We've all taken a crack at deciphering the Trayvon Martin case, so ponder this:
George Zimmerman probably isn't a racist and, if that's true, then Zimmerman
runs a greater risk of being convicted in Martin's death.
That such a theory is viable underscores the complexity of the case -- thanks,
in part, to Florida's ill-conceived Stand Your Ground law. Justifiable homicides
in Florida have nearly tripled since the law was enacted in 2005.
|According to the Associated
Press, both the law's original legislative sponsor and former Gov. Jeb Bush,
who signed it into law, have said the measure was not intended to apply in cases
such as the Martin shooting.
Yet, Zimmerman plans to ask a judge to grant him immunity from prosecution --
now, and forever -- based on his assertion that he felt threatened by Martin,
who was unarmed on the night of the confrontation.
What role, if any, did race play? Martin was black; Zimmerman is half white and
half Hispanic. Much of the outcry following the Feb. 26 shooting suggested that
Zimmerman was racially motivated, as were local police in Sanford, who quickly
accepted Zimmerman's version of what happened and set him free.
Angela Corey, the special prosecutor, seems to believe that race played a part
in Zimmerman's action. Her outline of charges states that Zimmerman, a neighborhood
watch volunteer, "profiled" Martin that night.
But here's where things become painfully complex. If Zimmerman and his lawyer
can convince a judge that Zimmerman has an unusual fear of black people then,
as repugnant as that might be, his stand-your-ground defense is strengthened.
The law in Florida requires only that a person have actual fear, not necessarily
The facts, however, suggest that Zimmerman is not a racist. He was a mentor to
two black teenagers. In numerous calls to police in his neighborhood watch role,
including the one on Feb. 26, he did not mention the race of those he believed
to be suspicious until specifically asked for the information.
Zimmerman's "bias" was more likely against criminals in general, like
those who plagued his neighborhood. "We must send a message that we will
not tolerate this in our community," he wrote after a series of break-ins.
His mindset probably led him to "profile" the hooded, six-foot stranger
as a troublemaker, and his classic take-the-law-in-your-own hands approach prompted
him to follow Martin even after a 911 operator told him to remain in his vehicle.
Although Florida's Stand Your Ground law has allowed many violent individuals
to avoid trials, it is not likely to help in Zimmerman's defense. He's not a
racist; he's a vigilante. He wanted to be a cop, but couldn't make it. He carried
a gun on his watch, despite instructions never to do so. He disobeyed orders
to stay in his car. He followed Martin, and killed him.
Although Trayvon Martin was black, race is probably being misapplied in this
case. In Sanford, where the police chief is black, the grievous error was giving
Zimmerman, a friend of the department, benefit of doubt without an investigation.
It would be too easy to dismiss this as simply a hate crime and a case of bigotry
by police. It's more than that.
Laws like Stand Your Ground are making it increasingly difficult for police and
the justice system to operate. Such statutes empower vigilantes.
Gun laws, like those in Florida that allowed George Zimmerman to legally carry
a pistol, despite a history of violent behavior, are dangerously out of control.
Real justice in the Trayvon Martin case will inspire change in laws like these
that pose serious threats, no matter what the race, or bias, of anyone involved.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.
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