Hooded injustice

Zimmerman justice by George Danby

Cartoon by George Danby. danbyink.bangordailynews.com
Of course, most of the public outrage over the verdict comes from a perception that it was “the American Way.”

If Trayvon Martin had lived in Gotham City, he’d still be alive.

Because in comic books, vigilantes are never wrong.

That’s really the most remarkable and important thing about a superhero (the comic book term for “vigilante”).

X-ray and microscopic vision, golden lassos of truth and hyper-senses empower superheroes to infallibly sort the guilty from the innocent. If a superhero ever does falsely apprehend someone, it inevitably turns out to be the result of an elaborate frame-up masterminded by one of his or her arch nemeses.


The Dark Knight

From Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.

But even in such a rare case, no real harm is done, because comic book vigilantes—at least the ones I grew up with—don’t use guns and never kill. Even those without the advantage of invulnerability, super speed or super strength are so skilled in unarmed combat that they are able to subdue any miscreant humanely (that is, if you consider it more humane to beat people unconscious than to shoot them).

Unfortunately for Trayvon Martin, and all those who loved him, he lived in Sanford, Fla., not Gotham City, and George Zimmerman isn’t Batman. He was a real-life alleged vigilante armed with a gun, poor judgement and most deadly of all, his state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives any citizen the right to use lethal force against anyone they see (or claim they saw) as a threat.

Full disclosure: I didn’t meticulously follow every minute of testimony shared with the world by the media, and like virtually everyone else expressing an opinion about this case, wasn’t in the courtroom. And like all but two people, one of whom has been forever silenced, I wasn’t there when Zimmerman killed Martin.

But he did kill him. The armed and adult Zimmerman followed the “suspicious” teenager despite being told by the police* that they didn’t need him to. It seems certain that Zimmerman was frustrated and perhaps hostile, being fed up with crime in his neighborhood and that, as he said on the 911 call that night, “These assholes, they always get away.” Maybe Martin was frightened and hostile about being followed by, as he allegedly told a friend on the phone moments before his death, “a creepy-ass cracker.”

However the confrontation unfolded from there, because of its outcome, I think the failure of the Florida legal system to hold Zimmerman at all responsible for his actions sends a truly horrible and hurtful message, on two counts.

Trayvon by Nick Anderson

Cartoon my Nick Anderson. blog.chron.com/nickanderson

First, Zimmerman’s acquittal means that in the eyes of the law, he was justified in killing Martin. From this, it’s only natural that some people—including Martin’s loved ones—might infer that the state essentially found Martin guilty of having done something for which he deserved to die. Although Florida’s racially-biased Stand Your Ground law put the burden on Martin to posthumously prove his innocence, the burden should have been on Zimmerman to prove that Martin’s actions on what turned out to be the last night of his life merited a death sentence.

Stand Your Ground Law by Mike Keefe

Cartoon by Mike Keefe.

Second, Zimmerman’s acquittal may just encourage future copycats who put themselves in similarly hazardous situations to make sure they always shoot to kill. As demonstrated here, being the only person left alive after an alleged self-defense confrontation does away with the possibility of any rebuttals to the shooter’s sole eyewitness testimony. In this case, Zimmerman admitted that he’s the one who made the conscious decision to set his life on a collision course with Martin’s. Had the 17-year-old survived the impact of that decision, he could have just as easily invoked the Stand Your Ground defense to justify attacking Zimmerman.

The failure of the jury to find Zimmerman guilty of even the lesser charge of manslaughter has inflicted yet another terrible wound on Martin’s family, the town of Sanford, the state of Florida and the nation as a whole.

Racist profiling
Another truism of comic books is that the villains are wholly and irredeemably evil.

We’ve established that George Zimmerman isn’t Batman. He’s also not the Joker.

Yet the almost gleeful enthusiasm and vulgar expletives with which some people have denounced him as a racist seem disturbingly similar to the way a member of the KKK would refer to Trayvon Martin.

This sort of one-dimensional character analysis is beneath even some comic books.

In the first issue of Grant Morrison’s comic book series, The Invisibles**, King Mob, leader of a freedom fighting band of revolutionaries, breaks into an evil indoctrination center to rescue the latest recruit to his team. In the process, he shoots several armed and helmeted security guards, putting a bullet right through the visor and between the eyes of one of them. Eleven issues later, Morrison interrupts the ongoing story line in the series to suddenly reintroduce this random guard and flashback through his entire life. We see a boy named Bobby being raised by an abusive father and growing up to be a struggling working class veteran in a troubled marriage who eventually makes the fatefully fatal decision to take the security job as his only means to support his wife and special needs daughter.

Suddenly, this faceless and all-but-forgotten character from the first issue seems less like a thoughtless thug, and King Mob seems less like a hero.

There is at least a reasonable doubt as to what motivated Zimmerman to follow Martin (granted this is partly because the other participant in the altercation is dead).

Reducing someone to a single negative character trait or bad behavior is something people throughout the centuries have done to outcast those they perceive as “Other” from the rest of humanity and absolve society from having to regard them as individuals.

And it’s exactly what caused this tragedy in the first place.

The bitter irony is that, in setting out to watch over his neighborhood, George Zimmerman may have become its greatest threat. Ultimately, he ended up killing Treyvon Martin not because of the color of his skin or what he was wearing, but because he chose to see him as an Other when he should have seen him as a neighbor.

* I realize that the outcome for Trayvon Martin may well have been exactly the same had he been confronted by the police. In fact, giving George Zimmerman a badge might have been the only thing that could have made him more dangerous.

