March 26, 2012

Martin, Zimmerman, Gun Control, and the Popular Imagination

I have now read dozens upon dozens of news reports from every English-language news source on the globe. They're kind of hard to miss, actually. Everybody who is anybody in the world of journalism and opinion has come out with an article or op-ed about the recent death in Florida of seventeen year-old Trayvon Martin. According to the vast majority of these "reports" and "opinions", George Zimmerman is a violent, gun-toting vigilante who prowls the streets of his Sanford, Florida suburb hunting suspicious black children and targeting them for assassination. Unfortunately, their entire case rests on one very flawed and completely unsupported assumption: George Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin and shot him down in cold blood as a result of his own racist paranoia.

We really know very few genuine facts. We know Trayvon Martin is dead from a gunshot to the chest. We know George Zimmerman fired that shot from a 9 mm handgun he was licensed to carry concealed. We know Trayvon Martin was on his way back to his father's fiancee's house after buying a bag of Skittles and some kind of canned drink. We know George Zimmerman was on Neighborhood Watch that night and was patrolling the streets in his pickup truck as a way of fulfilling that duty. We know George Zimmerman was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher and Trayvon Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend. We know that as a result of the onsite investigation George Zimmerman was not arrested and the police ruled it a self-defense shooting.

And that's it. Those are the only real facts in this case that have been widely reported. There is one additional fact, but for some reason it has received a lot less coverage. We also know there is a witness who prefers to remain anonymous who saw Trayvon Martin on top of George Zimmerman beating him furiously.

Well, I'm sick and tired of educated, respected, well-paid professionals spouting the confrontation assumption as a fact. It is not a fact. It is pure imagination. It is a convenient fiction they are using to put forward an agenda that would disarm every law-abiding citizen in our nation. It is a bald-faced lie!

However, as long as everyone else is fictionalizing the events of that night, I might as well give it a shot in the dark. Unlike the professionals, I'm going to tell you up front that this narrative is pure imagination. I'm making it up based on the available facts, my degree in comparative culture, and my own life experiences. Here's what I think happened:

Trayvon Martin reluctantly accompanied his father on a visit to his fiancee. His father coerced him into it because he wanted Trayvon and his future mother to have some quality time together. Once they arrived, the fiancee was far more interested in spending quality time with Trayvon's father than with Trayvon, so Trayvon pulled on his favorite hoodie and headed out into the night to relieve his boredom. His first stop was a nearby convenience store where he purchased his bag of Skittles and canned drink. In no hurry at all, he began slowly making his way back to the fiancee's house, stopping occasionally to study this new neighborhood more closely.

George Zimmerman was on Neighborhood Watch, so he took his truck out and began driving around the neighborhood. He spotted a bored-looking black adolescent in a hoodie carrying something shiny and immediately assumed it was either a gun or a knife. That was definitely suspicious. He dialed 911 and began slowly following the kid down the street.

Trayvon Martin noticed the pickup truck with the chubby middle-aged white guy following him and immediately became suspicious. Middle-aged neo-Nazis with time on their hands and nothing better to do are overly fond of beating up solitary blacks in some parts of our otherwise fine country. Trayvon picked up his pace and began looking for some way he could cut across the yards of the houses and ditch the truck following him.

George Zimmerman noticed the increased pace and assumed rightly that this kid was looking for some way to lose him, which in George's mind made the kid appear even more suspicious. Now George Zimmerman is starting to shift from being merely suspicious to feeling a bit fearful. The kid is much younger than he is, athletic, and possibly armed. When the kid vanished between two houses, he stopped his truck and got out to investigate more closely.

Trayvon Martin knows the chubby guy isn't about to start jumping fences to chase him down. His adrenaline is running high now, because he noticed the truck stop and the guy get out. Along with the adrenaline rush, his youthful testosterone starts to override his common sense and he begins to question why he should have to run and hide when he wasn't doing anything wrong. So he circles back to confront the middle-aged white guy and finds him headed back to his truck. Now Trayvon is furious. Not only is the white guy stalking him, he's gone back to his truck to summon his friends. So Trayvon ambushes the old guy, knocks him to the ground, jumps on top of him, and starts pounding on him.

George has just headed back to his truck after losing sight of the strange kid wandering through the neighborhood. He's planning to redial 911 and let them know he lost sight of the kid, where he lost sight of the kid, and what direction he last saw the kid heading. That shiny whatever in the kid's hand still worries him. He's afraid, and he knows he's afraid. Suddenly the kid jumps him from behind and knocks him to the ground. Before George can react, the kid is on top of him and pounding on his face. He screams for help but nobody seems to be listening. He pulls out his gun and shoots the kid through the chest.

The 911 dispatcher receives a flurry of calls about shots fired in a normally quiet, middle-class neighborhood. She sends out a call and every car within a few miles hits lights and siren and rolls to the scene. They find a shaken, armed George Zimmerman standing over the body of a teenage black in a hoodie. As they get closer, they see the kid is a boy. Guns drawn, they order George Zimmerman to put down his 9 mm. As soon as he does, they swoop in and start demanding answers.

The next day the local press publishes the story. The day after that CNN picks up, AP picks it up, and Reuters picks it up. Forty-eight hours later the whole world knows that a crazy American redneck has shot a black kid in cold blood, or at least that's what the journalists are reporting. It takes another forty-eight hours for the world to learn that George Zimmerman is hispanic, not white, but nobody pays attention to that because it doesn't fit the far more delicious narrative they've already been circulating for the past three days. Then a British paper publishes a story about an anonymous witness who claims to have seen the black kid on top of the white guy beating him up. That violates their narrative even more, so they ignore it completely and starting hitting the mailing lists behind the scenes asking the British paper to pull the story. The British paper refuses, but it doesn't matter because now the op-ed writers have worked themselves into a fever pitch, kids are wearing hoodies to church, the OWS folks are tearing down barricades on Wall Street, and the NAACP is sponsoring marches in every major city.


CNN: Calls for Justice Rage a Month after Trayvon Martin's Killing
Mail Online: Anonymous Witness Claims Martin Attacked Zimmerman
Orlando Sentinel: Zimmerman Says Trayvon Martin Decked Him with One Blow

Noteworthy Op-ed pieces:

CNN: Fight for Justice in Martin Case is Fight to Remove Stereotypes
Reuters: Modern America's Wild West Gun Laws
American Spectator: The Politics of Tragedy
MSNBC: "Gunshine State": Shoot First Survivor Tells His Story
Miami Herald: Self-Defense Law Could Hamper Prosecution