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.
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.
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.
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.
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.