Now, I know that I’ve made this blog primarily about my own personal transformation over this year, but I think a part of that is the way I interact with the world at large. Thus, please forgive me for this post if it bothers you, but I’m going to delve into some recent events and how I’m thinking about them right now.
As some of you may have heard, the recent criminal court case in Florida involving George Zimmerman being tried for second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin concluded this weekend. He was found not guilty by a jury of six women. The web has erupted in outrage, and people are filling the streets for what is seen to be the further acceptance of a bias against the African American community in criminal matters, as well as the protection of a self-important police wannabe who profiled, followed, attacked and killed an unarmed teenager walking through a gated community. You can familiarize yourself with the particulars of the case (that are public, anyway) at various and sundry other sites – I don’t need to repeat those here.
But despite his being convicted in the court of public opinion, the real legal proceedings allows him not to be convicted if there is reasonable doubt. The prosecutor has to argue a compelling case using real evidence. And the unfortunate part of this case is that the only two people who know for sure what happened that night are Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin – and Zimmerman has a vested interest in representing himself as innocent of murder, thereby making his testimony widely suspect (apparently). And Martin, well, he can only tell us so much. There are phone recordings, text messages, wound analyses, but all of those have to be interpreted. Zimmerman was injured as if he was in a fight. But let’s be realistic – if he engaged Martin and initiated something, wouldn’t you expect a potential fight? How many seventeen year old young men would not be belligerent to an adult male challenging them? How many *adults* would not be belligerent when challenged?
It is undisputed that Zimmerman shot Martin through the heart. It is undisputed that Martin was unarmed and it is even on record that Zimmerman was told that he didn’t need to follow Martin.
It is undisputed that Florida has a law on its books that allows someone to stand their ground if they feel they are being threatened. And the funny thing is, I think that law applied to both parties that night. But one of those parties ended up dead.
So, as far as I can see, the jury was faced with the unknowable – beyond a reasonable doubt – circumstances of how this all began, and the fact that, in Florida, you are protected by the law should you choose to stand your ground and defend yourself against a potential attacker. Therefore, folks should not be surprised that Zimmerman was acquitted. I think it is reasonable that there was reasonable doubt. There is a dearth of hard facts on how this altercation occurred – only interpretations from either side of the courtroom (and those outside of the courtroom who have decided they need to choose a side).
What are the options now that the verdict has been delivered? Well, folks unhappy with the outcome of this case could lobby the Florida government to change the law, and make sure other states/provinces/countries don’t enact them – even going so far as to question, once again, the gun laws in various jurisdictions. They could work to eliminate racism and profiling. A whole lot of things could be done. Demonstrating is also an option, but it risks descending into violence and rioting. Also, everyone should leave Zimmerman alone. The court system has found him not guilty. Let the court system do its work.
What this really does is bring up the opportunity to do a bit of analysis of how we legally run our respective societies. For example, what sort of hard nosed laws end up looking really bad when they are actually used? Perhaps a good test is justice on a personal level – when your privacy is the one being violated, when your rights are the ones being trampled in the name of security, when your safety against vigilantes is being threatened.
A lot of people believe they are able to “read” people better than they actually can. They rely on stereotypes, media, and their lifelong preconceptions to identify whether someone is suspect or normal. I have run into this in the past – as an introvert (no, really, I am), I am quiet, prefer to stay in the background in group situations – especially those I don’t feel safe in – and listen to what is going on rather than try to shove myself into the conversation. I have been perceived as being a snob, a bitch, abused and antisocial in the past. I am none of these. And this doesn’t even endanger my life.
Imagine, for a moment, that you like to portray yourself in a certain way – say you enjoy heavy metal. You grow your hair long or shave it all off, wear black shirts with metal band logos on them, and wear black jeans. You may even adopt a rocker personality because you enjoy this so much. So how might a fearful person stereotype you so that you might be in danger? Might they believe that you’re a scrapper, ready for a fight? Or some sort of drug user? What if you don’t believe in drugs or alcohol, having seen what damage they can wreak in your very own favourite bands? What if you’re a pacifist, though you enjoy music that can sound aggressive? Might not that fearful person believe the worst in you because they don’t understand who you are? Perhaps they are unfairly profiling you. But in so doing, they could put you in a dangerous situation because they feel they may need to protect themselves from you.
This applies to everyone’s life and everyone’s behaviour. No one acts “normally”. One of the observations recorded in Zimmerman’s testimony was that Martin wasn’t running for cover from the rain. Maybe Martin was enjoying the rain – maybe it was one of the few innocent joys he still had left from childhood, to walk in the rain and be wet. Maybe he was having a private conversation on his phone to a potential love interest that he didn’t want his family to overhear. Or maybe it wasn’t cool to scurry for cover. I wouldn’t necessarily be running for cover if I was suddenly caught in a rainstorm and I had no particular objection to it. I’ve actually gone *out* into a downpour just to enjoy the sensation of the rain.
So what is the true evil here? Stereotyping, perhaps. Zealousness. But see how those both apply to either side of the equation. How about a law that, when accessed, calls into question the victim/aggressor duality? Does that stand your ground law bring us back to the Wild West? Is that a good thing?
I think the root of the problem is fear. Living in fear perpetuates fear-full choices and bleeds over into others’ behaviour. Let’s say one person voices a fear for their safety. Perhaps it is not even unfounded, but based on past experiences of not having safety. But this fear can infect others as well. Others begin to doubt their safety, and begin to suspect strangers or “abnormal” behaviour. Maybe they even profile certain “different” people and ascribe them criminal tendencies. This leads to paranoia, and even discrimination, and putting into place systems that will “keep them safe” – such as gates on their community, alarm systems on their houses, guns in their bedside drawers, laws to restrict freedom. All in the name of security. Perhaps they even work very hard patrolling their safe places, to keep them safe.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” – Helen Keller
But that is a lot of energy being spent to maintain safety, and to live in fear. Especially when life is not risk free. As a friend once said, “Being healthy is just the slowest way to die.”
I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s not worth it to live life in fear of everything – in fear of theft, death, pain, embarrassment, of being turned down, of being fired… That is a lot of exhausting fear to live with day to day. And where in all of that fear does one find the space to live? Let go of the negative emotions and discover all the space that you’ve freed up in which to live. Because it’s not rejection, embarrassment or pain that will kill you. It’s not living.
Where does that leave my thoughts on current events? I can trace the shadow of fear through the entire scenario. Do you really think Zimmerman got off? He won’t be able to live quietly now. Too many angry people know who he is. Now he has another fear, a bigger one, than the young African American men who had been burgling his gated community. And so the cycle continues.