Since everybody in the country has weighed in on the Trayvon Martin case, I thought I would throw in my opinion, ill-formed as it is, from nothing but news accounts. Doesn't that make you want to read this? But, given the debate around race that this has sparked, with today's anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and with this week marking the most holy week on the Christian calendar, I thought I would toss in a very simple contribution to this national dialogue: I don't care whether Zimmerman's account is 100% true; he deserves to be arrested and prosecuted. And, this is why.
He called 911, informed him of the situation, and was told not to pursue the "suspicious" person...and he did.
End of story.
So, let's back up: What made Trayvon "suspicious" in the first place? What made Zimmerman say "the guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something?" Well, it was raining...and he was walking...yes, walking. And, according to Zimmerman, "looking at houses."
I walk in my neighborhood and look at houses all the time. I live in Seattle, so I definitely walk in the rain - a lot. I look at people's gardens, check out their houses - their colors, their paint selections, whether they are having any work done. I have never been stopped by the police for doing this, even while wearing a hooded rain coat. Why? What makes Trayvon different from me? I'm a white woman. He was a six foot tall black young man.
I've been around long enough to know that if I were to be stopped, all I would have to do is smile and say "hi" and ask how the police officer is doing. Nice. Friendly. All good. If I were stopped by a neighbor, all I would have to say is, "I live around the corner. It's nice to meet you." And, that would be that. Why? I am a white woman.
Trayvon didn't have this chance. His neighbor didn't say, "Hi! I haven't met you before. I live around the corner. Did you just move here?" No. Zimmerman called the police. While not a polite thing to do just because someone is walking in the neighborhood, it is not a criminal thing to do. But, it set into motion events that would end in the death of a teenager.
After Zimmerman has some back and forth with dispatch and does a lot of staring at Trayvon, Trayvon gets scared and runs away on the advice of his girlfriend. What does Zimmerman do? He goes after him. This is the key part. He goes after him. He pursues him. And, he does so in defiance of the police dispatcher. "Are you following him?" "Yeah," says Zimmerman. Dispatch: "Ok, we don't need you to do that." Zimmerman: "Ok." And, yet, he continues to pursue him.
Enhanced video released today indicates that Zimmerman did have wounds to his head. How did those come about? What constitutes self-defense?
If a guy is walking down the street and I decide to follow him, can I shoot him because he looks mean? What if he stops and looks in some windows? Can I shoot him? What if I am following him and he decides to run away from me and I run after him and he gets upset and turns back to confront me? Can I shoot him and it be self-defense? It seems to me that in every one of these cases, I am the aggressor. He is the one acting in self-defense. I don't care how weird, suspicious, or mean he looks, I am the one acting. He is responding.
So, without knowing anything else..even taking Zimmerman fully at his word...it doesn't matter. Maybe Trayvon, all of a sudden, on the way home from buying a soda and some candy decided to turn into a thief. He decided on this rainy night to try his hand at breaking and entering even though he had never done that before. He just up and wanted to become a burglar. Let's say that's all true (although I don't believe it for a second). Let's say that Trayvon ran and eventually turned around and challenged Zimmerman. Let's say that he even threw the first punch. It all comes down to this to me: He was chased. He was pursued. He was acting in self defense.
On this day when I wish I could celebrate that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision had come to pass - that vision of a different world in which people were judged on the content of the character - I cannot. Women are murdered for wearing an hijab. Boys are shot for wearing a hoodie. And countless people are stopped for "walking while black" and the "fortunate" ones are the ones who get to go home humiliated and infuriated. This is not King's dream.
In this week when I wish I could celebrate an Easter with no Good Friday - that is, I wish that I could celebrate living fully in God's reign - a reign of peace, justice, and compassion, I cannot. We continue to crucify the peaceful and the weak, the least and the last, the marginalized and the poor. We live in a world too full of Good Fridays and too few Easter moments. This Holy Week we read of children tortured by their governments (Syria), women murdered for their religion (Shaima Alawadi), boys killed in their own gated communities, and police officers shot 28 times by their fellow officers. It doesn't matter to me if these folks broke the law or not, none of them deserves what happened to them. And, that, is the depth of the lament in Good Friday. Good Friday is not a remembrance of the execution of one man 2000 years ago, it is an entering in to the ways in which we still kill the divine and sacred among us every single day.
So, I don't care if Zimmerman's account is factual or not, it simply doesn't matter.