Trayvon Martin – Making Sense of A Tragedy by Venessa Bowers

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I have watched with some degree of horror at the unfolding of the case regarding the death of Trayvon Martin. I say with “some degree of horror” because what happened to this young man happens in cities across the country every day and on many levels much of the communities in which we live are de-sensitized to these events. We hear issues presented about this being a case of racial profiling, many incendiary comments about how white people have always tried to kill and often successfully killed young black men, and how this tragedy can happen to any black child in the country. All of that is true.

As a white woman, I have felt the shame of my white privilege which affords me the opportunity to dismiss this issue as a non-racial issue because, well, people get shot all the time. And that initial feeling, however fleeting is horrifying. The truth is, I have wondered if this situation could have happened if the teenager walking down the street in George Zimmerman’s neighborhood would have been shot if he were white. My answer to that was “no – if he was white, he’d still be alive.” And yet…

And yet there is always a bigger picture to what we know and do not know about this case. The looming issue for me is the asinine law in Florida and many other states where one can “stand their ground” and “defend themselves from what they perceive as a threat.” Well, what is a threat? What is reasonable? I question gun laws as a regular course of action – I do this because the second amendment provides citizens the right to keep and bear arms to defend against threats foreign and domestic . When the amendment was written, it wasn’t talking about the fact that one could shoot his neighbor and walk away unscathed, rather it was written to prevent the government from tyrannical practices. So, how does the second amendment protect George Zimmerman? Well, it doesn’t. However, the “Stand Your Ground” law does. It is vague in its application and even more vague in its mission.  And I fear more people will die because of this law.

While I can use the law in Florida to give me the right to shoot fundamentalist Christians (who I often perceive as a threat to my liberty and safety) I do not do it. I do not have the authority, second amendment or not, to shoot with impunity. Besides that – it’s just plain immoral to shoot people therefore I must exercise caution and reason if I am to carry a firearm. We have a citizens’ watch in my community – we don’t carry guns we carry cell phones and call 911. The police have the right to carry a firearm – they are trained to determine what constitutes threat based on the law. I however am only afforded my training of living in a fear-based society and let’s face it – fear of the other makes us stupid and therefore we do stupid things. With fear in my heart and mind and a gun in my hand, it only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

I say these things not to diminish the reaction from the black community about what happened to this young man. I say them to say, in some states, this could happen to anyone’s kid. This is the bigger picture. Laws that protect a select few from imagined and perceived threat make all of us targets in the new shoot-outs that make the Wild West seem, well, tame.  If I get snippy with the checker at the grocery store, can that person perceive that as a threat? Maybe…

How I perceive threat is just that – my perception. How you perceive threat is your perception. This is not reality. What is real is that a law is in place that protects George Zimmerman from being held accountable for his actions (which as we know often happens in these cases). Technically, he did not break the law, as it is in Florida. He broke a bigger law – a fundamental law of being my brother’s keeper.  And unfortunately, the legal system cannot hold him accountable to a moral principal although there are many republicans right now (and historically) screaming about the lack of social morals. My solution is to start with the law- if you want morality, you must make sure laws are moral. The law in Florida was put in place by a bunch of republicans…these are dichotomous issues and that seems to be the only platform on which republicans ever run.

Again I come back to what is threat? People threaten my ego – should I shoot them? People threaten my safety when they text and drive – should I shoot them. People who walk up on my porch and tell me to “find Jesus” (as if He were lost) threaten my privacy and right to worship as I choose – should I shoot them too? If I shot everyone who threatened me, I’d qualify as a serial killer. Is that what the law was intended to do?

I try to not talk about politics so much in my blogs for the wonderful women of Lioness Vizions – but in this case I had to say my piece about the republican media machine that is justifying bad policy in Florida. Where do we draw the line? Are we willing to talk to our neighbors rather than hurt them? Are we willing to listen rather than operate out of fear? Are we willing to read the Constitution and make sense of it in a way that doesn’t rely on Rush Limbaugh and Keith Obermann’s interpretations in the lunatic fringe? Can we not think for ourselves? I fear we cannot. But, I’m still not getting a gun.

Bright Blessings

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1 comment so far

  1. Harold P. Donle (Butch) on

    As usual Venessa well written and well thought out, er, to a point. Now before you get pissed at me let me make a couple or more points/observations. First for the most part I agree with what you have written here but there are a couple of flawed assumptions on your part, mostly assumptions that most people make.
    Your first assumption lies in this statement: “I have wondered if this situation could have happened if the teenager walking down the street in George Zimmerman’s neighborhood would have been shot if he were white. My answer to that was “no – if he was white, he’d still be alive.”’ You are probably correct in this assumption if this had been an upscale or middle class neighbor and the kid was “respectably” dressed, but in a neighborhood like say South Boston and the kid was dressed in “urban chic” the results may have been exactly the same. And there are many other neighborhoods across this country where the results would not vary very much.
    Your second flawed assumption, in my opinion, lies in the following statement: “The police. . .are trained to determine what constitutes threat based on the law.” This is rarely the case as most police departments do not have access to police academy graduates, in fact it is mostly only the large metropolitan police departments like NYC, LA, Chicago, etc, that have police academies to train their potential officers. Smaller cities rely on the state police to give their potential officers rudimentary training in “threat assessment” and proper procedure to deal with the “threat” but not so much the laws that govern the use of deadly force. In towns and smaller communities often there is no training at all, if an applicant can pass a written test and make it through the probationary period they may not get any training whatsoever. These cops can then move on to larger police forces and never get any “official” training because now they are experienced officers. And what training they do receive, if any, is largely military training in assault tactics.
    Lastly I’d like to comment that Zimmerman has been charged with 2nd degree murder but the police have sabotaged the case first by defending Zimmerman’s side of the story and secondly by releasing him the night of the incident and returning the murder weapon to him. I know what I would do with that weapon if I was in his shoes and it would not be to turn it over to the prosecution, It would be “stolen” or “lost”


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