What drives a man to kill? What might does a man feel when he holds a gun in his hand and points it at another human being? In recent weeks I’ve been reading about all the horrible killings going on around us, all of them a pointless waste of life. The US soldier who went berserk with his automatic in Afghanistan, the French killer who went on a rampage taking 3 innocent children among his seven victims, the self appointed neighbourhood watch volunteer who gunned down a 17 year old in cold blood. Guns and the NRA have a lot to answer for. But that is not quite the point here. The point is the visceral hatred that men hold in their hearts that makes them pick up that gun and point it at a helpless other. How hard must a man’s heart be if he can point a gun at a young innocent and blow him away, as if his life meant nothing at all? And all because of the victim’s otherness.
The case of the killing of young Trayvon Martin echoes most deeply with me because of the proximity. It happened in Sanford, Florida a mere few hours away from where I live. The talking heads on TV have been hard at it in the past few weeks laying blame everywhere they can. The blame can only lie with the man who pulled the trigger. And yet he walks free, keeping his weapons with him. George Zimmerman, who with one sharp bullet to the chest, cut off 17 year Trayvon Martin’s life is a free man, claiming self defense under a controversial Florida law. It begs the question how a civilised society can condone this.
We are now inured to violence, desensitised by the 24/7 internet news sites and always – on TV news channels. And yet, this has roused a dormant ire among the young, helped by social networking sites. Many Miami area high schools have held formal protests on school grounds. The groundswell of support for the family and the calls for Zimmerman’s arrest have spilled over from cyberspace into the real world of our cities, flowing in all directions. Florida finds itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The questions need to be asked. Fox News would have us believe that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would like to make political hay of this. But that is not the important point. The point is that a young man was killed for being black in a tony neighbourhood. This is our Post-Racial America. And a killer walks free.
Geraldo Rivera mouths off on Fox about hoodies and gangsta looks bringing on this killing. Quite right Geraldo. Blame the victim. The boy had his hood up to shield from the rain. It seems to worry Rivera and his ilk not a jot that a man can walk around a respectable neighbourhood carrying a concealed weapon. It seems to give them no sleepless nights to think a white man (yes the police confirm that he is white) can look at a black youth in his gated community in 2012 America and assume he is a thief/mugger/rapist or all of the above. Above all, he assumes the young black man has no right to be where he is, on the streets inside a gated community. And so, a young man who went out for Skittles and an iced tea lies cold and dead, while the man who mistook him for a suspicious character and had access to a concealed weapon cut him down on the streets. Yet he walks free.
George Zimmerman is free because Florida passsed a law in 2005 that states that if you have a right to be where you are, you can walk free if you kill a man in self defense. A Maimi Herald investigation a while ago said that ‘justifiable homicide’ cases have tripled since the 2005 law went into effect. And that is Zimmerman’s story, self defense. The police obviously bought Zimmerman’s story, perhaps it was easiest to do that. The dead don’t speak. Poor Trayvon Martin will never tell his side of the story. There are many doubts cast on the story. There are witness accounts and Martin’s girlfriend’s account of what she heard on the open phone line. Most damning of all is the actual 911 call Zimmerman himself made, on which he is clearly advised by the police to desist from following the ‘suspicious character’ or tangle with him. He is clearly heard uttering a disgusting racial slur as he continues to follow the young victim and shoot him dead. And yet, because of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, Zimmerman walks free.
What is shocking is that the police neither gave Zimmerman a breathalyzer test nor a drug test when they took his statement. He had just killed a man! That would seem like the minimum requirement. They took Trayvon Martin’s body away from the crime scene as a John Doe, though his cellphone was on his body and his identity could so easily have been verified. Surely the question must be asked…is every young black man (yes in a hoodie, Geraldo) to be viewed as a potential gangster/thief/murderer/mugger/rapist? Why, why, why were the Sanford police so lax in their handling of this case?
It all comes down to this. To George Zimmerman the young black boy was the ‘other’, he was where he didn’t belong. Trayvon Martin was actually a guest in one of the homes in the gated estate. He was out to buy himself a snack. And he died because he was the ‘other’ in that neighbourhood. Trayvon Martin is dead. And George Zimmerman walks free. Nothing else matters. Welcome to post racial America.