True, George Zimmerman, that mound of cream pies posing as a wannabe cop, was found not guilty in a Florida courtroom in the killing of Trayvon Martin. But there was another defendant — one more significant for the rest of us.
The defendant firearm, Kel-Tec 9 mm, goes scot-free, as usual, because, as we are constantly told, guns don’t kill people. And because guns don’t kill people, Zimmerman could not have killed anyone in a way that mattered. Trayvon Martin might disagree, but he is not alive to say so.
He wasn’t a perfect kid — he had been in some trouble and was suspended from school and had a small trace of marijuana in his system — but he did nothing that deserved the death penalty. In short, he was not unlike many kids in America, white or black.
And he had a right to be where he was. According to the legal system, Zimmerman also had a right to shoot him with the unindicted co-conspirator, Kel-Tec. To my mind, any resemblance to justice is purely coincidental.
Others argue that justice was indeed done, that a trial was held, the jury considered all the evidence, witnesses gave conflicting testimony and the jury decided that, in the murky circumstances of the fatal encounter, it could not vote for a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
That is fine if your definition of justice is satisfied just by making a decent show and observing all the formal particulars. Some of us, in our old-fashioned obstinacy, hold the view that the performance counts for little if it does not achieve a just resolution.
It may very well be that in its own limited legal terms the trial came to the only conclusion that fits the law, but let us consider the essence of what happened.
In this consideration let us put away the diversion of race for the moment — although, goodness knows, if Trayvon Martin had been a white boy in a jacket and tie, and not a black boy in a dark hoodie, George Zimmerman might not have found him suspicious in the first place.
But we’ll put that common sense aside anyway, because it is impossible to delve into the hearts of the participants, and, moreover, the simple facts speak eloquently enough — and they fit situations anywhere at any time regardless of race.
A 17-year-old boy is returning home from the store with ice tea and Skittles. A wannabe cop armed with a gun, at least 11 years older than the boy and some 40 pounds heavier, decides that the kid is one of those (bad word) who always get away, as we know from his call to the 911 operator. He gives chase, although he is explicitly told not to by the operator.
In short, he is the instigator. He is the big man, and the only one with the gun, and he gets into a fight. True, we don’t know who confronted whom in the end, but he was losing the fight and he shot the smaller boy. If he hadn’t followed the boy, if he didn’t have a gun, none of this happens.
So a jury concludes that he was justified in defending himself. Of course it does. As mentioned in the jury instructions, Florida has a stand-your-ground law, which was invented to allow people to shoot those they fear will do them great harm. It is up to the shooter to decide the threat. The shooter gets to be the judge, jury and executioner, and the trial lasts only a second.
Why a boy only armed with Skittles and ice tea can’t stand his ground is anyone’s guess. In the face of such insanity, the words that come to mind are from Charles Dickens: “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble ... “the law is a ass, a idiot.”
More than 30 states have such asinine laws, including Pennsylvania. It is one thing to say that people have the right to defend themselves and their homes with guns — if the circumstances are exceptional, I certainly agree — but it is another to give the feckless George Zimmermans of the world a license to kill, as if each were an un-suave James Bond. In this case, the stand-your-ground law stood up for the avenging bully.
Stand-your-ground laws serve not just the vulnerable but the cowardly and the bloodthirsty. They are pacts of death often passed — irony of ironies — by politicians who are ostensibly “pro-life.” Truly, it was the gun that was vindicated here. Sometimes laws kill people.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.