I mentioned last time that I might elaborate on my own experiences as relevant to the incident that ended with Trayvon Martin’s untimely demise. And those experiences are why I often find myself in the middle, so to speak, about the trial of George Zimmerman.
Towards that end, let me tell a story.
When I was in high school, a bit younger than Trayvon Martin in fact, my parent’s house was broken into. The would-be burglar had jimmied the lock on one of the downstairs/basement windows, unscrewed the bars across that lower pane, cut the power cord to the infrared beam that was supposed to guard against intrusion (it was not hooked up as yet, something that was soon rectified), made his way up to the landing while fending off the no-doubt frenzied nipping of our miniature schnauzer Sir Nibbs of Trump, and found himself on the landing to the front door probably right about the time that I walked past the mailbox on the way home from school.
In his flight, he managed to shove one of the sliding glass doors that separated the “kids’ floor” from the stairwell hard enough to rip it off the track it was hanging from, strike a fairly heavy chest with enough force to pull it a good foot or two out from the wall, and jump out a second story window with enough velocity to completely clear the bottom pane as he rocketed through.
The problem, from my perspective, is that I didn’t know any of that. I never saw the man, all I knew was that I opened the door to the house and heard the window smash and my dog was clearly distraught. I suspected it was something similar to what it turned out to be, but at the time I didn’t know.
So I went around back to look.
Now, I didn’t go charging around in hot pursuit, but I wanted to make sure of what had happened with the least possible risk to myself before I called the cops. It wouldn’t do for me to call in a home invasion when it turned out to be something prosaic like a tree branch breaking through a window or some such, after all.
It wasn’t really a smart move. The smart thing to do would be to call the cops and report it regardless of what it turned out to be. I did it as carefully as I could, and miraculously the perpetrator managed to not only survive his leap of faith, but in good enough condition to be completely disappeared by the time I made my way around to the back of the house.
But still. Not the wisest decision.
In that respect, I empathize with George Zimmerman. While there’s no tragic ending to my little story, I made a similar decision to the one that Zimmerman made when he got out of his car to follow Martin. Neither of us showed particularly good judgment in doing so, but it’s unwise to portray Zimmerman’s decision as one that guaranteed a tragic end.
On the other hand…
When I was around Trayvon Martin’s age, my best friend lived about a mile from my house. As a general rule, we’d just walk the distance, even after I got my driver’s license. I’d made that walk in all weather conditions, all times of day and frequently well into the evening, and easily as late as the time when Trayvon Martin headed home from the 7-11.
During several of those late-evening sojourns, I was questioned by local residents who just assumed that a teenage boy out after dark was up to no good. I had a few who followed me just to be sure, and as such I can fully empathize with Trayvon Martin when he found the experience to be unsettling.
This was occasionally compounded by the fact that my neighbor didn’t like my family, and apparently had it out for me for reasons I’ll likely never understand, to the point where he’d regularly implicate me whenever something suspicious happened in the neighborhood. One occasion actually warranted me being stopped and briefly questioned by the police before they decided that my neighbor was, in fact, just a hateful old fart.
Barring the part where someone winds up with a bullet in their chest, I’ve been on both sides of that situation. The well-meaning individual who does something unwise, and the young man being followed for the simple crime of being out after dark.
I never resented the people who watched me though. I knew what they were doing, and I knew why they were doing it. I was keenly aware of the ones who took it to the point of actually following me, because I believe in the value of constructive paranoia, but I operated under the assumption that they were just acting out some paranoia of their own, and didn’t feed into it by doing something like, say, running.
Probably just as well that cell phones weren’t really a thing back in those days though. They existed, of course, but they weren’t nearly so ubiquitous as they are now.
Getting back to the point…
I think one of the defense attorneys said it best: “There are no monsters here.”
Just two people making bad judgment calls out of fear and concern, colliding in the dark with tragic results. Neither party made good decisions that night, but while Trayvon Martin doesn’t deserve to be dead, neither I feel does George Zimmerman deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison.