Take a look at this stereotype in America….. A figure slouches along with a casual lope, his hands inside his pockets, faded baggy jeans slipping so low as to reveal the parting of his buttocks, head swiveling to take in the darkened houses on either side. It is dark and drizzling but the individual makes no effort to hurry, unmindful of the rain soaking him.
When he approaches within a hundred yards of a darkened townhouse, the guy leaves the sidewalk and begins to cut across the grass, seemingly headed toward the back of the property, the usual spot that seasoned burglars normally use to break in. Chances are high that this individual too is up to no good.
Those chances go up a few percentage points when, for a brief instant, while he leaves the sidewalk, the street lights reveal the face beneath his ‘hoodie’. The face is black and the individual appears young, in his teens. This neighborhood has had a spate of robberies and breaking and enterings of late and residents are on an edge. They have formed a Neighborhood Watch Committee to patrol the streets after dark.
The enhanced perception that the teen is not up to anything good prevails not only within law enforcement agencies in the US but also establishment America. Frankly, having lived in North America for over a decade now, my perception would be very similar, if I didn’t have to worry about being politically correct. Am I being a Ku-Klux-Klan groupie then? I don’t think so.
Mistaken for a burglar under circumstances similar to the one described above, 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot dead on the night of Feb 26, 2012, by George Zimmerman, a member of the Neighborhood Watch of a gated community called Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. He was living at the home of his father’s fiance and was just a hundred yards away from it when he was killed. Witnesses have confirmed that there was an argument, followed by a scuffle and then a shot and Trayvon Martin was dead. Multiple testimonies also confirm that the teenager had Zimmerman flat on his back on the grass and was pummeling him while Zimmerman screamed for help.
Zimmerman had been appointed by the Twin Lakes community for the specific purpose of ensuring its security. Except for some reciprocal restraining orders with an ex-fiance, with each accusing the other of violence, he has never had a run-in with the law. He was licensed to carry the semi-automatic revolver he fired.
Trayvon Martin was an ordinary teenager who only had a reported borderline marijuana use issue. That he had been under the influence that night could not be established. Moreover, marijuana usually does not turn the user violent. Most teenagers in his social strata would fall under the category of mild marijuana user, no big deal. It is just that the whole package… his clothes, his gait and also the way he cut across the grass and headed toward the back of the property, instead of taking the sidewalk, must have appeared suspicious to the volunteer watchman, as it would to anyone mandated with guarding property. An argument followed when Zimmerman asked him where he was going and it quickly turned fatal.
Zimmerman pleaded self-defense under the ‘stand your ground’ provision in the Florida law on justifiable homicide and was acquitted and set free today.
Left-of-center America has erupted in protest against his acquittal. One of my US-based Facebook friends has expressed shell-shock by the verdict. She didn’t actually use the term ‘shell-shocked’ but that was the general import of her hyper-dismayed diatribe. If she even sticks her foot out to the left, she might tip over into the Atlantic. To folk like her, Affirmative Action has started making every killing of a black individual a racially motivated one.
Another agency has screamed bloody murder, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) which has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Zimmerman, alleging racial profiling. The case is yet to come to trial. In John Grisham’s book ‘A time to kill’ there is an unflattering but apt portrayal of the NAACP as a donation grabbing lobby machine. There are nationwide calls for demonstrations and rallies.
Whether some folk express shell shock or they don’t, the law has spoken and found the defendant not guilty. Even President Obama has supported the verdict. One cannot bulldoze the process of justice simply because the one who was killed happened to be a black man. Anyone who gathers to demonstrate has probably caught something from the Egyptian protests.
On the other hand, the current ‘stand your ground’ provision to the Justifiable Homicide’ law might as well have been named ‘Don’t worry, just shoot the bastard’ law. It fuels the urge to go overboard as Zimmerman might have done. In spite of being specifically told by the 911 dispatcher not to do anything, he went ahead and followed and accosted the teenager.
Zimmerman acted like a typical gung-ho American living in a land where the per capita firearm ownership is one to one and if you report a threat, the cops themselves will sometimes advise you to go get yourself a gun. The law also doesn’t factor in the shooter’s ability to correctly assess if he is really in a life threatening situation.
The judgement in favor of Zimmerman tells the world it is okay to fire at blacks taking a short-cut to their homes and to do it merely on a perception which may or may not be ‘colored’ by prejudice. And the jury of six? All six were women, five of them white and the sixth Hispanic. A recipe for a ‘not guilty’ verdict.
In the ultimate analysis, everybody gets what is coming to him, his comeuppance. That includes George Zimmerman. He still has years of civil litigation and huge legal expenses ahead of him and by the time it is all over, he will probably be a ruined man.