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Focus Of Trayvon Martin Case Should Remain Justice

Francesca Bessey |
March 30, 2012 | 9:36 p.m. PDT

Staff Contributor

(werthmedia, Creative Commons)
(werthmedia, Creative Commons)
This past Thursday dozens of USC students gathered for a series of events to remember Trayvon Martin, the young Florida teen who was shot to death last month. Activists called for the prosecution of his murderer, George Zimmerman.

That such a rally is necessary at all indicates a gross flaw in our justice system, the combination of a bad law and its even worse interpretation by law enforcement. However as millions across America demand that the injustice is rectified, the powers-that-be in Florida is more concerned with irrelevant claims about Martin's character than the real issue at hand.

All media clamor aside, the fact remains that Zimmerman shot and killed a 17-year-old boy. Martin himself was unarmed, ironic in light of Zimmerman's insistence that he was acting in self-defense. What gives clout to his claim, however, is Florida's so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, which was enacted by the State Legislature in 2005. The law states that a person attacked in any place “has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so.”

While there is nothing inherently wrong with an expanded right of self-defense, its interpretation by authorities in this case has been abysmal. The reliance of the law on the “reasonable belief” of the person perpetrating the action makes it dangerously ambiguous—how can you contest a person's claim of feeling endangered? What we end up with is a legal farce: to justify a murder, all law enforcement requires is an affirmation of a state of fear, one that need last only as long as it takes to pull the trigger.

Meanwhile, vague and uncertain witness reports describing some sort of scuffle, along with Zimmerman's claims that he was physically assaulted by Martin, are apparently enough to affirm that such fear was even warranted.

But here's the problem: whatever actually happened between the two on the street, Zimmerman is the one who initiated the confrontation in the first place. He's the one who took his role in Neighborhood Watch to a level the program itself would never condone, prowling the streets with a loaded gun, seeking out and pursuing suspicious-looking persons, casting himself as some sort of trigger-happy vigilante. He's the one who made the decision to follow Martin for several blocks, even after being told by a 911 dispatcher that police “really don't need you to do that.”

Zimmerman was thus at least partially at fault for the physical altercation he claims happened next. Recent police surveillance tapes that show Zimmerman looking uninjured and otherwise steady on his feet following the confrontation, suggesting that such an altercation may not even have taken place at all or at least not one of the caliber Zimmerman originally described.

Nothing about Zimmerman's physical condition after the incident implies that Martin, if he did anything at all, had any intention of killing or seriously injuring the man. Furthermore, if Zimmerman can call shooting someone an appropriate defense of being punched in the face, then certainly Martin must be granted considerable leeway in how he chose to respond to an armed stranger pursuing him down the street while he walked home and took a phone call from his girlfriend.

The recent revelation that Martin had been suspended from school for possession of marijuana, moreover, should never have entered the discussion about the shooting. A minor bust for a drug that has been decriminalized in fourteen states is no indication of malicious or violent tendencies. That this would even be considered in relation to this incident is a disgrace; it's like giving a green light on shooting anyone who has ever smoked a joint.

There is one more question begging to be answered: if Zimmerman really was acting to prevent serious harm to himself and nothing more, then why did Martin end up dead instead of just retreating from a drawn gun? Merely pointing the gun at Martin should have been enough to make him retreat. The likelihood of the teenager continuing to engage in hand-to-hand combat after a deadly weapon entered the scenario doesn’t seem realistic. 

There are a whole host of issues surrounding this case that are as senseless as Martin's death itself. Legislators, the American public, and most of all authorities in the state of Florida must not allow themselves to be distracted from the reality of the situation. Last month, Trayvon Martin was murdered. And no amount of hair-splitting about insignificant details is going to diminish the imperative that justice must be served.



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