Monday, July 15, 2013

On guns and groceries: a look at the Zimmerman trial...

Two days ago, as we were watching Saige: An American Girl, our program was interrupted to give us the verdict in a trial reflecting today's American zeitgeist - that violent and bloodied intersection of guns and race, the George Zimmerman trial. It was a very jarring end to the sugar-sweet American Girl story about the travails of a 9-year-old artist. My children were upset; they wanted to see the end of the movie; instead we all watched the verdict.

Today, as I ponder the news and analysis of this trial, I remain melancholy. Was it appropriate to let my 9-year-olds watch the verdict? What about my 13-year old? I remain torn about this. I know that as the verdict was announced, my three children wanted to know what happened. What was this trial about - a trial so significant it cut into the conclusion of an American Girl movie? After I explained the details, they did not understand how an armed adult could kill an unarmed teenager and be considered "not guilty." In our house, we talk a great deal about accountability for one's actions.

I find I don't understand a lot about this case. I don't understand why a man packed a gun alongside his grocery list (George Zimmerman claimed he was on his way to Target when he spotted the threat to the neighborhood.) I am repulsed and terrified by the idea that people are armed at the grocery store. I googled "taking a gun to a grocery store" today and came across this story - about a man who showed up at Kroger's in January with his AR-15 to promote his Second Amendment right to carry a gun (the semi-automatic weapon used in the Sandy Hook massacre.) According to the news story, even the NRA was not amused. But it was the man's legal right to do this.

I don't understand the threat posed by a 17-year-old in a hoody who was walking to his father's house early in the evening. In his call to the authorities, Zimmerman said "this guy's up to no good." Apparently, he was walking in the neighborhood "looking at all the houses."

And now that "f***ing punk" is dead.

The trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is over and I have so many questions.


If race was not an issue (and there are many who think the race has nothing to do with this case; here's one such person), what did Trayvon Martin do to attract the attention of the neighborhood watchman? Look at houses? Resemble other "f***ing punks" who'd apparently robbed the community earlier?

Why didn't Trayvon call 911? Why didn't he run home?

Who threw the first punch?

How could a man who'd been charged with domestic violence get a gun, and be named as the neighborhood watchman?

How much will Zimmerman get for a book deal?

Why did Zimmerman get out of the car? If you listen to the 911 call, it sounds like Zimmerman gets out of the car when he sees Trayvon Martin start to run; and it sounds like he gets back into the car before the call comes to a close. In pre-trial testimony, Zimmerman claimed he got out of the car to give the authorities a street name; but he was never asked by the dispatcher to give a street name in that call; instead he agrees to meet police at the mailboxes. So why did he feel compelled to jump out to look at street signs when there was a threat so dangerous that Zimmerman didn't want to roll down his windows and ask what the "punk" was doing in the neighborhood?

How did the neighborhood watchman not know the street he was on?

Why did George Zimmerman feel the need to carry a gun on his trip to Target? Without a gun, George Zimmerman would have been a 28-year-old man embroiled in a fistfight with a 17-year-old teenager. Instead, he's at the center of a very polarizing event - the shooting death of an unarmed teen who'd somehow threatened the neighborhood by walking home from the store with a pack of Skittles in his pocket. When did we become a nation of vigilante citizens, armed to the hilt for even the most mundane of household chores?

It always bothered me that the infamous 1992 L.A. trial into police brutality was known as the "Rodney King" trial. For whatever reason, it was labeled with the name of the man assaulted by members of LAPD - not the names of the policemen actually on trial for the brutality. I don't even know the names of the cops who were acquitted, but I remember the victim; I remember the video of him being battered by cops; I remember the post-verdict riots. It was a moment that forced our nation to focus on the state of race relations in America. Clearly, we were a troubled nation when it came to race in 1992.

More than 20 years later, we're still a troubled nation when it comes to race - even with an African-American man as president. I'll be curious to see how this verdict plays out - will history remember this as the Zimmerman trial or the Trayvon Martin trial? As GW Bush says, "history takes a long time for us to reach." We'll have to wait to see which way this goes.

When it comes to the Zimmerman trial, I agree with one of the great American essayists of our day, who wrote this about the case:
"In trying to assess the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicting truths emerge for me. The first is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice."
Given the evidence presented at the trial, I don't know how the jury could have come back with anything but a "not guilty" verdict. And that's what is so profoundly sad about this case. We've grown so fond of our guns that a scuffle that ends with a bullet to the heart can logically be considered legal. An armed man perceived an unarmed teenager to be a threat. A scuffle ensued. The man with the gun emerged to tell his side of the story. The unarmed teenager is dead. The shooter is "not guilty." It is an American tragedy played out on a national stage.

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