1. One who takes or advocates the taking of law enforcement into one’s own hands.
2. A member of a vigilance committee.
1. Something that draws attention away from the central issue.
Right now the country is enthralled in the trial of George Zimmerman in Seminole Florida. We’re tied to this issue because we have been presented with a case heavily steeped in America’s most engaging and shameful characteristic—discrimination that is antithetical to the spirit of the United States soul, in this case race. There is more than some truth in the notion that biological, psychological, and sociological evolution has left us cautiously xenophobic. That’s fine, the American spirit doesn’t require that we all love each other—that’s the impetus of Christianity—but rather that we tolerate each other to let facts and truth sway the scales of justice regardless of one’s skin hue, religion, or lifestyle. Given our evolutionary predilections, it’s pretty easy to fail in that goal—but it these failures may in fact be forgivable if (and only if) they result in a steady and quantifiable progression towards an ultimate goal of blind justice and equality before the letter of the law.
In the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman we have been presented with the notion that this case is, in fact, about race—or rather racism—on the part of both the victim and the aggressor. The first problem in unraveling that quagmire is that the media narrative isn’t very clear on who the aggressor is and who the victim is. Was George Zimmerman attacked? Was Trayvon Martin profiled? The whole case has been woven into a web a misconceptions, contradictions, and undefined terminology that it is very easy to overlook very simple solutions to the entire affair. Please look over the following premises and try, hard as it may be, to remove any sense of race or personal discriminations from them.
- A neighborhood watch volunteer calls 911 about a suspicious person on the premises of a gated community.
- After giving a description, the neighborhood watch volunteer asks the police operator at 911 if he should pursue.
- The operator tells the volunteer not to pursue the suspicious person.
- The volunteer pursues anyway, in violation of that request.
- The suspicious person and the volunteer end up in a physical altercation leaving the volunteer badly bruised and injured and the suspicious person—an unarmed minor—dead by a gun wound.
- The volunteer’s gun was the firearm that inflicted the fatal wound, and was fired by its owner.
Those are the incontrovertible facts of the Zimmerman case. When the race issue is removed entirely, it is more than apparent that the transgressor in this affair is the neighborhood watch member who went from being some degree of a deputized lookout to a vigilante. While cases of vigilantism are highly romanticized in our culture in fiction, comic books, folk stories, and even straight up history, let us not get some important premises confused.
- Vigilantism is illegal; the reason we have a police force is so that we have duly appointed law enforcement officers and not wild gunmen roaming the streets looking for trouble (by starting trouble).
- George Zimmerman is not Batman.
- If there was a Batman, his actions would be illegal and he would have probably killed dozens of petty criminals by accident before ever facing a super-villain. (Or maybe just one, like Zimmerman did.)
You see in this case, race has been used as a red herring, and while facts have been presented the very fact that they have been presented has been treated as a reason to lay them to the side. The first fact is that this is being treated as a racial crime, when it is a case of vigilantism and murder (or possibly manslaughter). The media has taken Zimmerman’s name, a commonly Jewish and historically German last name (Zimmerman is a Catholic), and his visibly Hispanic features and has tried to paint this is a “black vs. white” racial scenario. It isn’t. There are some racial issues inherent to this case, but it isn’t a case of racism. It’s a case of a man taking the law into his own hands despite requests to do otherwise. Its a case of a minor being killed by an adult when he decided to take the law into his own hands for, what we can only assume is some insane bid to be a hero. The race issue, in this case, is a red herring and a dodge that will be used to put the victim on trial instead of the accused.
There is, in fact, a race and law enforcement problem in this country—especially towards black folks. There’s racial profiling, there’s Stop-and-Frisk, there’s the War on Drugs, there’s the industrial prison complex, there’s the underlying fear of the Sambo, there’s educational gaps, employment gaps, and dozens and dozens more that could be named. What is the single varying distinction between those issues and the Zimmerman case? They all involved fully deputized law enforcement officials acting in a sanctioned (though not necessarily proper) capacity to enforce the law; not a case of a man with a plan to be a hero without a badge.
Is there a racial component to George Zimmerman’s actions? Without a doubt, he was suspicious of Martin because he was black and says as much in his 911 call. But it has less to do with the fact that he is probably himself afflicted with stereotypical racist presumptions, than the fact that he shot and killed a kid after the cops told him not to pursue. Everything else leading up to it—racism—is a sin, but not a crime. Our society is so sick with its racial obsession–sick in its treatment of racial minorities and obsessed with its sickness–even in a case of brown-on-black crime has to be made into a larger issue and complexly compounded than it is. The coverage, for example of Rachel Jenatel’s inability to read cursive, and her use of improper standard English as some sort of factor in the case in absurd and is an ad hominim attack on a person who isn’t a party or accessory to the events transpiring—in fact she’s probably the weakest form of witness possible, a telephone witness. Essentially, she heard what other people saw—and both accounts are confusing and unclear.
Worse yet, with the premises of the case being confused, the invocation of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida is even worse and goes a step further of putting the victim on trial. It’s pretty clear that this renegade neighborhood watch member—who has shown no remorse for any course of action that has led to death of another human being—was the aggressor because he was in pursuit against police orders. So, in the spirit of the wildly outrageous claims being made to paint Martin as thug, let’s change history, evidence, toxicology, and facts for a moment and assume the worst of Trayvon Martin for a minute and see how this plays out?
Trayvon Martin is high on crack cocaine and armed with a .22 caliber pistol. He plans on raping and robbing in the gated community he has just entered. George Zimmerman calls the police, and they tell him do not pursue. He pursues. Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman engage in a gunfight in the middle of a gated community. Many innocent bystanders—including children–are wounded or killed in the crossfire. The police arrive, and not knowing which gunman is the suspect and unable to deescalate the violence are left with no alternative but to shoot down both participants in the gunfight.
You see, George Zimmerman is still violating a police directive not to pursue. The reason for this is because it is unknown whether or not the suspicious person is in fact, armed and dangerous, and this is as much for the protection of the informer as it is for the people nearby. This is why vigilantism is illegal. So, sure, Trayvon Martin may have been looking at an unwarranted arrest or Police harassment, he would have lived to tell the tale, and the fact that he had trace amounts of marijuana in his blood (something many are trying to trump up as if the account of a marijuana high in Refer Madness was accurate and scientific) would make him no different than any other 17-year-old, or many of the baby boomer media members and armchair forensic scientists across the country attempting to put a dead kid in the hot seat. The central issue here, remains that Zimmerman was looking for a fight, and got one that left a kid dead for no greater crime than trespassing.
When we look at the disgusting attempt to use these “Stand Your Ground” defenses in light of the facts and this argument, and with the knowledge that an altercation did occur we have to ask ourselves: “Who do we think was really standing their ground? The armed man who was ordered not to pursue or the candy touting, trespassing kid?”
You see, without the blinder of race, this case is pretty cut and dry. Any attempt to infuse any other logic—including those of racism—is just diluting the simple blind justice view of the facts here. Any attempt to vilify Martin is an endorsement of needless death. Race in this case is just a red herring, and George Zimmerman is a vigilante not a hero. The race issue in this country is deep, and terrible, and requires constant addressing but in this case has proven to be the biggest distraction from the justice that Trayvon Martin and his family deserve.