Over the past few weeks I have been following the trial of George Zimmerman a 29 year old Hispanic American who is a neighborhood watch coordinator of the Twin Lakes community of Florida in a case where he pursued, shot and killed Trayvon Benjamin Martin, a 17 year old African-American boy in the Twin Lakes Community of Florida.
Race and racial profiling
Among other things this case clearly brought out for me the issue of race and power dynamics in the different states in the United States of America. It also reminded me of Martin Luther King and his legacy of fighting racial inequality and discrimination. The verdict which acquitted Zimmerman was indeed a defining moment in the history of America. Being a foreigner in this country and having followed the story I feel the justice system in Florida failed Trayvon and whoever else is represented by Trayvon. Whilst I did not think Zimmerman deserved to be given a death sentence I also felt he needed to be sentenced in order to bring him to book for profiling a young, unarmed black boy who he pursued and ended up shooting in the name of defending himself. I also still wonder why even when the matter was reported, Zimmerman was not initially arrested.
Following the case and the different opinions and comments that people had one could evidently see the divisions along racial lines. Whilst those on Zimmerman’s side felt he was not even supposed to have been brought to trial, Trayvon Martins supporters felt Zimmerman was supposed to be thrown behind bars and charged either with second degree murder or manslaughter. The racial divisions also clearly informed people’s interpretations of the law as people highlighted what and how they felt about the case.
One can also tell how the reactions of the people of Florida were based not only on the way Trayvon’ s case has been handled but also on how over the years different cases involving people of different races have been handled in that State.
The Stand Your Ground Law – Wasn’t Trayvon supposed to stand his?
One of the issues I found disturbing was how the concept of self-defense in the Stand Your Ground law is interpreted in the Florida legislation which I think informed the jury’s final decision. The Stand Your Ground Law which is law in more than half of the US states which include Florida, states that “a person may justifiably use force in self-defense where there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first. Under this law “a person is justified in using deadly force in certain situations…” Part of the evidence that was used against Trayvon was Zimmerman’s pictures and medical reports which showed the injuries he sustained from Trayvon wrestling with the young man. So how come this was not cited in Trayvon’s defense. Trayvon did not provoke Zimmerman and had reason to stand his ground because he was being followed by a man who never identified himself! Is it also not true that Trayvon could have assaulted Zimmerman in self-defense? I am sure he did that in defense of himself as well seeing there was a man who had pursued him for a while?
Interestingly in another case in the same state, Marissa Alexander, an African American woman who had a record of suffering as a result of domestic violence at the hands of her husband fired a warning shot when her husband threatened to kill her. No one was hurt in the firing of this shot. Marissa had prior to this incident reported domestic violence and even got a restraining order against her husband. The jury spent only 12 minutes deliberating on her case and came out with a verdict. She was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In Marissa’s case the law is said to “mandate increased penalties for some felonies including aggravated assault in which a gun is carried or used and this is without regarding to any extenuating circumstances”. Interestingly they denied her the right to invoke the stand your ground law in her favour.
What an irony. Liberty to a man who follows and kills a young innocent child and a lifetime in prison for a woman who tries to protect herself from an abusive spouse! At this rate I do not expect America to play watchdog to other countries on issues of justice the way it always does. The country’s idea of justice in the different states leaves a lot to be desired!