As black lawmakers called on Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation of Trayvon Martin’s death in Sanford last month, here are some additional thoughts on the shooting of an unarmed black 17-year-old by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who is claiming self-defense and has not been charged.
[T]he shooting death of Trayvon Martin (black, male, seventeen, unarmed save for a packet of candy and a bottle of iced tea) did not so much raise questions as it confirmed suspicions: that we remain stratified or at best striated by race, that “innocent” is a relative term, that black male lives can end under capricious circumstances, and that justice is in the eye of the beholder—ideas that are as cynical as they are applicable. At this juncture, events in Sanford, Florida, suggest the benefit of the doubt in the shooting of a black teen-ager extends even to unauthorized, untrained, weapon-toting private citizens who pursue unarmed pedestrians.
Julian Sanchez adds:
[S]upposing we actually believed Zimmerman’s unbelievable story, could it have been remotely reasonable for him to think lethal force wasnecessary to defend himself from imminent death or grave bodily harm? He had no hope of holding the boy off for a few minutes until someone else arrived? No “I’ve got a gun” or “I’ll shoot” against an unarmed opponent? Maybe there’s some story he could tell at trial that would at least get you to reasonable doubt, but I don’t see why a jury would be forbidden from concluding that Zimmerman’s response was so wildly disproportionate to the threat that no reasonable person could regard it as necessary, even if they believe Martin threw the first punch. Not to be flip about it, but fistfights happen all the time—and I’ve got to assume that killing the guy who started it would not be a reasonable or justifiable resolution to the large majority of them.
Robert VerBruggen, who defends Florida’s much-criticized self-defense laws, nevertheless sides against Zimmerman:
Zimmerman’s actions went well beyond defending himself and others from physical threats, and into the territory of vigilantism — and they should be illegal. Zimmerman sought out this confrontation, and as a result a young man is dead — a young man who was unarmed, who was not carrying drugs, and who very well may have done nothing more than defend himself against a stranger who followed him on the street. Trayvon Martin visited his father, walked to 7-Eleven to buy some Skittles during the halftime of the NBA All-Star game, and for that wound up dead at the hands of the “neighborhood watch.”