUT THE QUICK TAKE
After weeks of outrage, a special prosecutor has charged George Zimmerman with the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin. The controversy has forced our nation into intense self-examination: of its gun policies, of race relations, of police practices. What else has this tragedy exposed? And what can we learn from it? Our quick take columnists weigh in:
By Derek Siegel
It’s racial profiling. When did your skin color become an indication of guilt? If Zimmerman walks free, it will be an indictment of all young Americans.
It’s a media bloodbath. They’ve been distorting evidence to support the theory that Zimmerman is a racist. Open your eyes—they’re fooling us!
If Trayvon Martin were white, there’s no way Zimmerman could have gotten away with it. But it’s OK for him to shoot a black man, right?
If black people committed fewer crimes, then there wouldn’t be these stereotypes.
Zimmerman should die for what he did.
What’s so special about Trayvon Martin? This sort of thing happens everyday.
Zimmerman has become a scapegoat—and Martin, a martyr—(or vice versa) for something much more profound than a matter of self-defense. There’s something about this case that hits a little closer to home than Casey Anthony or O.J. Simpson ever could. Regardless of the disputed ‘facts’ of the shooting, the situation remains very unsettling. Why? It’s ambiguity. In a country of polarized politics and opinions, everything has its place. You’re either right or wrong; Republican or Democrat; hero or villain. So how are we supposed to reconcile the fact that we can see ourselves as both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin?
I am Trayvon Martin. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in America. That’s not an identity I claim, and it would be inappropriate for me to speculate. That being said, I have my own experiences with marginalization. As a gay man, I sometimes feel as if I inhabit a world created by somebody else for somebody else; the rules weren’t designed with me in mind. People judge me without knowing me. They hate me without knowing me. I am a target waiting to be found.
I am George Zimmerman. I didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was the one with the gun, but he’s not the only one with prejudices. I have prejudices too. Sure, I can play my liberal-acceping-progressive-my-best-friend-is-black card, but that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes I feel uncomfortable or even a little threatened in a group of black people. I would love to think that George Zimmerman and I have absolutely nothing in common, that he’s a malicious, narrow-minded killer. But what if I grew up under different circumstances? What would I do with a gun in my hand, face-to-face with Trayvon Martin one night?
A seventeen-year-old black man died on February 26, 2012; culprit unknown. It could have been Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. It could also have been our American culture, guilty for condoning these racial stereotypes and transforming Trayvon Martin into a brutal monster before our very eyes. Each and every one of us, however, could be put on trial. No matter the color of our skin, by not actively challenging these forces, we perpetuate the hate and injustice. What if we all—even those of us who wear our hoodies in solidarity—had a hand in killing Trayvon Martin? Does this thought make you uncomfortable? It should.
By Aiden Pink
That Florida’s version of the Stand Your Ground exists shows that the Republican Party’s nostalgia knows no bounds. Their abortion and gay marriage policies show they want to live in a 1950s Leave it to Beaver Neverland. Their zeal to eliminate the welfare safety net and effective oversight of Wall Street harkens back to the pre-Depression laissez-faire principles of Herbert Hoover. And recent events have shown that their gun laws take us back to the Wild West.
Just like Communism, Stand Your Ground works in theory, as long as you put yourself in an 1870s mindset. Stand Your Ground essentially means that if a person feels threatened, they have no duty to first attempt to retreat, and are allowed to immediately attack a perceived threat. This works in John Wayne movies, where anyone who has a gun could and would shoot you if you didn’t shoot them first. Of course, at that time, guns were owned by every person and by most horses. This policy isn’t as effective in 2012, when the most dangerous weapon most people carry on them is a set of car keys.
Florida’s version of Stand Your Ground goes one step further by essentially granting immunity from criminal prosecution for anyone who claims self-defense. This merits repeating: If you shoot someone in the state of Florida and claim self-defense, the case is not even allowed to go to trial. Apparently, Florida lawmakers believe that gun ownership somehow conveys magical properties that prevent people from lying about their motivations for pulling the trigger. How is this OK? Of all of the people to trust, are you really going to believe the person who just shot someone?
I am a firm believer in the presumption of innocence, something that many commentators have apparently forgotten about when discussing the Trayvon Martin case. The last time an alleged race-based crime went viral in a similar manner was the Duke lacrosse case, and the white defendants were eventually fully exonerated. Until we have all the facts, conjecture is pointless. And unless there is a trial, most of the facts will never see the light of day. Unfortunately, due to Florida’s immunity law, it is highly unlikely a trial will occur. Of course, just because there’s a trial doesn’t mean justice will be done—just ask Rodney King. But if George Zimmerman truly killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense, he should have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. We shouldn’t just take him at his word.