Us versus Them–Again

More and more, I find myself mulling over the question posed by Rodney King in the wake of his horrific beating at the hands of the L.A.P.D. and the ensuing riots: “Can’t we all get along?”

Evidently, we can’t.

On Saturday, a jury in Florida acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin. As a recovering lawyer, I am not prepared to argue with the jury’s verdict; for one thing, I didn’t watch the trial, and for another, there are elements of a crime that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in order to justify a conviction. From the bits and pieces I did see, it appeared that the prosecution was struggling to prove Zimmerman had the requisite criminal intent.

But while it may be possible to absolve Zimmerman of legal liability for Martin’s death, his moral culpability—and what it tells us about human behavior in the presence of difference—is quite clear.

From all accounts, Zimmerman was one of those pathetic wanna-be macho types that women and gay men, especially, encounter all too frequently. He’d wanted to be a police officer, and had been rejected on more than one occasion—something for which we should all feel grateful. He evidently compensated by “packing heat” (feelings of inadequacy are an all-too-common reason for brandishing a firearm) and by participating in his neighborhood watch, where he could exercise an authority he did not otherwise possess.

In the television interviews that followed the shooting, he displayed an embarrassing self-righteousness. This was not an individual who appeared self-reflective, or even remorseful about taking the life of an unarmed teenager whom he had voluntarily stalked, despite being told by the police dispatcher to “go home and let us handle it.”

Zimmerman saw Martin as someone who  “looked suspicious.” I think it is too facile to assume this was all about race, although it’s hard to believe that race did not play a role. Martin was dressed differently. He “didn’t belong” on the turf that Zimmerman evidently believed was his to protect. His difference and his very presence was a challenge. And so Zimmerman provoked an entirely unnecessary and ultimately deadly confrontation.

The parallels to attacks on gay men are striking.How many times has a homophobic attacker defended his resort to violence by insisting that he was “protecting himself” from an unwanted advance? How often have we seen one of these insecure bullies try to prove his manhood by provoking a confrontation?

Friends who work with victims of domestic violence tell much the same story. The abusive spouse (usually, but not always, a male) is typically emotionally-stunted and insecure, a George Zimmerman type trying desperately to prove to himself that he’s a big, macho man.

None of us will live long enough to see a society without these deeply flawed individuals. We could take steps to make them less dangerous, beginning with reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, and laws imposing significant financial liability on firearm misuse. (If the homeowner’s “watch” group that enabled Zimmerman’s vigilantism had to pay civil damages, such groups would get serious about vetting and training their members.) Given the current political climate, such measures are unlikely, to put it mildly.

We have a long way to go before we all “just get along.”


  1. Just go right ahead and judge someone, Sheila, you know nothing about. The real George Zimmerman went to black churches in the Sanford area in 2010 to protest police inaction when a Sanford police officer’s son was not arrested after being caught on tape sucker punching a black man. Zimmerman demanded that the police officer’s son be arrested. The day after Zimmerman passed out flyers at black churches highlighting the case and a local TV station aired the story, the police officer’s son was arrested. That’s a story that never gets reported because it doesn’t fit nicely into the social injustice story you want to weave from this event.

    The sister of the black man for whom Zimmerman stood up joined others in protesting Zimmerman’s self-defense shooting of Trayvon Martin, demanding murder charges be filed against him. No good deed goes unpunished as they say.

    Rev. Charles Harrison’s message to black churches yesterday nailed it. Why do you protest the killing of a black man by a white man and remain silent when young black males kill other young black males every day in this country? Where’s the outrage when a prominent NFL player under contract for $40 million, who happens to be Hispanic, executes a black man because he was talking smack about him? Is it because Hernandez’ name doesn’t sound as white as Zimmerman, who is also Hispanic?

  2. In my opinion, the state of Florida is ultimately responsible for this death. Without its stupid gun laws, Treyvon would still be alive. Of course, regardless of who “attacked” whom, had Zimmerman simply left as the Police advised, Treyvon would also be alive, but without a gun, both of them would have walked away. While it is ultimately the individual’s choice and responsibility, the public is often at least partly culpable For passing ridiculous gun laws – or at least, for failing to pass sensible restrictions.

  3. Zimmerman’s father reported that George passed out flyers for a black church in Sanford protesting police violence against a homeless black man. IF this is true, it is a good deed but George does have a past criminal history involving violence and Trayvon does not. George was not working Neighborhood Watch when he spotted Trayvon walking to his father’s home and decided he was suspicious because he didn’t recognize him…do you know every face in your neighborhood and faces of all visitors? Zimmerman was headed for a store, Target I believe, but got sidetracked by Trayvon in that scary hoodie carrying that lethal bag of Skittkes, a canned drink and talking on his cell phone to a friend. There are protests about young blacks killing other young blacks, primarily by the black community because most whites don’t care. The same is true about Hispanic violence being ignored. There also seems to be little protest against white on white crimes in this city. Blacks are speaking out but not being heard; is there a white organization of ministers seeking solutions to problems with violence in this city? If so, I haven’t heard about it.

  4. Not sure how much of the trail you folks watched, but I don’t think you’re grasping all of the circumstances.

    Absent an active, served protection order, people are free to go wherever they want and follow whomever they want. Zimmerman didn’t shoot Martin because he had some candy in his pocket. Zimmerman shot him because Martin was using deadly force against Zimmerman. Closed-fist punches from the full mount are deadly force in Indiana, I can confirm this, and I see no reason to think it wouldn’t be the same in Florida. The only extant evidence, forensics, testimony, FBI studies, etc. suggest that Martin threw the first punch. Obviously this didn’t need to happen, obviously it’s a sad set of circumstances, but don’t compound it by painting Martin as something he wasn’t. Just because somebody is dead that doesn’t change the facts and circumstances of how they lived. At some point, as a society and as a culture, we need to stop painting homicide victims as innocent. We had what, 4 or 5 homicides last week, and from sources I’ve consulted virtually ALL of them had extensive criminal histories. Normally, and this has just been my experience, when you live by the gun you die by the gun.

