Since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin last year, two dominant narratives have emerged about the case.
Many of Zimmerman’s supporters think he’s a hero. They see him as someone standing up to punks and criminals who terrorize peaceful neighborhoods. They see Martin as a young thug who was no good, even if he didn’t have any evil intent on the night of the shooting. They think it’s perfectly reasonable that Zimmerman followed Martin and reported his mere presence in the neighborhood as suspicious. These people assume that the thuggish Martin attacked Zimmerman and then Zimmerman killed Martin in self-defense.
Zimmerman’s opponents have an entirely different picture. They see Zimmerman as a racist white thug who went after a peaceful black kid who was minding his own business. (We’ll ignore the fact that he’s half Hispanic.) They see it as a clear-cut case of murder, because they say Zimmerman had no reason or right to report Martin to police, much less confront him in some way. Even if Martin threw the first blow, they think Zimmerman is a murderer because he’s the one who initiated the confrontation simply because he was suspicious of a black teen.
If you believe the first narrative, Zimmerman is a role model for standing up for civilized society. If you believe the second narrative, Zimmerman is a racist killer who deserves to be found guilty of murder.
I see both of those narratives as simplistic. As the trial wraps up — and the case could go to the jury today — I want to give a third narrative. It’s not one that’s neat and clean. It won’t win approval from either side of the racially driven stories. I think it’s reasonable, though.
First, remember that I’m not giving you a legal verdict. Not only does my opinion not matter in that regard, but I don’t know enough about the details of Florida’s murder laws to offer an informed judgment. (Here’s a legal analyst’s opinion about why Zimmerman will be found not guilty, if you’re interested in that.) My opinion has more to do with what’s right, not what’s legal.
In a case where most people have worked hard to turn it into a tale of good vs. bad — with opinions differing about which side was good — I don’t see any good guys. I see two people who were most likely equally responsible for Martin’s death. If the tables had been turned and Zimmerman had died in the fight instead, I’m pretty sure I’d say the same thing.
It seems to me that Zimmerman was out of line in some of his actions. As a neighborhood watch volunteer, he wasn’t supposed to be armed, but he was. I don’t see that he had any reason to be suspicious of Martin other than the fact that he was a young thuggish-looking black teen. (And, yes, I think it’s fair to say he was thuggish-looking, based on the pictures we’ve seen, including the one below.) We all judge people’s character and intent from the way they present themselves. Martin apparently went out of his way to cultivate that look at times — based on pictures and tweets we’ve seen — so I don’t have any problem characterizing him that way. However, that look isn’t enough to raise reasonable suspicion if the teen was simply walking down a street.
Even if Zimmerman wanted to report it to police, he had no business getting out of his car and risking a confrontation. That’s not what he was there for. If he had wanted to get a street address for police, he could have done that from his car.
We don’t know much about what Martin did. All we have is what Zimmerman said and the testimony of the young woman who was on the phone with him at the start of the incident. (As a side note, some people have maintained that it’s racist to point out how unimpressive and non-credible the woman appeared in her testimony. That’s crazy. When a woman has been caught in lies about her actions concerning the case and when she says she can’t read something that she wrote because it’s in cursive, yes, those are reasonable grounds to question her credibility and intelligence, regardless of her skin color.) Zimmerman claims that Martin attacked him. The witness testified that Martin was agitated enough to call Zimmerman a “creepy-ass cracker,” with “cracker” being a racial epithet for a redneck white.
I’d say that Zimmerman and Martin definitely looked at each other through racial lenses, but whether they were or not, each one of them had a chance to escape the confrontation. I’m inclined to believe Zimmerman’s story that Martin picked the physical confrontation, because if Zimmerman had simply decided he wanted to kill Martin, there would have been no physical confrontation. Since he had a gun, he could have simply shot Martin without letting himself be hurt.
Both of them had the chance to walk away from a confrontation, but both kept pushing at a certain point. Once the confrontation started, though, Zimmerman had the legal right to defend himself if he thought he was in danger. And since there’s no reasonable evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s account of what happened, there’s no way to prove that he had any intent to murder Martin. I don’t see how a reasonable jury can convict Zimmerman, based on what I know.
I think both of these guys were responsible for the confrontation. Either one of them had the power to walk away before it escalated, but neither did. They’re both responsible in the moral sense.
Martin wasn’t the baby-faced innocent victim that some people want to see. Zimmerman isn’t the racist murderer that some want to see. They’re just two people who made some bad decisions that added up to someone getting killed.
And neither one of them deserves to be turned into a hero.
Update: Here’s my post-verdict follow-up to this article.