by Len Lear

A freelance writer I have known for 30 years sent an email to me the day after the George Zimmerman acquittal, stating in part: “What are you supposed to do when a wild ‘youth’ preying on innocent people leaps upon you and starts slamming your head into the concrete? But if someone does pounce on you, you can’t hesitate to defend yourself.”

Although I do think the jury’s verdict was the correct one, given the facts of the case and the law in Florida, I don’t see how anyone can say that Martin was “preying on innocent people,” to use my acquaintance’s language. He was just walking through the neighborhood, which is not a crime, even in Florida. I know Town Watch people in this area, and I know the rules they follow.

They are not supposed to carry a weapon, at least in Philadelphia, for obvious reasons. A criminal could take it away and use it against a Town Watch volunteer, many of whom are elderly. Town Watch volunteers are told over and over again, “If you see something or someone suspicious, call 9-1-1 immediately. DO NOT confront the person yourself! Let the police handle it. That is what they are trained to do.”

No one but Zimmerman knows who pounced on whom, but we do know that Zimmerman called police on his cell phone and was told by a dispatcher to stay in his car and NOT TO FOLLOW the teenager who “looked suspicious” (meaning, “black”). Of course, Zimmerman undoubtedly had been told the same thing in his Town Watch training, but the vigilante cop wannabe ignored what police told him and what he had been trained to do, possibly because he wanted to be a hero.

As a result, a kid who may or may not have been hot-tempered is dead for no reason, and Zimmerman and his family will probably never have a moment’s peace. Who would hire Zimmerman for any job except maybe the NRA or the Fox News network? (I think his family members are in hiding right now.)

No rational person would deny anyone the right to self-defense when attacked, but that is not the primary issue here. The obvious issue is that Zimmerman’s thoughtless actions started the whole thing in motion. If he had done what he was trained to do and reminded to do by police, nothing would have happened, and none of us would have ever heard of either Martin or Zimmerman.

Even if Zimmerman had seen Trayvon Martin breaking into an apartment, he still should have called 9-1-1. But he did not see the kid committing any crime. He just saw a black teenage male. (Full disclosure: When I see a black teenage male wearing baggy pants and a hoodie, I do not think, “Wow, what a fashionable kid.” I also think this kid might be up to no good. I was once attacked by three black teenagers at 23rd and Ridge Avenue at 10 a.m. on a weekday when I had gone there to interview a mother of 16 children for a story.)

I also feel tremendous sympathy for Trayvon Martin’s parents, who have carried themselves with dignity throughout their horrific ordeal. The best, most intelligent parents can wind up with a “troubled teenager,” in some cases because of neurological reasons. Research has proven in recent years that teenagers are much more likely to react impulsively and instinctively than adults because the parts of the brain that control such behavior are usually not fully formed until one’s early or mid-20s.

It is not unusual for a teenage boy to react the way Trayvon Martin appears to have reacted when he is challenged or believes he has been insulted. When I was on the junior varsity football team at Central High School, I made a comment in jest after a game to an offensive guard about a missed block, whereupon he jumped on me and began punching me in the face.

Of course any words, no matter how ugly, do not justify a violent response under the law, but how many young males are going to think about what the law allows if their manhood is insulted or challenged. (Although we will never know for sure, perhaps Zimmerman used a racial slur against Martin.) My older brother and I were attacked by a group of kids when I was 16 – one threw a rock though one of our car windows at Stenton Avenue and Washington Lane; my brother was hit in the head with the rock, and shards of glass got into his face – for TALKING to a girl who happened to be the girlfriend of one of these thugs.

My point is that some testosterone-fueled teenage boys may have a very short fuse. After all, how many bullies are there in every high school? It may be a small percentage, but some young men will not put on the brakes when they are challenged. They may act irrationally, but what else is new? Plato said the same things about teenagers almost 2,400 years ago. All the more reason to call police and not challenge one you think may be up to no good.

While the Trayvon incident was certainly a tragedy, I can’t help but wonder where all the marchers and protesters around the country have been while innocent victims have been killed almost every day for many years in Philadelphia and other major cities in the U.S. Who is marching for them?

One more thing. In all the commentary I have read about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I have not seen any reference to the National Rifle Association, which is largely responsible for the proliferation of guns so that almost anyone can easily get his hands on them. When I was a teenager, an angry male might “just” beat you up with his fists. Today, with more than 300 million guns in private hands in the United States, more than the entire rest of the world combined (although we have less than 5 percent of the world’s population), that same angry young man might kill you.

The NRA’s goal is for every person in the country, both law-abiding and law-breaking, to have guns. It’s all money in the bank, which is really all the NRA leadership cares about. As for the innocent victims, they are just collateral damage. Tough luck. It’s their own fault for not having an arsenal of weapons and not buying stock in Smith & Wesson. As long as an almost infinite number of guns and ammunition are sold to people who already have one for every finger and toe on their body, we will all be in danger.

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