Some observations around the Zimmerman–Martin-tragedy
Living in Germany and being absent from the Internet (cf. my previous entry), I had only the vaguest impression of the events until the recent acquittal of Zimmerman and the subsequent protests.
As I started reading up, my first impression was soon formed: A white man (Zimmerman) had hunted down and shot a black boy (Martin) for no other reason that the latter was black. Despite evidence indicating that this was true, an all-white jury freed Zimmerman, based on extremely generous “stand your ground” legislation—and possibly quite a large dose of racial partisanism. While I knew from experience that the truth is rarely that clear-cut and easy, implying that this first impression was likely to be exaggerated, I was somewhat shaken—and seriously questioned whether I had hitherto underestimated the problem of racism in the U.S. (Which I had taken to be considerably exaggerated on e.g. partisan blogs, in analogy with the feminist claims in Sweden or the largely nonsensical accusations against “The Bell-Curve”.) I also felt some amount of discomfort (“fear” is too a strong word, but might be more appropriate in quality) at the thought of something similar one day happening to me—a killing of that kind is ultimately based on a madness and irrationality from which white people are by no means safe.
However, as I continued reading, this impression changed—and the more I read, from both partisan and neutral sources, the further my view of the events was altered: “Stand your ground” had never been part of the defense, Zimmerman was not White (at least not in the way a Swede or a German would understand it) and Martin likely considered himself a grown man, there were no clear signs of malicious intent, certainly any chase that had taken place had not been made with the intent of killing (there is even some doubt as to whether “chase” applies at all), Zimmerman had entered the story as neighborhood watchman and Martin had a history which at least increased the possibility that he was doing something “JD” at the time, Zimmerman had injuries on his head, … By all signs, Zimmerman had fired when lying on the ground while losing a fight. If worst comes to worst, he would have had to be a complete and utter idiot to even call the police, as he did, if he had been up to no good—let alone to continue the conversation so long. Under no circumstances whatsoever, irrespective of the truth, was there enough evidence against Zimmerman to warrant a murder sentence—even a manslaughter sentence seems stretched in my layman’s impression.
Now, I was not there and I cannot with certainty say what happened—but neither were and can those many who call for the conviction of Zimmerman or who publicly call him a murderer. Irrespective of personal belief: There is not enough evidence to warrant a certainty that Zimmerman was the villain of the drama, let alone a murder conviction.
What do I believe happened? My conjecture, not my firm conviction, is that the account of Zimmerman is mostly correct in his honest impression and subjective estimation—including that he honestly, but quite possibly erroneously, suspected Martin of criminal activities or preparations for such.
The big question-mark in my book is what ultimately caused the fight. I conjecture that Martin thought himself harassed and, in turn, suspected Zimmerman of something criminal (or otherwise unsavory). He confronted Zimmerman and shortly thereafter ended up on top of Zimmerman in a fight, after which the shot fell. Whether Martin attacked, as per Zimmerman’s account, or whether a verbal confrontation got out of hand, I dare not even conjecture. Irrespective of which, an avoidable tragedy took place—but not one where there was a clear villain and a clear victim.
Indeed, most people live through a story where they are the righteous hero, who may possibly be frail, make mistakes, or waver, but is ultimately the “good guy”—something we all would do well to remember. What we saw was likely two good guys (in their own self-estimate) from two different movies being taken for the villain of the other movie by the counter-part.
In as far as Zimmerman erred, it was more in form of poor judgement than maliciousness, racism, or in having homicidal tendencies.
From this and my readings (not detailed above) there are a number of conclusions to be drawn, including:
Trusting first impressions is extremely dangerous; making a decision after only having heard one side of the story is inexcusable. Cf. also an older discussion of the Mavi Marmara incident.
Media, which have given very one-sided and/or misleading accounts of the events and the evidence are not to be trusted. Critical thinking is of paramount importance when dealing with media. (Problems with the reporting include such grave transgressions as manipulating photos or cutting Zimmerman’s call to the police in a manner that distorted his words. The distortions do not appear to have been one-sidedly against Zimmerman, however, with some news sources painting a too negative image of Martin.)
The U.S. justice system and its elected DAs is very vulnerable to populism. Cf. e.g. the events around false rape-accuser Mangum and the Duke lacrosse team, which form a clear parallel.
Parts of the Black population and movement have quite obviously chosen to believe that Zimmerman was the villain and Martin the victim based on … skin color. The same may or may not apply to the pro-Zimmerman faction, m.m., but unlike the anti-Zimmerman faction, they actually have the evidence supporting their position—at least to the point that “not guilty” was the objectively correct verdict. (And I have very strong doubts as to whether the typical White person, even in the U.S., would identify with Zimmerman as another White.) As with the feminist movement, there appears to be a fair amount of reversing the accusation going on in the Black rights camp—with the accusation of racism being far fairer towards the anti-Zimmerman camp than the pro-Zimmerman camp or (likely) Zimmerman himself. Generally, the Black right’s camp has done its own causes a lot of damage as far as I, and likely many other critical thinkers, am concerned—by crying wolf here, with such energy and determination, they have undermined their credibility and ensured that I view any and all claims by them with the same suspicion as I already view feminist claims.
Interestingly, while the anti-Zimmerman camp often claims that if Martin had been black, he would still be alive, or that if Zimmerman had been black, he would have been convicted, the pro-Zimmerman camp counter-claims that Zimmerman would never have been prosecuted, at all, had he been black.
The question of “racial profiling” has often been raised: Allegedly, Zimmerman was only interested in Martin due to racial profiling, which is condemned as a form of racism.
However, racial profiling, when based on actual differences in behaviour between groups, is by no means a form of racism (and the simple, indisputable truth is that blacks commit a disproportionate part of all crimes in the U.S.–only the cause is open for dispute). Further, in as far as it does not go beyond e.g. a neighborhood watchman being extra alert or inquisitive, I see nothing unethical in it. (Whereas e.g. attempting to detain the profiled individual or openly accusing him, without other supporting proof, would go too far.)
Further yet, even if Martin was racially profiled, for which there is no clear indication, he was also profiled based on either or all of his age, behaviour, or clothing. With crime statistics what they are, there is no reason for racial profiling to be the one odd unacceptable form of profiling—and if all forms of profiling were dropped in accordance, an intervention, even in the form of a preliminary contact with the police, would not be possible before a crime was already in progress and actually observed as a crime.