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A Tragedy in God's Sight

Reflections on the Death of Trayvon Martin



TrayvonBefore I begin, a quick note: I am not trying to absolve either of the two parties in this incident. From all appearances there was culpability on both sides. My ultimate intent is to guarantee that we see this event as it was and still is—a tragedy (which I very plainly state in the beginning paragraph). It is in this light that I write.

Our nation’s attention has been captured lately by an event that can be described in no other way than as a tragedy. It is by no means an uncommon tragedy; it is by no means unique to the state in which it occurred; it is by no means a topic more newsworthy than any other, but it has been a captivating tragedy nonetheless, garnering media attention from all over the ideological and political spectrum. The tragedy to which I am referring is, of course, the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman.

Despite the fact that the trial has been over for more than a week now, arguments from both sides are still heated. Even the facts seem to remain in question where the court of public opinion is concerned. Did Trayvon Martin throw the first punch? Was George Zimmerman’s life really in danger? Was his head really being slammed into the pavement? On and on the “discussion” (to massively civilize the discourse that has been occurring) goes.

The jury of this court is split. Some think that George Zimmerman was justified in his use of deadly force (and thus the verdict of the actual jury should be praised). Some think he was not justified in his use of deadly force (and thus the verdict of the actual jury was deplorable and should be treated as anathema). In the middle are a small number of voices taking a more moderate view of the issue, acknowledging that Zimmerman was likely justified under Florida law in the use of deadly force, while expressing their distaste for “stand-your-ground” laws and arguing for their repeal.

Most of these opinions have something in common: They are not based on a holistic view of what happened, often missing the larger issue undergirding the case. Those who believe Zimmerman should have been found guilty seem to be better than most at noticing it (though I would contend that their resulting reactions are generally incorrect), but many others seem to turn a blind eye, as they are caught up in arguing the finer points of Floridian law.

However, even if you are not a member of that group, even if you do believe that George Zimmerman was justified under Florida law in defending himself, even if you do think that Trayvon Martin was entirely culpable for the events of that fateful evening and that George Zimmerman was nothing more than a bystander and a victim of circumstances, that ought not hinder you from agreeing with the opposition on this one point. At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember in the midst of the media circus of media attention is this: Trayvon Martin, a forever 17-year old boy, will never again come home to his family. He will not embrace his mother or stepmother. He will never learn another life lesson from his father. His body is decaying in the ground, his soul propelled suddenly into eternity.

Equally important to remember is this—George Zimmerman will have to live forever with the knowledge that he has killed a fellow human being. A creature made in the imago Dei, the image of God Himself, has been killed by another human. This is a tragedy; there is no positive spin to put on the outcome of this trial. One man is dead. A second is to blame. Do not rejoice over the outcome of the trial; there is no good reason to rejoice.

So much of the contention is over whether or not George Zimmerman was justified* in pulling the trigger, but so many other questions must be answered as well. Was he justified in profiling** Trayvon? Was he justified in following Trayvon, even though the 911 operator advised against it? Was he justified in getting out of his car, which eventually led to him being near enough to Trayvon that Trayvon could punch him?

The answer given by the legal system to all of these questions was a resounding “yes.” Zimmerman’s actions were found by a jury of his peers to be within the bounds of Florida state law. There was a neighborhood watch because there had been criminal activity in his neighborhood (indeed, he began the 911 call by noting that a number of break-ins had occurred); he probably was wise to be suspicious of someone whom he did not recognize. He had just as much right to walk on the street as Trayvon did, so he was probably justified by the law in his decision to get out of his car. The law allowed him to carry a gun; the law allowed him to walk where he wanted to walk in that part of his neighborhood; the law allowed him to do everything that he did.

But what the law did not address, and what the jury was not asked to consider, was the prudence of Zimmerman’s actions. It was unwise for him to follow Martin despite the 911 operator’s assurance that they “[didn’t] need [him] to do that,” and had he listened to the operator, he never would have gotten close enough to Martin for an altercation to occur.*** To paraphrase several radio commentators and callers, if guilty of nothing else, Zimmerman was certainly guilty of stupidity and foolishness. He very well may have had a right to do everything he did, but he certainly should not have done everything that he did, and now, in large part due to his actions, a young boy is needlessly dead, which ought to be categorized among the highest of tragedies.

