The Zimmerman case has polarised the USA for months. Perhaps the name Zimmerman doesn’t mean much to Australians, so here is a summary of what the case is about.
A young black boy Trayvon Martin, barely 17, was walking in his neighbourhood when Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, suspected the boy was up to no good and started following him. We will never know all the details of the case because Trayvon is dead and it is alleged the initial police investigation was manifestly inadequate. Consequently we have one man’s word and a lot of character based evidence. There is nothing to contradict Zimmerman’s perspective of events and as we all know the lens through which we see events is always biased in our own favour.
Of course, as can be expected in a case such as this, everyone has an opinion. Here are two. Both of these articles are well worth reading, as I am sure are many others available. The first is from an article by Eugene Robinson. As a mother, I feel this pain.
We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.
And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?
The second is from Ruth Marcus. As I am not an American and not a lawyer, my knowledge of American law is minimal but I understand her writing.
Justice takes the longer time frame. Zimmerman may not be legally responsible for Martin’s death but he remains morally culpable.
Another way to understand the divide is through the prism of legal rules, which may serve the broader ends of justice but produce unjust results in the short run. Thus the exclusionary rule for illegally seized evidence, meaning that some criminals go free because the constable has blundered.
Likewise, the law’s requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal convictions presumes tolerance for a certain amount of unjust results. We accept the bargain, in Blackstone’s formulation, that it is “better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”
There are about 97,200,000 results if you Google “Zimmerman”. Plenty of reading if you are interested in learning more about the case.
Here in Australia we have had situations that frighten me, as the mother of four young African people. One such article is Police likelier to stop Africans. In 1987 we had a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Zimmerman was NOT a policeman, but he was armed and performing a security role. Admittedly we have entirely different gun laws in Australia (thank goodness). I want to make it VERY clear I am not suggesting any of our police or security personnel are a Zimmerman waiting to happen, but I am a mother. On one hand I have a great deal of faith in the vast majority of our police and other security forces in Australia. On the other hand I do not want one of my children to end up a Trayvon Martin. I DO worry. I shouldn’t have to worry. I should be able to be 100% confident that any of my children will be treated exactly the same as any other teenager walking home from a 7-Eleven in the dark.
The lesson Australia needs to learn from the Zimmerman case is PREVENTION. Prevention of the attitudes that lead to mis-handling of the investigation, prevention of the assumptions that lead Zimmerman to follow Trayvon in the first place, prevention of the fear Trayvon felt that lead to him defending himself, prevention of the ingredients of the altercation. We do not have the history of the USA, but we do have our own history and much of it has similar attitudes behind the actions taken over the years. We have lost enough lives already.
Please let us learn from this experience in another country rather than learn the same painful lessons on home soil.
I want our kids to come home safe at night.
I would like to add a link to An Open letter to My Sons, by Kyle who writes Fatherly Stuff. Like this family, Kyle’s family is a “mixture”.
Edit July 18, 2013: Today Martin Hodgson published Trayvon & The Licence To Kill. Martin is a lawyer with a very keen interest in this case. I highly recommend visiting his work.
The trial lasted approximately 6720 minutes, I watched and heard them all live as they happened. Having worked on a capital case (Angel Diaz) in Florida my interest in the matter was more than, but not excluding, the issues that seemed to capture the attention of so many around the world and here in Australia. I wanted to write something during the trial, I wanted to write something when the verdict came down but what do you write when you see nothing that isn’t just part of the daily struggle.
I extend my condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin. Such a sad loss.