George Zimmerman is free as a bird, predictably so. His acquittal verdict jibes with the laws of Florida, a notorious NRA state that stacks the deck for citizen shooters.
But even though he’s legally in the clear for fatally plugging a black kid armed with Skittles and iced tea, the larger truth remains inviolate: If Zimmerman hadn’t profiled the kid in his call to 911 (“He has his hand in his waistband . . . He has something in his hand . . . These a–holes always get away with it.”), and if Zimmerman had stayed in the car to wait for the cops as instructed by the 911 dispatcher, Trayvon Martin would still be alive.
And if what I’ve just said sounds like liberal piety, here’s prominent conservative commentator Rich Lowry: “I still think it was foolhardy of Zimmerman to get out of his car and trail Martin, and that if he had had the sense to leave the matter at his call to the police, a tragedy could have been avoided.”
And here’s Joe (“Morning Joe”) Scarborough, the former conservative Florida congressman, mincing far fewer words than I: “George Zimmerman is a racist idiot who chased an unarmed teenager through a neighborhood for little reason than he was a black man wearing a hoodie . . . only to walk away without as much as a misdemeanor attached to his name.”
This case illustrated the chasm that often separates law from truth. To convict Zimmerman of anything, prosecutors had to clear a very high bar; thanks to years of successful NRA lobbying, Florida is a piece-packing paradise. The conceal-carry rules are loose, and the grounds for justifiable homicide are generous. Zimmerman was the beneficiary; the jury, following the law, probably made the right call. Especially since it was prevented from hearing Martin’s side of the story – given the fact that he was dead, a victim of superior force.
In Florida, a wannabe cop like Zimmerman is free to use deadly force as long as he “reasonably believes” it’s necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm, and the trial was narrowly focused on his sidewalk fight with Martin (who clearly didn’t like being stalked; on his cell minutes earlier, he’d told his girlfriend, “He’s right behind me again”). In the heat of that fight, it’s easy to argue that he “reasonably” felt a right to shoot.
Still, there would have been no sidewalk fight if Zimmerman had obeyed the 911 dispatcher in the first place. Plus, we had the race factor. Zimmerman saw a black kid with a hoodie walking in a suburban neighborhood – which prompted him to grouse that the expletives “always get away with it,” and take immediate action to ensure that, this time, “they” would not “get away with it.” Indeed, it strains credulity to believe that Zimmerman would’ve felt the same impulse to stalk a white kid who had “something in his hand.”
But wait, didn’t Justice Roberts and his conservative high court allies decree just a few weeks ago that racism is passe in the USA; that, especially in the South, “things have changed dramatically”? Those five guys really need to get out more. Racism in Sanford, Florida may not be as blatant as it was back in 1946, when Dodgers prospect Jackie Robinson, under threat of violence, had to flee the town in the dead of night, but a death sentence for walking while black still seems a tad extreme.
Race issue aside, the bottom line is that Zimmerman goes free. I accept that. But the verdict that he’s not a murderer doesn’t erase the fact that he was an armed and reckless fool. And in this country, aided and abetted by lax gun laws, we already have a surfeit of armed and reckless fools. The Zimmerman case has merely highlighted this great American tragedy.
And now I’m off the grid, for a char-broiled mid-summer vacation. See you here next Monday.
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