I’ve been following the case of Trayvon Martin’s shooting at the hands of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. On the left, there was a rush to accuse Zimmerman of cold-blooded murder. On the right, there was a rush to paint Martin as a thug and double down on the racialized paranoia. But the facts that really make or break the case (specifically, who started the fight) are currently unknown. The unusual bits of Florida’s laws on self-defense don’t really apply to this case, they don’t excuse murder if you provoke someone into attacking you and then resort to lethal force, or if you attack first and later fear for your life when the fight doesn’t go your way.
There’s some interesting discussion to be had on the role of guns in self-defense and aggressive violence, guns win fights but also escalate the stakes awfully quick:
Statistically, incidents of guns being used successfully in self-defense are extremely rare. The following events are a lot more likely:
• Criminal gets hold of your gun and uses it against you.
• The gun gives you a psychological feeling of self-confidence that will cause you to get into bad situations you otherwise would have avoided if you did not have the gun.
• Use of a gun in an ambiguous situation will get you in prison for murder, which is worse than getting beaten up.
• Being prosecuted for murder will ruin your life even if the jury finds you not guilty.
The Zimmerman incident is a good example of the truth of the above. The video showed that Zimmerman wasn’t beaten up that bad. Without the gun, Trayvon probably would have run away after giving him a good but not life-threatening beating. And according to Zimmerman’s father, Trayvon saw the gun, which caused an escalation in the altercation.
There’s something to be said about race relations in this country, something to be said about violence, about respect and community, about culture, about the standards of criminal evidence. But most of what I hear about this case depresses me because it seems to be overwhelmingly characterized by those that no longer hope for productive dialog on this sort of issue, from one side:
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Mikhail Muhammad said at a Saturday press conference in Sanford, Fla., in which he also called on 10,000 black men to “capture” Zimmerman. “He should be fearful for his life”…
Or the other:
In the last few days I’ve repeatedly discussed blacks’ common attitude that their response to any white authority figure who asks them anything is to resist, fight, ignore, or run away. But the commenter at Half-Sigma puts it better: Non-blacks may not talk to blacks, period. To say anything to a black is to step into his territory, it is to dis him, and thus to provoke his righteous vengeance…
Seems like on some issues the state of discourse in this country is only slightly better off than Trayvon Martin.