July 14, 2013

Why is Trayvon Martin dead?

Trayvon Martin is dead because he attacked George Zimmerman. Period.

The death of anyone in the prime of life is a terrible tragedy. It does not matter if they die as a victim of a crime, from a terrible disease, in combat, or from their own stupidity, the death of a person in the prime of life is always a tragic event that traumatizes everyone who knows them. Even though I never personally knew anyone related to the Martin/Zimmerman incident, I feel a deep sympathy for everyone involved. This was a terrible, preventable tragedy. However, it was not a crime.

As I brought out back in March (Martin, Zimmerman, Gun Control, and the Popular Imagination), this incident was a violent confrontation in the dead of night between two grown men. Calling Trayvon Martin a "child" is deceptive and intentionally misleading. Trayvon Martin was an athletic seventeen year-old. He was a young man in the prime of life. He was not a child. By the same token, George Zimmerman did not escalate the confrontation simply by leaving his truck against the advice of the 911 operator. The point of escalation occurred when Trayvon Martin punched George Zimmerman in the nose. From that point on it was inevitable that one of the two was either going to wind up dead or hospitalized. Because he had a firearm and was able to bring it into play, George Zimmerman walked away and Trayvon Martin wound up dead. It really is that simple.

If we are going to avoid this kind of tragedy in the future than we must face the facts and from the facts derive a realistic lesson. Romanticizing this incident in terms of race, gun control, or civil rights inflates emotions and blinds us to the facts, making it impossible to derive a realistic lesson. As a gun owner, a CCW licensee, and a grown man who carries a gun everywhere the law allows it, I have a lesson to draw from this incident. Young men pumped up on adolescent hormones and looking to find some way to prove themselves to the world at large have a different lesson to draw from this incident. In my case, the lesson is twofold: avoiding confrontation is the first rule of self-defense and when that fails always seek some way to de-escalate a situation before it turns violent. In the case of young men everywhere, the lesson they should be drawing from this incident is do not choose violence when confronted by strangers in the night.

There are really only two ways this incident could have been avoided: George Zimmerman could have stayed in his truck or Trayvon Martin could have walked away from the confrontation when it finally took place. If either man had sought to avoid confrontation the incident would never have taken place. Both men chose to seek out this confrontation and when it finally happened, one of those men chose to respond violently forcing the other to defend himself.

Trayvon Martin is dead because he punched George Zimmerman in the face. When George Zimmerman fell to the ground, he jumped on top of him and began beating him. In the course of that beating he slammed George Zimmerman's head against the ground. As it happened, Zimmerman had fallen in such a way that his head was over a concrete walkway. That concrete walkway became Trayvon Martin's deadly weapon. Either because Martin reached for Zimmerman's firearm or because Zimmerman felt his life was in danger, George Zimmerman then drew his firearm and shot Trayvon Martin. The point of no return came when Trayvon Martin punched George Zimmerman in the face. If anyone is to blame for this tragedy it is the victim, Trayvon Martin. He was the first one to choose violence and he was the first to introduce a deadly weapon. That does not lessen the tragedy, not by a long shot, but if we are to draw realistic lessons from this tragedy then we must face the truth of this tragedy.

This incident was not about racial profiling. Even though both men resorted to bigotry and made false assumptions based on race, that bigotry did not make violence inevitable. Those false assumptions did not cause Trayvon Martin's death. This incident became tragic the moment Trayvon Martin punched George Zimmerman in the nose. I am repeating this over and over again because I cannot emphasize it enough. Of all the many errors that took place in this horrible comedy of errors, that is the one point where a fatal choice was made. George Zimmerman's response was in defense of his own life. Trayvon Martin was not facing a threat to his person or property. He had no realistic reason to resort to violence. The only threat was in his own mind and instead of taking the time to assess that threat, he immediately chose violence. This mistake made his death inevitable. He could have, and should have, explained himself and then simply walked away.

If Trayvon Martin had simply explained himself and then walked away, George Zimmerman would have had no legal, moral, or ethical justification for continuing his pursuit. Had Trayvon Martin simply chosen to avoid violence he would be alive today and no one outside his family and friends would have ever known the confrontation took place.