Monday, April 23, 2012

Standing Zimmerman's Ground

"Welcome to the neighborhood, sucker."

City officials in Sanford, Florida, where George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, have rejected the resignation of Bill Lee, the chief of police who initially defended his own professional malfeasance by claiming that under the state's "stand your ground" law he could not arrest Zimmerman for the shooting.

Following Martin's death, the 200-pound Zimmerman claimed that the 140-pound deceased had assaulted him to the point that Zimmerman shot his assailant in fear for his own safety. The Fox Noise machine and the right wing punditry jumped gleefully into the melee with their usual murky grasp of fact, urging not only that the shooter be exonerated, but canonized in the bargain, a poster child for real Americans standing up for their rights against a . . . .well, against some skinny black kid.

I doubt that Zimmerman is a homicidal maniac, or even a particularly bad sort [I'll take that back] - he's clearly neither a hero nor the sort of person who should own a handgun. He is rather the product of a culture in which guns are endemic, a symbol of manly independence and moral integrity, resident in a state where they are poorly regulated and where their ready use is sanctioned. He nurtured ambitions to be a law enforcement officer, a trade which uses guns as a matter of course, often as a matter of first recourse, and with a near blanket immunity for their consequences. Police forces get to police themselves while they police the rest of us. It must have sounded like a fun career, and Zimmerman is neither alone nor evil in wishing to join the excitement. He was doubtless practicing for the pros that evening on his voluntary neighborhood watch.

Professional gun etiquette

Bill Lee's malingering indecision also has its mitigating considerations in this weird cultural allegory in which the National Rifle Association has effectively employed state and national legislators as its shills and lobbyists. I'd guess that most of the NRA's membership is a reasonable group of hobbyists, hunters and sport shooters who favor some level of gun sale monitoring, and who find themselves very much at odds with an increasingly militant and detached leadership. But even though Bill Lee was understandably confused by Florida's "stand your ground" statute, he should be fired.

Zimmerman's story about what happened that night is self-serving and probably concocted - while he was walking back to his vehicle, Martin came up from behind and attacked him. But even allowing it to be true, here are the circumstances: while walking home through a neighborhood where he had every good reason to be, all the while minding his own business, a teenager is stalked in the dark and then accosted by a stranger considerably bulkier than he is. Following this exchange, Martin (by Zimmerman's account) followed him and then punched him. If this were the true account, then even by Zimmerman's tacit admission Martin would have been doing nothing more than standing his ground, entirely within the law of the state where he resided.

Unfortunately, in the civic climate fostered by NRA-sponsored shoot-to-kill legislation, in a political system that lives in callow terror of the NRA, the person with the gun has legal primacy. His right to carry a gun and to use it is somehow sacrosanct. It's the poor sod who is unarmed, particularly one who has the misfortune to be a black Florida teenager, who has no right in the matter - even when (as Zimmerman claims of Martin) he stands his ground. To have the full protection of the law, he should have had a gun, because the law is in place first of all to protect the rights of gun owners, not casual nighttime pedestrians minding their own business. 

How did it ever happen that the presumption of law now favors the shooter? If the issue were reversed, if Zimmerman the stalker had been laid out by a length of two-by-four or some such "repurposed" bludgeon, I'd bet Officer Lee's duty would have been preternaturally clear to him. He should go - he doesn't understand who it is that laws are supposed to protect.

 "The gun is fine, but you can't wear that shirt in here, sir."

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