The verdict, the outcry and the law—the good, the bad and the ugly.

The case of Trayvon Martin’s shooting by George Zimmerman has stirred up a lot of emotions in the USA. But while I understand how a verdict of not guilty in this particular case might provoke intense reactions, agreeing with some of these reactions is another kettle of fish altogether.

For example, there are many who will say that Zimmerman could have avoided the fatal confrontation. In fact he had been told by the emergency services not to confront Trayvon Martin, but Zimmerman chose to ignore that advice. So prima facie this point seems to have some merit, he was in his car and could just have stayed there to avoid the whole thing. But that fails to take into account that Zimmerman is a member of the neighborhood watch of the gated-community where he lived, a community that had seen a number of burglaries, thefts and even one shooting in the year prior to this case. So staying in the car would have been a pretty lame thing to do, if you ask me. Besides, what’s wrong with just asking what someone is doing in the area? This is not exactly a public road after all, but a residential area surrounded by a big fence and monitored with a camera surveillance system. And also there is no solid evidence to suggest that Zimmerman intentionally confronted Martin anyway.

Then there are others who will have you believe that the fatal shooting would have resulted in a murder conviction if Trayvon Martin had been white, or even that the whole shooting wouldn’t have happened altogether if that had been the case. Well firstly, it’s not really fair to base conclusions like that on hypothetical scenarios. If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, wouldn’t we all have a Merry Christmas? Secondly, I might have understood this argument if George Zimmerman had been a white man who was in the habit of baking swastika shaped cookies on Sunday mornings, greeting people by shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ at them and spreading neonazi propaganda. But no, Zimmerman is in fact of Hispanic ethnicity and even appears to have dated an African American girl at some point in his life. Not exactly the kind of background easily associated with someone nursing a penchant for racialism. Furthermore, the recording of the call made to the police by Zimmerman shows that he made no reference to Martin’s race until the policeman on the other side of the line asked for that information. So there is simply no concrete indication that racism was a factor in this tragic case. What’s more, we only need to remember the outcome of the infamous O.J. Simpson double-murder trial to see that as far as racial factors influencing justice is concerned, the American legal system has much improved. I think it is now widely believed that O.J. Simpson was guilty of the double homicide, and if that is true we are actually talking about an African American getting away with murder! See? What more could you ask for?

No, the heart of the matter here is that George Zimmerman was legally licensed to own a gun. Not only that, he was also legally licenced to carry his deadly weapon concealed, fully loaded, on his person, out in public. And then finally there is the so-called ‘stand your ground‘ law which says that in any sufficiently serious conflict a person is not required to first try and retreat to safety, but instead is justified to shoot first and ask questions later. Apparently Mr Zimmerman’s lawyers did not even use the stand-your-ground law in his defense, because they argued that Zimmerman never had the opportunity to flee. But nevertheless I feel it is worth mentioning here—even if he could have fled, he would still have been well in his right to shoot. So what we have here then is a deadly set of laws that combine to effectively set the stage for wild-west situations. What evidence there was clearly suggested that Zimmerman simply exercised all his rights, and he was therefore quite justly acquitted of the charges brought against him. Because let’s face it, if you’re going to say it’s ok to carry a loaded gun everywhere and start shooting as soon as you feel threatened, then you are also going to look pretty ridiculous if you start complaining when that actually happens. Yeehaw!

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