Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Trayvon Martin Case

It is impossible to get away from the Trayvon Martin case, even sitting in India.  Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a 'Neighborhood Watch' volunteer in Sanford, a small town in the US state of Florida.  It was apparently a rainy night and there was no single witness who saw the entire event clearly.  We have only Zimmerman's word and forensic evidence, and the latter is open to interpretation.  Zimmerman claims self-defense from an aggressive Martin.  Protests from African-American political leaders (even Obama sympathized with the Martin family, which gave the case added publicity) and others have made the case a supposed example of continuing racism in the US.  In all the hyperbole, it is easy to forget the essence of the case: two individuals, who were both scared of each other but equally apparently unnecessarily aggressive (and one had a gun) for different reasons, got into an unnecessary confrontation and one ended up shot and killed.

A nice essay by William Saletan in Slate provides a badly needed dose of reality in the midst of all the hyperventilating.  My own sense is that Zimmerman should have been jailed for his part in the events as well as Martin's death for at least a year or two.  He did after all kill an unarmed teenager, and he did do his bit to start the confrontation, even if Martin was responsible too by being aggressive.  Unfortunately, the prosecution over-charged: Zimmerman was charged with both second-degree murder (which was a ludicrous charge) and with manslaughter.  But even the lesser charge carried with it the possibility of a thirty-year sentence.  Anything more than a couple of years would have been too much punishment for what was a mistaken shooting (but one with an obviously deadly consequence) and I think that is why the jury decided to acquit.  Sentencing Zimmerman for a decade or two in prison would have been wrong, but so was letting him walk.  Unfortunately, those two bad choices were all that the jury had.  And so the tragedy continues.

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