Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I was attending my 20-year high school reunion when word came down that George Zimmerman had been acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin.  For me, that placed a bit of a damper on an otherwise joyous occasion.

I had been hoping that Zimmerman would be convicted.  My sense of justice can be a little quirky sometimes--we lawyers can get some funny ideas from time to time. I don't usually take sides in these hyped-up court cases.  I want there to be a fair trial and the jury to reach the right legal result, and if that means a conviction or an acquittal, so be it.  In this case, that went out the window, because Zimmerman had already admitted to acts that in my view deserve jail time.

If you read this blog regularly--and if you do, thank you for reading, and please add your own comments--then you know that a recurring theme is the role that freedom plays in our American culture.  The liberty of the individual is our highest value, and it is the one thing that sets us truly apart not only from every other nation on earth, but also from every other nation that has ever existed on earth.

Looking at the chain of events that led to Trayvon Martin's death, it looks like it might be fairly easy to see where things went wrong.  You have a 29-year-old white man drawing a gun and shooting a 17-year-old black kid dead.  Before that, you have that kid getting into a physical altercation with the man and possibly beating him savagely.  Before that, you have the man following the kid through the neighborhood after the police told him not to.  Before that, you have the man arming himself to go on a nighttime patrol in the neighborhood.  Before that, you have a neighborhood watch group putting the man in charge of doing that.

There were a lot of chances along the way for this not to happen.

I can understand the desire for residents of the neighborhood where Martin died to protect themselves and their property from criminals.  I've never lived in a place where it occurred to me that I was unsafe and needed to do more than lock my doors at night to avoid being a crime victim. I don't know the situation in that neighborhood, but I suspect that this "patrol" was probably not all that necessary.  Maybe I'm wrong.

But I know this for certain:  Trayvon Martin should have been able to go out that night, alone and unarmed, to get the snack he wanted and to return to the house where he was staying without being followed by George Zimmerman.  He should have been able to transit to and from that house without having to get into a physical fight with someone who was hassling him because he was a teenage kid out late at night.

And he should have been able to make that trip without being killed.

He should have been free to do that without George Zimmerman or anyone else interfering with him.

That's what freedom is.  It consists in our ability to make our own choices, to travel on public streets, to do what we want to do as long as it does not interfere with the ability of others to exist and be free themselves.

And if George Zimmerman is guilty of anything, he's guilty of usurping the choices that Trayvon Martin had the right to make.  He was tired of punk teenagers, so he was going to make sure that this punk teenager didn't get away with it.

With what?

With making choices that George Zimmerman didn't like, such as making a late-night snack run.

There are a lot of people who have made this story about race.  It may well be that if both men were black or both were white, a different outcome would have obtained.  The authorities in Sanford, Florida, certainly have some explaining to do; they need to be called to account for the soft racism that allowed them to give George Zimmerman a pass until national media attention forced them to act.  That's the racist component of this story, and it matters.

But the story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, to my mind, isn't about race at all.  It's about a privileged group of individuals, Zimmerman included, who weren't satisfied with controlling their own lives.  They had to control what other people did as well.  Maybe it made them feel powerful, but in my book it just makes them petty.  Their priorities put George Zimmerman on that street and set this horrible chain of events into motion.

It is no wonder that Trayvon Martin bristled at being followed or decided to do something about it.  He ought to have been free to go to the store and pick up some Skittles and iced tea without being followed.  We don't live in a police state, and neither did Martin until Zimmerman decided to make it one, and to use deadly force to enforce it.

That's the real issue here.

We are a broken people because there are too many of us who can't stand that others get to make choices of their own.  Abortion rights, welfare, race relations, immigration policy...it's ALL the same thing.  There is a huge component of the American people who don't give a tinker's damn about the freedom of other people, as long as they get to make all the choices they want to make.  It's sickening and un-American at its core.

1 comment:

  1. I love your last paragraph, especially.

    As to the case--you and I have both handled enough cases with media attention to know that there is much to the case the media never sees, or at least tends to gloss over. I'm reluctant to pass judgement either way without actually reading the transcript--and I have other things occupying my time at the moment.

    I do think if both were black or both were white (a) we'd never have heard about it and (b) nobody would have cared. That's what's sad.