God takes the shedding of human blood in any circumstance extremely seriously. Genesis 9:6 is just one of many places where He makes that clear: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”

If we spend our time after the trial rejoicing because we like guns and gun laws, or because we think the letter of the law was upheld in the Zimmerman trial, then we are seriously missing the forest for the trees. These things may be true. They may even be good and justifiable reasons to be happy about the verdict. But they fail to take into account the most salient point of all, the point that should be the crux of all discussion on the issue, the point that precludes exultation: One man is dead; another man killed him; two lives have been eternally altered by an unfortunate incident fueled by misperception and hardheadedness, a “vigilante ethos” if you will.

If we forget this, we don’t do justice to either of the participants. Even worse, neither do we do justice to the image of God.

*For some interesting viewpoints on whether or not Zimmerman was justified in defending himself, check out these links.

**The use of the word ‘profiling’ does not necessarily imply racial profiling. There has been little to no evidence found to show that Zimmerman thought Martin was a criminal because of his race. However, Zimmerman unquestionably profiled Martin as a criminal; this is indisputable.

***While it is true that the 911 operator did not explicitly tell Zimmerman not to follow Martin, a reasonable person, hearing the operator’s tone of voice when he said, “Okay, we don’t need you to do that,” would not have to guess at the meaning or intent of what was said: Don’t follow this individual. You can hear the statement at the 2:20 mark of this video.

Image copyright Gary W. Green for Getty Images.

Ben Taylor is marketing and program assistant for the Colson Center and a student at The College of Wooster.


Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.

Comments:

a Trajedy . . .
"Zimmerman took it upon himself to "protect" the entire community, and ended up causing more harm than good. "

Again, there is NO evidence to support your claim. GZ did what neighborhood watch people are honored for doing - keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior and reporting it to the police. He made NO attempt to protect the community, other than call police, or challenge TM. To say such is simply guessing, and that has no place in serious discourse, unless stated as a personal opinion. You stated it as fact.
A trajedy et al
"Happy, in regards to your first point, you would do well to read the entirety of the article. The term "profile" does not just exclusively apply to racial issues as the media would have you believe, and regardless of whether or not GZ profiled him on the basis of race, age, "behavior", or anything else, he still profiled him, this is what's relevant."

Based on the definition "
the use of specific characteristics, as race or age, to make generalizations about a person, as whether he or she may be engaged in illegal activity. " you are correct. That however, including your disclaimer at the end (which I HAD read) is an unusual use of the word. You are correct that many of the race-baiters have used the term to state GZ was after TM because he was black, which is obviously impossible on a dark rainy night, from behind with a hoodie. ;-) But they don't let the facts stop their rants . . .

Nor can you state with any certainly that he was going to his temporary home, as that trip from the store he left would take about one minute according to reports I read. The reason the defense lawyers made an issue of the four minute silence was that this was the time it would have taken Martin to go home from where he attacked GZ. It doesn't look like, from the records, that he was going to his home when 911 asked GZ to identify his race.

And EVEN if Zimmerman confronted him and asked what he was doing (which there is no evidence of) that would never justify the attack by Martin that GZ received.

Not sure where you got the idea that Martin had only two minor indiscretions. I have been of the opinion of much more, along with fighting, and possession of stolen property. He was a fighting fan, with pictures on his phone of guns and fights. Hence the fight to prevent such admission as evidence in court - sort of destroys the innocent little kid aura painted by the race-baiters.

So you can understand why I have a hard time understanding why you seem inclined to defend him and castigate GZ.

Again the trail verdict was a victory for the man on the street who can defend himself. Thugs don't know who is carrying and who is not; ala the white punk that attacked a black neighborhood watch volunteer, almost exactly what happened in this case but the colors reversed. No charges. No harassment No DOJ fanning the flames. NO president stoking the fire.

