This Is My Rifle: The Tragic Death of Trayvon MartinPosted by Jason James on 03/28/12 | Filed under Features, This Is My Rifle
But as the weeks went by it became obvious that not only would the Martin family be denied the justice they so rightfully deserved, they would also have to endure the pain of knowing that the person who took Trayvon's life would walk away a free man. Zimmerman, a White/Hispanic licensed gun owner, claimed that he acted in self-defense and under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which permits citizens to react with deadly force to situations in which there is reasonable belief of a threat, he was released without charges. Further investigation of the events leading up to the shooting have provided solid evidence that Zimmerman was not in physical danger and therefore cannot be protected by the "Stand Your Ground" law, however, he has not been detained by Sanford police and is currently in hiding.
Once news of Trayvon's death hit the mainstream media the story ripped through America with the speed and intensity of a brush fire. Communities from all across the country cried foul and demanded restitution. The NAACP, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton raced to Florida and brought national media attention to the tragedy while people of all races from every major city in the United States rallied in support of Trayvon and the Martin family. A group calling themselves the "New Black Panther Party" even put a $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman's head and some have gone as far as to compare Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till. In a matter of weeks, what began as an incident that the Sanford police attempted to quietly sweep under the rug has now developed into an ongoing debate over gun laws and racial equality in America.
While I agree that drawing the comparison between Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till is justifiable, there is one glaring difference; Emmett Till was murdered because he was Black and Trayvon Martin died as a result of racial profiling.
When George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin, he did it because he thought he looked suspicious and not because he directly intended to kill him. There’s no doubt that Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated (in the 911 tapes leaked to the press he mutters “fucking coons” under his breath) but from what the tapes reveal, Zimmerman seems more like an overzealous, neighborhood watch, rent-a-cop flunky than a cold blooded killer. In the prior month Zimmerman had called the police 46 times to report numerous “disturbances” which goes to show that he shared a mentality closer to a mall security guard than a heartless murderer. What most likely happened was a confrontation in which Martin refused to back down then a physical altercation ensued and a frightened Zimmerman shot the boy because he was scared. We will never be sure, but judging by eyewitness accounts and the 911 dispatch recordings it sounds like both Zimmerman and Martin were acting out of fear of one another. Sadly, this was a case of a mentally underdeveloped man, in the possession of a firearm, and under the influence of racial stereotypes encountering his worst fear; a young Black male.
There are many troubling aspects surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin but the misuse of the “Stand Your Ground” law to exonerate George Zimmerman from any wrongdoing is perhaps the most unsettling.
I am a firm believer in the “Castle Doctrine” (the right to protect your home and lethally attack an external threat or intruder) and I strongly support the right to bear arms. But the “Stand Your Ground” law takes the “Castle Doctrine” a step too far and allows for non-violent disagreements to escalate into a hostile conflict under the presumption that one or both parties involved pose a threat to the other’s livelihood. The problem with this law is that it’s subject to perception and is not a “one size fits all” statute; therefore the law can really apply to any confrontation. The idea that a simple argument can turn into murder is scary to say the least and gives way to further complications in the future.
But in contrast, it’s important that we continue to preserve our rights, including the right to protect ourselves and our property. When we begin to scale back and put limitations on our freedom we open the door to other prospective infringements. A great example of this is the Patriot Act and NDAA for FY 2012. When we gave up our privacy in the name of security, it was a slippery slope that brought the United States to an age where you can now be arrested anytime, anywhere for anything. As a Canadian citizen, I can honestly say that part of the reason why the Canadian government hasn’t spiraled as out of control as our American counterparts is because most of the country lives in rural areas and a vast majority of those people own guns. Around the world we have a reputation for being fairly passive but Canadians will only put up with so much and our government knows this. Sure, there’s rampant corruption spread throughout the governing body but they’re extremely careful of how it impacts the public. When the Canadian government tried to institute a long gun registry, the general opinion from the farming community was “let them come and try to take them” and it was because of this attitude that the registry ultimately failed. There is an underlying tension in Canada between the population and our government and it’s very necessary to keep our freedom intact. It’s this tension that keeps authoritarianism at bay. I highly suggest American citizens apply the same mindset.
It has been an enlightening experience seeing so many people come together to embrace truth, liberty and justice in the name of Trayvon Martin but I just pray that the growing racial distress in America subsides and those fanning the flames see through the differences in opinion to find a common interest. The truth is, the Black, Latin and American Indian residents of the United States have never been treated fairly and probably never will. The only way we can conquer this is to demand equality on all sides for all races, religions and classes. If any one group is alienated from this process it just won’t happen. Instead of turning Trayvon Martin’s murder into a reason to bring all of our hatred and resentment for one another to the surface, let’s take this opportunity to analyze our issues and do away with them once and for all.
Trayvon Martin died unnecessarily on February 26th, 2012. He was 17 years old and had his entire life ahead of him. He will never get married, have children or enjoy that simple satisfying feeling of cracking a cold beer after a hard day at the office. The least we can do is turn his untimely death into something positive.
(Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for RefinedHype.com. You can listen/download his most recent album, "Marvelous World Of Color", here and you can contact him here and here.)