A man was found “Not-Guilty” today of shooting an unarmed 17-year old who may or may not have been defending himself from an armed and unidentified attacker on a rainy night in Sanford, Florida. Earlier today, a woman was found guilty and has to serve 20-years for firing a warning shot at her husband who had previously abused her and had a restraining order against him but was in her home.
Justice in the United States is a strange thing. Rule of Law is supposed to be one of the guiding principles that establishes and reinforces the strength of our Democracy. Justice in this country sometimes requires protest and public outrage before it ever-so-slowly starts turning its wheels forward.
We are actually lucky there was a trial. There may not have been one had the public not been outraged that an armed civilian carrying a gun outside of his home and property, against the advice of police dispatch, got out of his car and decided to pursue a 17 year old through the dark and the rain. The resulting altercation resulted in a dead 17 year-old Black boy.
According to the news coverage, the teen smoked marijuana and was suspended from school for having trace amounts of it in his bag. The teen was a fan of UFC fighting. The teen was a football player. The teen was sent to live with his father while on suspension from school because his mother didn’t feel like she could handle him.
Exactly how much of this could a Neighborhood Watch Captain determine from the seat of his car on a rainy night in Florida? None.
There were a lot of questions regarding the Neighborhood Watch Captain: Why did he have a loaded gun in his car? Neighborhood Watch mandates an “Observe and Report” status for assisting in fighting crime. They restrict their participants from carrying weapons. Why was he driving around the neighborhood? How was he able to have a concealed-carry permit when he had a domestic abuse conviction on his record? Why, when advised against leaving his car by the dispatcher, did he continue to pursue the teen?
A few more questions: If you are in a neighborhood on a dark and rainy night, and you got confused coming back from the store because this isn’t where you live, and a man with a heavy build who doesn’t look like a cop or security comes rushing at you out of the dark, do you have the right to defend yourself?
Tonight, the court system in Florida found that there was not enough evidence to determine criminal guilt. A 17-year old is dead. His killer is free for now. There will likely be a civil case and more media attention.
The larger question is this: Is there such a thing as Justice in this country? A court case will not bring back the life of the dead teen, regardless of the results found by the jury. Sometime, hopefully not soon, someone else will needlessly die from a gun pulled hastily in the heat of the moment. Maybe this trial will cause people to slow down a minute and consider the finality of death?
The jury’s verdict really wasn’t a surprise. Its difficult to prove that a person did not feel that their life was in danger, even in that person had a gun and was perfectly safe and protected in their car. Even if that person had no legal standing to leave his car and pursue someone on a dark and rainy night. Its not a surprise in this country, because even though we are supposed to be equal, there’s a large number of minorities incarcerated in this country. A much larger portion than is reflected in our population. There is a propensity to hand harsher penalties for infractions to minorities in this country. There is a greater propensity to criminalize behavior and provide opportunities for young minority men to have a criminal record. I’m not really sure how I managed to get out of my teens and out of my town without being entered into the Justice system, but amongst family and friends, I am a rarity.
The perception is that Black men, especially young Black men are dangerous. What we see on television, on You Tube, in movies and video games doesn’t do anything to dissuade people of this belief. The idea that a young Black man is in some way less valuable is also reinforced on our News daily. Another Police officer shoots another kid. Another neighborhood is up in arms. Another innocent bystander dies in gang-related violence. Another State enacts Stand-Your-Ground laws, but each time a case goes to court, the subtext appears reinforced that the law applies only if you shoot to kill, and only if you are killing a Black person, because after all, Black men are dangerous, and when a Black man confronts you, fearing for your life is a Natural and Normal response and killing him is a Natural and Normal result.
Its another sad day in America. The scales of Justice have allowed a man to go free, while a 17-year old boy lies dead. There maybe a civil case. The Zimmerman family and his supporters may have to pay out of pocket for the privilege of ending a life, even if the Criminal courts can’t exact a price. A small, mean part of me hopes that someday George and his wife will have a troubled teen, who smokes pot, and fights and in some way is seen as “dangerous.”
The moral center of me hopes that we can all take this as a moment to reflect and ask ourselves a few questions about our love of guns and our willingness to use them, our desire for Justice and the reality at the end of the day that tells us that sometimes there is no Justice, and that the best that we can hope for is that someday we as a Nation will learn from our mistakes, and maybe take a moment to consider our actions before arming ourselves, as a fired bullet can’t be taken back. Resurrection is the stuff of myth and legend. The impulse to “get someone” because they “always get away with it” needs to be examined. If you feel your life is in danger enough to carry a loaded gun in your car, maybe you should stay home?
Maybe we should all take a breath.