As every gun blogger under the sun has commented on this, so must I. If only to say something more in line with common sense than rooting for the guy who looks like you, which both sides are doing with an astonishing fervor. Some say 'wait until the verdict is in', but most everyone else is on the 'lynch him now!' or 'he was just a good 'ol boy defending him self from a young thug'. Had no one raised their voice though, it's entirely possible Zimmerman would have shot and killed an unarmed teen and gotten no more attention than a catch and release fish. In many places, even if you shoot someone breaking into your home in the middle of the night, you can still expect to visit the jail and have your weapon taken from you and put into evidence for years.
Zimmerman followed an unarmed teen who had not made any move towards him, threatened him, brandished a weapon, or made anything that can reasonably be interpreted as a threat to Zimmerman's continued good health.
George Zimmerman had elected himself as the lone neighborhood watchman, something that tends to be indicative of an annoying sort of person I would have little to say to at a party. In general, not necessarily in particular, as I don't know him personally, everything there is that's public knowledge about the guy seems to indicate he's the sort that likes to stick his nose everywhere, even when it's not been invited. If you live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, forming a neighborhood watch for mutual self-defense is understandable. If you're the only volunteer in a nice middle-upper class Florida neighborhood, you're probably the over-zealous type that has so few threats in life you have to search to find them. That's the stereotype. It's not a baseless one, but it is a broad brush to paint with.
Martin's father lived in the neighborhood he was in. While he may have looked 'out of place' to Zimmerman, it made perfect sense for him to be there. Martin, by all accounts, had no prior arrests, and as far as the law was concerned, lived a fairly reasonable and civil existence for any teenager. He certainly got into no more trouble than the average teenager, and considering my own youth, far less than some.
Zimmerman thought Martin looked suspicious. Zimmerman had caught a thief once, perhaps he thought this would be another feather in his cap. He calls 911 and at one point, sees Martin run (who wouldn't if they were being stalked by a creepy guy in a vehicle?) and tells the 911 operator he's giving chase. The 911 operator, probably rolling their eyes at this, says 'No, we don't need you to do that'. AKA, 'you're not a real cop, please don't confuse yourself with one'. The difference between vigilante and cop is an important one - cops, to some degree, have a structure that limits, controls and enforces their actions and conduct. That doesn't stop them from being bullies with a badge if they wish to indulge in that behavior, but it is far better than vigilantes who are accountable to no one.
What happened after Zimmerman chased Martin down is not a matter of public record, and speculation runs rampant. How it ended is not though. Zimmerman shot Martin once in the chest and Martin died.
Much has been made of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, which has the provision that renders any defense under it null if you're the one that started the conflict. You can't simply chase someone down and shoot them in the chest if they choose to defend themselves.
Had the positions been reversed, and Martin had chased an unarmed Zimmerman down and shot and killed him, Martin would be looking at a long jail sentence and manslaughter at the bare minimum.
That's what's telling. The law may say many things, but how it's applied in the end is what makes the law what it is in the end. If you can chase down an unarmed teen and shoot him in the chest, killing him and not be arrested or have your gun taken away? There is no effective law. Your group, within loose confines, is free to shoot and kill unarmed people if they're viewed as 'not being in the right place'. In other words, you probably couldn't get away with breaking down the door to Martin's home and shooting him in his bed, but if he's in a neighborhood that's mostly populated by your group and he looks out of place? In Florida, you can kill him and face no jail time.
That's a heck of a legal system.
If you chase someone down and shoot them, it can't be self-defense, not in the legal sense. You may be surprised that someone doesn't do exactly as you want them to if you have a gun and they don't, but killing them doesn't make that self-defense by any stretch. Martin *could* have beaten Zimmerman to the point where his life was in danger, but as Zimmerman chased Martin down, it would have been manslaughter at the least. Video of Zimmerman after the shooting, his appearance, demeanor and behavior do not indicate that he was beaten. Even if he was, he chased someone down and shot them.
Zimmerman was not charged and was not held. Had Martin done the shooting, no reasonable person who lived there would say that the situation would have been the same. Racism is a vile weed that should grow in no civilized heart unchecked. It can be easily said that racially-based interpretations of the law were applied by the officers that took Zimmerman in and those who let him go.
Zimmerman may have had a right to defend his life, but chasing down and killing an unarmed teen diminishes that right severely. You are responsible for your actions and their outcomes. The law is not an invincible shield that allows you to do as you please and face no repercussions. There are many who play the 'ah, X happened by the letter of the law, even though X, by the spirit of the law is entirely wrong' game and it is a disappointment and a sorrow to behold. Justice in this life is imperfect at best, and often it is only as good as circumstances allow for. In this case though, it has not been thoroughly or reasonably applied to all parties equally.
Zimmerman killing an unarmed Martin is horrible. The law being selectively applied is despicable.
Update (4/22/12):ABC News got a copy of a photograph of Zimmerman's head taken minutes after the shooting. It's cut up and bloody. Not horribly so, but enough to support Zimmerman's story that he was hit by Martin.
While better than Zimmerman shooting Martin with no provocation, this still places Zimmerman in a bad place legally. If you follow someone that hasn't done anything to you, leave your car, follow them onto someone else's property and confront them, then shoot them when they hit you, it's not a very happy place in the eyes of the law.
Unless you've got a hell of a lawyer, you fail the 'no charges brought' scenario and end up somewhere between 'manslaughter' and 'second degree murder'.
As a gun owner, this is the sort of thing YOU NEVER WANT TO DO. There's a good saying about 'don't do stupid things with stupid people in stupid places', and this manages to hit two out of three of those.
You're not the police. You have no mandate to enforce the law, or to protect others (unless their life is currently and clearly in direct danger, eg, someone has a gun pointed at a bystander). You should never 'see what someone is up to', unless it's on your own property. Nor should you chase after people and confront them.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.
Imagine it from Martin's view. Some older man is following him in a vehicle as he's walking down the street. It's already in 'creepy molester in a
panel van truck' territory as far as he can tell. Then the dude gets out and starts chasing him. Creepy dude doesn't mean him any good clearly. Creepy dude confronts him. He punches the creepy dude, then the creepy dude shoots him.
A lot different than Zimmerman's view, no doubt. In Zimmerman's eyes, he sees a kid where he doesn't belong, up to no good, and probably casing the neighborhood. As the neighborhood watchman, he has to do something. He follows the kid. The kid takes off where he can't see him from his vehicle. He gets out of his truck and confronts the suspect burglar. The suspect burglar throws a punch and knocks him on his back. So he pulls out his gun and shoots the suspect burglar.
How does the law view it though? That's the million dollar question.
The other question is how do I view it?
Dude did what he should never have done, killed someone after provoking them (as far as can be determined) in a yard that wasn't his own.
I don't have a lot of pity for the man with the gun in this case. He was an idiot. I have a fair amount of sympathy for Martin, in his place, I might have punched a guy following me like that as well. In Zimmerman's place, I wouldn't have followed the kid. I would have called the cops, stayed in my truck, come home and eaten dinner a free man with a clean record.
Guns don't make people heroes. Guns don't make people cops.Guns give you an advantage you wouldn't have otherwise, a chance to even the odds against you.
If you shoot an unarmed person, there'd better be a hell of a good reason for doing so.
"Because I chased him and he punched me." might not cut it.