Don’t Fear Me
I won’t go into any of the details surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. First of all because many of them are in dispute, but more importantly because none of them really matter, or at least shouldn’t.
The reality of the matter is that in Florida the law will protect you if you gun someone down because you felt “reasonably” afraid for your life. Referred to as the “Stand Your Ground” laws, 16 other states have them, including my own, Pennsylvania (the full list is here).
In fact, it was only last summer that PA’s Governor, Tom Corbitt (R), signed it into law. Somehow I missed this, as well as the ongoing controversy surrounding the adoption of these laws since 2005. This both depresses and scares me. Like most laws, we often don’t hear about them until there are already being enforced against us, or in the case of Trayvon’s case, before it’s entirely too late. Of course, it’s not clear that he wouldn’t have been killed by George Zimmerman if Florida didn’t have a “Shoot First” law. But laws don’t exist in a vacuum. They reinforce or inhibit pre-exiting social conventions and norms regarding acceptable behavior.
Like, for instance, patrolling one’s neighborhood armed with a gun. I have never fired a gun, much less been trained in how to properly use one. But I doubt that everyone who has a permit for one has been trained on when it should be employed against another human being, or more to the point, precisely when it should NOT be.
Reading through the news stories, I haven’t found anything that says Trayvon was armed with a gun or even a knife. Or anything that says he was threatening Zimmerman with either of these weapons. Which makes it appear as though Zimmerman got a bloodied nose and decided to slaughter a 17-year old teenager because of it. But as I noted above, the details are in dispute, and I haven’t had the time to read through them and come to my own conclusions on what most likely occurred.
And though this story could easily be used to critique different institutions and policies, I feel that doing so would somehow make the pernicious outcome banal. Filtering it into a discussion simply about profiling, simply about inequality before the law, simply about gun rights or a more esoteric debate about self-defense theory, would remove us too far away from the immediate horror of what occurred and what is protected under the law in Florida and in my home state.
Because according to the law in both lands, people have a right to carry around hunks of intricately designed metal that can shoot tinier hunks of metal with the ease of contracting a single muscle group. These tinier hunks of metal, upon making contact with human flesh, will continue on, either burrowing deep within one’s body, or blasting out the other side. In order for someone carrying one of these tools around to use it on me, and be justified in doing so, they need only feel afraid.
Of course, self-defense is only a legal and moral abstraction. And has no bearing on actual circumstances, the reality of which is that Trayvon, will still be dead, because another person killed him, no matter what the police, FBI, or Justice Department find out later on. And for no reason other than that someone had the effortless means to do so, and a system of justice that would condone it.