Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I wrote a column this week. Then I scrapped it and wrote something better.

But since I'd already done the work, I thought I'd share that column here.

This week, for anyone who doesn’t follow trials as vociferously as I do, the George Zimmerman case moved forward when a judge both refused to delay the trial, scheduled to start in a couple of weeks, and by and large ruled that the defense could not use pictures and texts pulled from dead teenager Trayvon Martin’s phone. The media in question were pictures and comments about marijuana, guns and getting into fights. The defense intended to show that these items indicated a questionable moral character that very likely morphed into him attacking a perfectly innocent neighborhood watch captain.

I read the article online and then made the terrible, horrible, no good very bad decision to read the comments.

Some of the comments were horrifying. One commenter said that because Martin had smoked pot and gotten into a fight he was on the path to becoming a career criminal and deserved what he got. Another said if his parents loved him, they should have stayed together and then none of this would have happened. Multiple people called him a thug for having a grill on his teeth, using drugs and liking guns.

First, do you know who else wears a grill on his teeth? Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte. Do you know who used drugs? President George W. Bush — and a larger percentage of your acquaintances than you realize. Do you know who else likes guns? George Zimmerman. Thugs all of them, apparently.

But, really, I read the comments, so I got what I deserved. Let's look at the awesomeness being put out here.

Zimmerman’s attorney has asked that Martin’s history of violence (he got into fights with other teenagers) and drug use (he smoked marijuana) be admitted to show what kind of person Martin was. Well, those things show that he was a teenage boy. He has no history of severe violence, he was not walking around with a weapon. And he was not doing anything violent when Zimmerman started stalking him. Walking down the street demonstrates a history of nothing.

But let’s consider the role a history of violence should play in weighing fault in this shooting death. Zimmerman was charged with resisting an officer with violence and battery of a law enforcement officer. A former girlfriend asked for a restraining order, saying Zimmerman had abused her. If we assume that a history of violence indicates future violence, Zimmerman is on the hook.

The defense also pointed to pictures and texts on Martin’s phone about guns. He liked them. He talked about them. He wanted to sell one. This, they believe, call his character into question.
Except for one tiny little problem — Zimmerman also liked guns. We know that not because he talked about guns or had pictures of guns but because he strapped one to his side when he left his house to do neighbhorhood watch that Sunday afternoon in February. If liking guns makes calls one’s character into question, then again, Zimmerman is far more culpable.

Here are the facts that we unequivocally know — a teenager died. He didn’t have to. Nothing else will ever be unquestioned, since the only living witness to the events of that night has a little too much at stake to be trustworthy. Maybe Trayvon Martin did attack first. But George Zimmerman followed him for no reason other than he thought the teenager looked suspicious. He called police dispatch, and the dispatcher told him to leave the boy alone. He didn’t. While trailing Martin, Zimmerman could have stayed in his vehicle, with the windows rolled up and the doors locked, thus ensuring if the teenager did try to attack, he’d be protected by 2,000 pounds of truck. He didn’t.

This trial is not about race — at least, I don’t look at it in that way. It is not about the Second Amendment. It is about a series of poor choices that resulted in the death of a teenager. And yes, George Zimmerman should be held accountable for those choices. Maybe he’ll be found guilty, maybe he won’t. But he should have to explain himself. He owes Trayvon Martin that.

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