Or was it?
As it turned out, young George Zimmerman wasn’t standing his ground when he fired that fatal shot in Sanford, Florida, but being beaten into it by younger Trayvon Martin. At least, given the evidence and testimony presented at trial, the state failed to prove otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt, leaving the jury to presumably accept that self-defense had justified the defendant’s actions.
Like many, I at first thought that the defendant must be guilty of something. He had surely confronted the victim and provoked the fight that led to the fatal shooting. (In some respects, I had perhaps even wanted him to be guilty, because I am a person who avoids unnecessary confrontation and could not reasonably see myself in the defendant’s place.) Unlike most, though, I also wanted the local police and prosecutors to do their jobs without political interference, so I was dismayed when the case was pushed as a racial cause célèbre.
I was also willing to change my opinion as the actual facts emerged from the cloak of propaganda. Two currents swayed me both before and during the trial.
First, the state brought an unsustainable charge against the defendant. In Florida, second-degree murder requires that the perpetrator act with hate or a depraved mind, motives that were clearly absent even before the trial commenced. I wondered about this overreach, until the answer struck me. The state had to win on an accusation that couldn’t later be turned against its own agents. A loss would be preferable to exposing constables on patrol to potential murder charges merely for contacting suspicious individuals.
Second, at trial, the most compelling evidence and testimony supported the defendant’s version of events. While the defendant may have initiated contact, the facts strongly suggested that the victim was the aggressor in the fight that followed. That is reasonable doubt right there, even if you feel or believe that there is still guilt lurking somewhere. Confronting a suspicious individual in your neighborhood may be foolish, but it is not a crime and does not justify battery upon your person.
In the end, most of us might never have heard of the incident if the mainstream media hadn’t initially jumped to the conclusion that an old Jewish man had shot a 12-year-old black boy without provocation. Maybe the outcome would have been different then.