What has interested me most as the Trayvon Martin murder case continues to play out in the court of public opinion is that neither George Zimmerman nor many of his defenders think there's anything inappropriate about following a perfect stranger if you believe the young man is "up to no good." There's no consideration that this feeling might be shared by the pursued. As Charles M. Blow at the New York Times was perhaps the first to argue, Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law could conceivably apply to Martin, if he believed his life was in danger.
Here's the picture I've painted to others: It's dark. You're walking home in the rain. You notice someone seemingly following you in a car. You're not sure what's going on, but you decide to break out into a run and lose them. They now follow you on foot, perhaps now matching your pace.
My female friends, especially those from New York, have said that the person pursuing them would probably wind up with a face full of mace or outright slugged. There would be no time for questions. In fact, a common theory is that if you let someone close enough to you to engage in conversation, you've opened yourself up to assault or abduction. No, they'd want to disable the person and get away. I should emphasize "disable." They've already attempted to run away. They want to ensure that this person is not getting up any time soon. This is actually even more vital if they're near their home. They don't want the stranger to know where they live.
If a woman responded like this in the described scenario and was shot by her pursuer, would we even entertain the claim of self-defense? And what if I was the one following her? Let's say I'm a black male in a predominately black neighborhood and I assume this white woman who I don't recognize is "up to no good"?
It would never play out this way, of course. I would never follow a woman (or a man) under those circumstances. I'd be aware of the potential negative impression I'd give. Was Zimmerman unaware of this because of his race or simply because he's clueless? Maybe a little of both. The interviews with him don't reveal a great deal of empathy. And empathy is probably why I've consciously slowed my pace when it would seem like I'm "catching up" with a woman on an empty street at night. I knew intellectually that we were both heading to the same subway stop, but I saw no reason to frighten her unnecessarily. And if I was in a rush, I've even crossed the street to race for the train rather than do so right behind her.
Zimmerman was incapable of seeing the situation from Trayvon Martin's perspective. If he couldn't conceive of Martin's humanity sufficiently to recognize that his actions might legitimately frighten him, it's probably not a shock that he was able to end his life when he deemed it "necessary."
If Zimmerman had the "freedom to follow" -- under any circumstances, then Martin had the "burden of pursuit" and the "burden of explanation." It's also interesting to me when the same people who believe background checks are an undue "burden" on the exercise of their second amendment rights state without irony that Martin could have prevented his death by just submitting to Zimmerman's unofficial interrogation.
By this logic, Martin, only a few weeks past his 17th birthday, must assume that Zimmerman is himself not a mugger or, worse, a child predator. The best case scenario is that he just has to "show his papers." It's yet another day when simply "existing" is seen as threatening. This presupposes Zimmerman would have even believed anything Martin said. He was visiting his father, so if he did have ID on him, it wouldn't have proven he "belonged" in the neighborhood. Zimmerman would have strongly insisted Martin wait for the police. I suppose they would have escorted him back to where he was staying. He might have lost his appetite for the Skittles.
Now let's replay that scene but with me and the hypothetical white female I don't recognize. It's almost laughable, isn't it? But there's very little to laugh about regarding this case.
Comments are closed on this story.