    Obviously he was quite a violent fellow and accidentally tried to beat to sleep the wrong guy. It happens. The idea that Zimmerman, having not committed any crime, should have laid there and let Martin beat him until his hands got tired is not something with which most people would agree. Not arguing it was an ultimately preventable set of circumstances, but we can Monday morning quarterback this thing into the ground. Obviously this thing should, at most, have gone to a grand jury. They would have been able to subpoena much, MUCH more information than what was available even at the trial. If you want to know why they didn’t, just look up how Angela Corey handled the Cristian Fernandez case. For MSNBC to suggest Sanford PD just decided to throw everybody else under the bus, spread lies to help the defense, and make dopey “thin blue line” references was unconscionable.

    I would caution against watching CNN and MSNBC for review of the trial. Having followed it fairly closely I have seen them repeatedly misrepresent the facts. Hope this helps…

  5. Marco; I will not dignify this stupidity with a response. Sheila, if this is overboard as a response, I apologize – to YOU.

  6. The first comment above relates a story about Zimmerman passing out flyers at black churches protesting the hitting of a homeless black man by a (presumably white?) Sanford police officer’s son, with no arrests.

    This apparently comes only from Zimmerman’s father in a 2012 interview on Hannity. Consider the source.

  7. Martin had a 10-15 second lead on Zimmerman when he disappeared down that dark walkway. He could have traveled 100 yards in that time and made it safely home if he was scared of Zimmerman stalking him…and he didn’t. Which leads me to believe Martin thought, “I’m not doing anything wrong and have a right to walk here.”

    Zimmerman being a want to be cop has nothing to do with him doing his job as a neighborhood watch person…and that day he was doing his job, watching. The problem is a combination of errors. I have no doubt that Zimmerman knew the type of people that were burglarizing the neighborhood and knew who many were, I’m not going to take away from him that he knew his job as a watch person.
    Martin did not live there and was visiting his father, so this was a new face to Zimmerman, and probably happened to be dressed like many of the perps that caused trouble in the neighborhood. Un be known to Martin was that the route he took to the store was near a pathway that troublemakers used to enter that subdivision from another. Zimmerman’s huge mistake was assuming Martin came from that pathway. Combined with a face Z did not recognize…he assumed again.
    So Zimmerman harassed Martin a bit, letting him know he was being watched, and Martin was not going to back down. I don’t think for a second that Z planned on shooting anyone since he was already on the phone with the cops reporting his and Martins locations. Z wanted Martin stopped and talked to by the cops, wanted to know if M had a right to be there.

    So I now put myself in both men’s shoes…as Z, would I have ran into the dark walkway after M? Yes, if I was in charge of watching a neighborhood I would have entered that dark walkway just to watch where M was going.
    If I was M, and some crazy looking guy was following me in a car when I’m on foot, I would have looked for a dark walkway to slip into so I could come around behind him and watch what the guy was up to. Had that same guy come running after me in the walkway, I’d have been ready fists and feet to defend myself.

    And this is why there is “reasonable doubt” here, Z had the right to watch, M had the right to be there.

    I think both men were ready for a fight.

  8. And the prosecutor lost my vote when he tried to play down Z injuries and I’m guessing this guy was never in a street fight. . Being in a street fight in a dark walkway having your head slammed into the concrete is no minor injury in a fight, I’m not surprised if Z was worried about losing conciseness. I have no doubt he was scared and in fear of his life.

    From what we know, Z was on the phone with the cops which means he had no intentions of using his gun, starting a fight…maybe? Something happened when the two met, and just maybe M swung first as he was scared as well. Also, M was not scared enough to run the first chance he had to ditch Z…this bothers me too.

  9. After finally seeing a map of the crime scene, it is totally believable that Z followed to see witch way M went since there were two exits from that walkway.

    I also think that Z would have NEVER entered that walkway alone to follow M had he not had that gun with him. He would have waited in the car for the cops to arrive…the gun gave him confidence.

  10. No matter what…there is reasonable doubt here. And sadly, a young man lost his life over assumptions and bad timing.

  11. MySpace? Really? What, is this 2003? No, I haven’t. Considering the tenor of the text messages the State deliberately hid from the defense, I can only assume it would be really bad for you to bring it up, though…

    Not an apologist, just looking at the facts objectively. I haven’t heard anybody provide a cogent argument based on the facts for why Zimmerman should have been convicted. I don’t consider that as making me an apologist.

  12. Finally someone is addressing the real problem about the Zimmerman case on TV. Cause and affect…why were so many young teens from the next neighborhood burglarizing the Zimmerman subdivision? Poverty?
    Poverty breed’s crime and maybe the state should consider the real problem…poor people will steal to survive.
    I imagine on the same night that Zimmerman and Martin were fighting for their lives in that dark walkway, the Florida gov was very busy is a well-lit ballroom accepting donations from corporations wishing to export even more jobs overseas. I’m sick of these leaders blaming the poor for being poor while stating, “Government can’t create jobs”, while the government has no problem sending these same jobs out of the country.

    If there is a poverty problem in the next suburb over from Zimmerman’s that brings crime to him, it is the governors problem and not up to people like Zimmerman to protect themselves through neighborhood watch groups.

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