** It is impossible to adequately explain this mind altering, spy thriller, roller coaster ride of conspiracy theories, metaphysics, graphic violence and slightly less graphic sex, but I give it a shot here.


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6 Responses to Hooded injustice

  1. Sam Pearson says:

    Thoughtful and considered words, however you failed to mention in order to self defense (lethal force) you must have a reasonable belief that you will incur great bodily harm or death. One could infer from the facts that Mr. Zimmerman’s injuries led him to believe he feared death which makes his self defense claim valid. I did not follow the case closely either but there are numerous facts in this case which can lead a person to have “reasonable doubt” and therefore render a not guilty verdict.

    • Sam, thanks for the feedback.

      I have no doubt that Zimmerman feared for his life when he pulled the trigger. According to Juror B37 in her conversation with Anderson Cooper, that was why she and the other jury members ultimately (and according to her, somewhat reluctantly) voted to acquit him of any charges. If he did fear for his life, I wouldn’t deny Zimmerman the right to defend himself.

      What disturbs me is my uncertainty as to what degree Zimmerman’s decision to follow Martin led to the teenager fearing for his life. It’s clear from both Zimmerman’s and Rachel Jeantel’s testimony that Martin was aware of and unnerved by being followed. We only have Zimmerman’s word that Martin struck the first blow, but even if that’s true, he may only have done so because of his own belief that Zimmerman was about to inflict great bodily harm or death on him. If Martin had only been wounded and was able to testify on his own behalf, by explaining that he perceived Zimmerman as stalking him (which he kind of was) and saw–or just believed–that Zimmerman was armed, Martin may have convinced that same jury that attacking Zimmerman seemed like a “reasonable” reaction to him under the circumstances.

  2. Sean says:

    No doubt Zimmerman oafishly acted as a community watchman, and initiated the chain of unfortunate events that led to Martin’s death. For that, many put the blame entirely on him.

    However, Martin had an opportunity to break that chain of events by going home. While Zimmerman was profiling him (of which race may have played a part), Martin was profiling Zimmerman, as some sort of sexual predator. Homophobia may have played a role. As Jeantel has said, “creepy ass cracker” had homosexual context, and they talked about Zimmerman being a rapist. Perhaps because, through the lens of homophobia, that’s what gay men do. Jeantel urged Martin to go home; Martin decided to confront Zimmerman.

    For the next key moments, one can only guess. There’s an inherent unfairness, as you note, in any homicide case; the survivor gets to control the narrative. According to Zimmerman, he was trying to keep an eye on Martin’s location to report to police, lost Martin, and was heading back to his vehicle. Martin approached him, asked, “Do you have a problem?” Zimmerman said “No.” Martin said “Now you do,” punched Zimmerman, and [neutral eyewitnesses picking up here] got Zimmerman onto his back, was in a “ground and pound” position, and was pummeling Zimmerman.

    Martin was not a 12 year old boy, he was a 6 foot tall 17 year old (not all that skinny either, as one can see in the eerie video from the 7-11 store moments before his death) who regularly fought. In one MMA-style fight, Martin texted a friend that he lost the first round and won the 2nd and 3rd. Martin texted the friend (who was urging Martin to stop fighting all the time) that the other kid (who committed the offense of snitching on Martin) would have to see him again, that the other kid only bled through his nose, which Martin did not think was enough bleeding. He was a capable, confident, and jubilant fighter.

    Why did he confront the “creepy ass cracker” rather than go home? If Zimmerman had not been armed, would he have been killed? Was there anti-gay motivation?

    To place the entire blame on Zimmerman is a nice black-and-white story (literally and figuratively), which the media has spun for corporate profit. But this case is far more complex than that.

    • Thanks for this added insight into the case, Sean.

      While I lean toward an interpretation of events that somewhat favors Martin, there is definitely more than enough reasonable doubt to go around on both sides of this case–which is why I’m so amazed at how adamant so many people on both sides are that they know exactly what happened in the initial moments of the confrontation.

      One thing that struck me in rereading some of the testimony is that at least a couple witnesses believed they heard perhaps several minutes of possibly heated conversation before the violence began, which would seem to contradict Zimmerman’s version of events. I’d be curious to know if the prosecution looked into this apparent discrepancy.

      • Sean says:

        I think there was one anonymous witness who described an argument (if there’s more than that, I would be interested in knowing where I can read it). She identified an “older” voice and a “younger” voice, but she only went by how deep the voices were. She did not hear any of the words. Hard to determine much on that.

        With regard to whether a crime was committed, the key moments would have been just prior (seconds) to the first blow. Since there was no testimony or other evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s account (again, perhaps unfairly so), and since the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, acquittal was the only reasonable verdict.

        • Earwitness testimony from neighbors included Jayne Surduka’s estimate that five to ten minutes elapsed between the initial “loud voice” she heard and the later argument and fight, and Jennifer Lauer’s description of a conversation that seems to me like it lasted longer than the brief exchange of words Zimmerman says he and Martin shared before Martin attacked him. I only point this out because of the possible discrepancy it would reveal in Zimmerman’s version of events. Also, the more time the two spent interacting prior to the shooting, the more opportunity Martin may have had to come to the conclusion that Zimmerman was a threat to him, instigating his own (perhaps mistaken) impression that he needed to defend his life (of course, the same could be speculated on behalf of Zimmerman).

          By itself, this doesn’t contradict Zimmerman’s assertion that Martin initiated the violence or that Zimmerman acted in self defense.

          Similarly, even if Zimmerman is a racist or Martin was a homophobe, that wouldn’t exclude the possibility that they may have been justified in the actions they took that night.

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