Wednesday July 10, 2013
The Zimmerman Trial: 'Is An Unarmed Black Teenager Ever Entitled to Stand His Ground?'
Jelani Cobb has a very good piece on the New Yorker site, “The Zimmerman Trial, Day 10: Stand Whose Ground?,” about the set of assumptions in the trial and in the "Stand Your Ground law. They're assumptions they have in Florida and assumptions we have in the U.S. They're global assumptions, really.
Amid their frustratingly uneven presentation, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda and the rest of the prosecution have pegged their second-degree murder charges largely on the idea that [Trayvon] Martin was losing the fight on February 26th of last year, that he shouted for help, and that Zimmerman, a vigilante would-be cop, shot and killed him anyway. In plotting their route to conviction, they necessarily bypass another set of questions. What if he wasn’t losing the fight? What if Zimmerman is the one who called for help? What if Martin did swing first? And, most crucially, is an unarmed black teen-ager ever entitled to stand his ground?
The answers to these questions have bearing that is more social than legal, but they’re inescapable in understanding how we got here in the first place and what this trial ultimately means. George Zimmerman got out of his car that night as an amateur deputy and protector of the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community. Trayvon Martin was a visitor to that community. Nowhere in Zimmerman’s initial emergency call does he broach the idea that Martin might belong there, that he might actually be someone who warranted protection, too. Instead, there is the snap judgment that the teen-ager is one of the “fucking punks” who “always get away”—a judgment that Zimmerman’s supporters and the Sanford Police Department either co-signed or deemed reasonable enough to absolve him of responsibility for what ensued.
What remains frustratingly marginal in this discussion is the point Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel raised in her testimony—that Martin himself was afraid, that a black person might assess a man following him in a car and on foot as a threat, never mind that he might have seen Zimmerman’s weapon and suspected his life was in danger. The defense paid a great deal of attention to the implications of Martin referring to Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker,” but, to the extent that we think about the epithet, we’re concerned with the wrong C-word. Imagine George Zimmerman being followed at night, in the rain, by an armed, unknown black man and you have an encounter that far exceeds the minimal definition of “creepy.” Indeed, you have a circumstance in which anyone would reasonably fear for his life. Add a twist in which that black man fires a shot that ends a person’s life, and it’s hard to imagine him going home after a brief police interview, as Zimmerman did.