It’s heating up…

by Pete Mazzaccaro

It’s shaping up to be a brutal summer. Through all of July, when it hasn’t been too hot to be outdoors, it’s been too wet. The only reasonable outdoor activity anyone should attempt is floating in a pool.

I had been planning to write about the difficulty of keeping up with a running program in this heat. But luck intervened, and I nearly broke a toe on my right foot two weeks ago. So no running for me.

And that’s just as well. It’s been too hot for running, and there are far more important things to write about than a jogging routine.

Just as this heat wave began, our national discourse reached a near boiling point over the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who gunned down a 17-year-old black teenager, Treyvon Martin.

Zimmerman’s acquittal was met with predictable and justifiable outrage by many. That an unarmed boy can be gunned down lawfully without consequences is shocking.

Most of what I’ve heard and read decrying the verdict misses the mark, in my opinion. I don’t believe that the fault here lies at all with the jury. In fact, I’m pretty sure the jury followed its instructions, given the law. And I think it’s likely that they reached their conclusion fairly. Racism is not the problem. It’s the law.

Yes, racism was at work. When Zimmerman first spotted Martin in his gated Florida community, he quickly assessed that a black teen in a hoody was suspicious. He followed Martin in his car and later on foot, even though he was instructed by police not to follow the boy.

But racism and the kind of prejudice that prompts many to reach the same conclusion is pervasive and predictable. There is really no way to legislate against it. And its manifestation here should not, sadly, be all that surprising. In fact it should be planned for.

And that, I think, is where there is clearly fault with the law. The jury found that Zimmerman was within his legal rights to shoot and kill Martin in self defense under Florida law – the famous Stand Your Ground law. The law states that a person may use “justifiable force” in self defense when he or she believes an assailant represents an “unlawful threat.” The defender, here, is also under no obligation to retreat first.

This law makes logical sense when one is defending home or property, but Zimmerman was doing neither. He was out on his own, acting as a police officer, even though he was not. And, again, he was informed by police that he was not needed to follow Martin. Here the ground on which he was standing was not his own. He had put himself in a situation he had no real business being in to begin with.

That law in the Zimmerman/Martin case has clearly interpreted broadly, giving Zimmerman the legal authority to stand his ground, even though he had initiated contact with Martin by following him.

And that, to me, is the the shocker. Martin’s past and activities that night are irrelevant. Even if he had been out in the night looking to commit a burglary or buy drugs or whatever other motives Zimmerman might have imagined, that any law made it right to pursue, confront and then kill him, should be shocking and give us all serious pause. That is the law of the Wild West, not a civilized society.

Perhaps Martin’s family will ultimately obtain a measure of justice through a civil wrongful death suit or a federal civil rights conviction. Meanwhile, the best justice might be the elimination of laws that give anyone with a gun the right to act like a vigilante.

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