No one knows how the George Zimmerman case will end. But we have a pretty good idea of where it started.
On the wrong foot.
Whatever happened between these two tragically tied-together souls, it’s obvious where the volunteer neighborhood watchman Zimmerman was coming from: that the hooded 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was up to no good in the gated suburb and needed to be dealt with.
It also appears Zimmerman was ill-equipped to be the one to “deal” with it. Prosecutors claim they will prove he profiled Martin. At the very least, the impression we’ve gotten is that Zimmerman was overzealous, perhaps dangerously so. Such confrontations can be explosive even for the most seasoned law officers. It takes a ton of training and experience for professional, certified, full-time police officers to handle such situations – and Zimmerman is clearly none of those things.
Zimmerman also ignored warnings from a law enforcement dispatcher not to follow or confront Martin.
But even in ignoring that stop sign, Zimmerman most likely could’ve avoided striking this match in America’s fireworks warehouse. It comes down to one word.
No matter what Zimmerman thought or suspected, he could have approached Trayvon Martin with a more professional, even positive attitude. He even could’ve expressed concern or an inclination to help the youngster if he was lost. A forced smile might have completely defused things.
Fact is, we would argue Zimmerman had an obligation to approach the young man that way – particularly since he wasn’t supposed to approach him at all. As the adult – as an armed adult – and as a volunteer representing the entire community, Zimmerman owned 100 percent of the responsibility for ensuring that his encounter with Martin started off well and proceeded calmly and fairly.
One supposes it’s possible he did these things – but, from the results, that’s extremely doubtful. The more logical conclusion is that he failed in his awesome responsibility – utterly, foolishly, recklessly, dreadfully. If there were video of this fateful rendezvous, it should be played for any student curious to learn how not to deal with other human beings.
Likewise, how the youth responded to Zimmerman was his choice alone. Even a bombastic, bellicose questioner can be met with respect, however unwarranted. It’s a badge of unusual maturity, no doubt. But if we’re not teaching our young this, we need to: What happens to you isn’t always up to you; how you respond to it always is.
Again, no one knows how the criminal case will end. The charge against Zimmerman this week was a relief to those who sincerely believe in his guilt – but they must guard against getting their hopes up too high for conviction: Not only is second-degree murder a tall hurdle for prosecutors to overcome with proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but even the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter may be highly difficult to prove. The claim of self-defense is a formidable one, and rightfully so; we all must be granted that basic protection.
Still, however the legal case comes out, an even greater question is what we will learn from it all.
If we learn how better to interact with each other; how to honor each other; and how much power we all have, under any and all circumstances, to control how we respond to those around us, then this tragedy will not have been in vain.
Trayvon Martin’s mother
graciously suggested this past week that the confrontation was an accident. She’s being far too kind. Whatever happened between those two individuals, it sprang from calamitous errors in both judgment and, most importantly, attitude.
What happens to us is sometimes an accident.
How we deal with it never is.