Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Perspectives On Injustice

Many of you who follow the NCAA basketball tournament more closely than our small group does were probably pulling your hair out - or tearing up your brackets - after this past weekend's games. For those of you that have a bracket you pass around your workplace, chances are good you came back to work on Monday to the news that a colleague who doesn't even care about basketball is beating nearly everyone else.

At the time, this may seem like a cosmic injustice to you - but we know it's one that you'll live with, and even forget soon.

Sadly, though, the family of 17–year-old Trayvon Martin won't soon be forgetting what appears to be the unjust murder of their young son.

While we've been reading about the story in the local Florida news for a few weeks now, we chose to wait to focus on it until more of the facts had come out. Here's the quick version, according to multiple legitimate sources, in case you haven't heard it yet.

Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old from Miami, was visiting his father's house in a gated community, in Sanford, Florida, in February of this year. Trayvon was watching the NBA All-Star game when he decided he would run down to the corner 7-Eleven, at halftime to get some candy and iced tea.

On the way back, Martin crossed paths with George Zimmerman, a "neighborhood watch leader," who had a history of violence and abusing the cops, as well as questionable behavior. Zimmerman focused on Martin, followed the young man, even calling 9-1-1, saying Martin looked "like he's up to no good." Witnesses said Martin seemed to be trying to run away from Zimmerman, even as the Sanford police dispatch told Zimmerman to stop following the young man.

Zimmerman didn't stop following Martin. In fact, Zimmerman appears to have hunted the seventeen year old down, shooting and then killing him.

While the incident is an injustice by itself, what has happened after - or rather, what has NOT happened after the killing - is the real injustice.

Zimmerman used a law that originated in Florida, and has since spread to sixteen other states, known as a "Stand Your Ground" law - though to civil justice proponents, the law has become known as a "shoot first" law. In short, the law extends the traditional "castle law" provisions that most states have regarding their home to an individual, and the area around that person. If you believe that your life and safety is in danger, you can use deadly force to defend yourself, even if no one else has attacked you first.

So even though law enforcement knew that Zimmerman had shot and killed the young Mr. Martin, since Zimmerman claimed he felt his life was in danger, the police didn't arrest Zimmerman. The Sanford police also didn't drug test the shooter, or test him for virtually any other reason either. Even though Zimmerman had a history of repetitive, abusive, and even violent confrontations with the police, the local officials did nothing.

Did we mention that Zimmerman is white, while Martin was black?

In today's America, where a sizable contingent of one of our two major political parties seems intent on returning us to the social mores prevalent in the 1950s, including racism and virtually nonexistent access to birth control, this story ultimately isn't a surprising one. The story of Trayvon Martin is one that few honest Americans would be have been surprised to see coming from the Deep South, in the 1950s.

This isn't the 1950s, though - or the Wild, Wild West.

The idea that someone saying their life is in danger gives them the power to kill anyone they choose, without repercussion, is - on its face face - an unjust law, not befitting a modern society like ours.

Since the local Florida police appear incapable of doing this case any justice, the Justice Department is now looking into the case. Zimmerman may yet prove not to be completely guilty - but that won't change the injustice of the "Stand Your Ground" law.

It won't bring back Trayvon Martin either.

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