Wednesday, August 5, 2020
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Zimmerman verdict shows injustice in self-defense laws

When a Florida jury of six women acquitted George Zimmerman of any crime in connection with his killing of Trayvon Martin, allowing him to walk out of a courtroom a free man, the future of black children in the US started flashing before my eyes. What are they supposed to do if they want to run out to a store and get some Skittles and a fruit drink or other canned beverage?

By now, most people in the US know of Mr Zimmerman’s acquittal on the grounds of self-defense. In other words, he claimed that he feared for his life and had to use deadly force to stop Mr Martin from killing him. And since he was acquitted, a jury believed his claim of self-defense—no doubt entirely within the definition of self-defense written into our laws.

Imagine if the night had turned out differently, though. Suppose that, after Trayvon was followed and then approached, he wrested the gun away from Mr Zimmerman. Then, fearing for his life due to an obvious aggressor who stalked him, he shot Mr Zimmerman. Since one side of the story would have no eyewitnesses who remained alive except for Trayvon, his story would most likely prevail.

But there’s a problem with that. It’s a practical impossibility to prove that both people in an altercation were the aggressor. And furthermore, the determination of who the aggressor is in a fight that ends in death appears to depend solely on who is still alive. Because, whoever’s dead was the aggressor, unless there are eyewitnesses, and juries apparently believe that line.

This means there’s a big loophole in our self-defense laws. If a jury would acquit either Mr Zimmerman or Mr Martin in this case, depending on who won the fight, it seems there’s a way to get away with killing anyone, as long as there are no witnesses and the physical evidence is handled in a sloppy manner.

It seems we’re opening up a can of worms here, and that’s not what being a nation of laws is supposed to represent. It’s supposed to mean that morality and character are the driving force behind laws, but what we actually have is the tail wagging the dog: our ill-conceived laws are driving our morality. That’s not right.

So, what does this have to do with schools? Hmm. What doesn’t it have to do with schools?!

Kids, especially black males, are already facing a losing battle. They’re afraid of police, school leaders, gang rivalries, and now, we have to add neighborhood watch volunteers who are packing heat. How are they supposed to think about matrices and vectors in their math classes or master the nuances of Shakespeare’s language or grasp his understanding of human nature? How can they focus on any of that when wearing a hoodie seems to be all that’s necessary to get them killed.

After the shootings in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, I wrote that there wasn’t much point to school if our children get shot before their eighth birthday. Why bother fixing schools for black children if our white neighborhood watch volunteers can legally kill them without real cause? We are demanding black parents get involved in our schools with one set of laws and allowing black children to be killed in cold blood with another set of laws. There’s not one shred of logic to it.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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