The incident in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2012, that ended in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is deeply disturbing. And the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Martin, is also extremely disturbing.
Let me state right up front that the conduct of the trial, the reasoning of the jurors, and the verdict of not guilty may all have been (indeed, by most accounts, appears to have been) fair, appropriate, legally careful and above reproach. Because Martin is dead, because the precise sequence of actions of the event could not be definitively determined, because of Florida’s applicable laws, and because the jurors could not honestly extinguish their own “reasonable doubt,” acquittal could perhaps have been their only option. In the American system of justice, the best in the world, the standards for conviction are — correctly — extremely rigorous.
No, what disturbs me is this: A black teenager, walking openly down a sidewalk and minding his own business, got monitored, followed, hassled and eventually killed by another man who — whatever the details of the unfolding tragedy — is responsible for initiating and creating the opportunity for everything to go wrong.
What disturbs me is that Zimmerman had been told by the “real” police (Zimmerman was a volunteer “neighborhood watch” coordinator) to stop following Martin. What disturbs me is that Zimmerman — who was carrying a loaded gun — had an obligation to understand the special responsibility, and exercise the burden of prudence, that is incumbent upon a person armed with a weapon that can end someone’s life.
I am troubled that black kids — sometimes solely because they are black — are too often stopped and questioned. And it is really difficult to accept that ordinary citizens like George Zimmerman can become neighborhood “watchers” and think that they have a license to intervene in the activities of people who are doing nothing wrong.