Appreciate your calling me up on the unusual but acceptable use of profiling. Like one our more colorful talk show hosts referring to a man wanting to get back to see his father a long distance away - his comment was that he wanted to amputate the distance ;-)
Re: Intentions
Read who posted the comments Joe.. two different people...
Intentions
I find it interesting that in your last response to Happylada, you confirm that "He [GZ] had no way of knowing Martin's intentions, and you have no way of knowing them either." Yet in your earlier response to me you state that "Mr. Martin was returning to his step-mother's house." How do you know that? I would submit that no one has any knowledge of what Mr. Martin's intentions were that night. He may have been an innocent child headed back to Mom's or he may have had something else in mind. And finally, you continue to insist that GZ was wrong to get out of the car but you conveniently ignore the fact that if Mr. Martin had continued on to his alleged innocent destination, he would not have doubled back to meet GZ, would never have attacked him, and we would be devoting our energies to advocating a Christian Worldview rather than discussing this incident.
Re: Happylada
Happy, in regards to your first point, you would do well to read the entirety of the article. The term "profile" does not just exclusively apply to racial issues as the media would have you believe, and regardless of whether or not GZ profiled him on the basis of race, age, "behavior", or anything else, he still profiled him, this is what's relevant.

In regards to the stand your grand law, you are correct in saying GZ had the right to defend himself WHEN ATTACKED, however, in refusing to obey the officer's orders not to follow him, GZ took the law into his own hands. He was essentially ensuring that he would be attacked, and by doing so was preemptively and unnecessarily deciding to defend himself against a threat that never even would have existed had he not followed Martin. He had no way of knowing Martin's intentions, and you have no way of knowing them either.. It's completely irrelevant what Martin's priors may have been. GZ couldn't have known what they were, and Martin had nothing on him at the time to indicate he would be repeating such actions. So we can't just assume to know his behavior based on two isolated incidents in the past. The “Stand your Ground” law is designed to protect on an individual level. Law enforcement exists to protect not only individuals, but communities as a whole. Zimmerman took it upon himself to "protect" the entire community, and ended up causing more harm than good. Martin posed no direct threat to Zimmerman, he even made great attempt to avoid him. But Zimmerman disregarded law enforcement, and instead of waiting for the proper authorities to respond, ended up having to kill a child. He essentially ensured that Martin would become a threat to him. I won't make the argument that he was wrong under the law, but I will say that by his actions, Zimmerman put himself in position where he was forced to use deadly force, when he just as easily could have stayed in his car. Essentially, Zimmerman brought the attack upon himself, and though he may have been justified in defending himself, it is a completely unnecessary event that never would have happened if he had just listened to law enforcement in the first place.
Profiling
I don't understand the issue many people have with profiling based on objectively analyzing behavior, self-identified affiliations via clothing and accessories, and yes, race. (The latter is based on the enormous difference in the numbers of black prisoners versus white. This could be based on institutionalized racism, but I don't think it would account for the huge difference, although I'm sure it is responsible for some of it.)

My husband is profiled more than anyone else I know. He's white. Although it usually doesn't bother him, sometimes it bothers him a lot. However, he believes that if someone is behaving suspiciously (even if some people consider him suspicious just because he exists), it should be checked out. I asked him whether he thought that Zimmerman's profiling of Trayvon that happened that night was appropriate. He agreed that it was and would have done the same thing.

I say this because, as someone who is so unintimidating that people ignore me when I ask them to turn their music down, I don't really know what it's like to be negatively profiled. My husband, however accustomed to being the recipient of it, still thinks that it has its use.

The more dangerous the neighborhood, the more likely it is that one will need to rely on profiling others' behavior for protection, not only of oneself, but of others in the area. A lot can happen before the police arrive (assuming one has the opportunity to get out a call).
Re: Joe
1. As per the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: "VIGILANTE: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice." You can decide for yourself if Zimmerman and Neighborhood Watch fall into this definition.


2. You note that, according to the trial, "Mr. Zimmerman was attempting to return to his vehicle when he was attacked by Mr. Martin." If he had never left his car in the first place, he wouldn't have had to return to it.


3. I would not be so quick to affirm acting in self-defense, but since I have not considered this question to the degree which I someday hope to, I will not speak on it other than to say that I would argue that your claim that "any reasonable man would [defend themselves]" is too sweeping.


4. Mr. Martin was returning to his step-mother's house. Yes, he had a history of minor offenses in the past. No, that does not justify the statement that he would have attacked another neighborhood member if Mr. Zimmerman had not acted. It's probably safe to assume that he would have continued home without incident, especially as he was not in possession of "burglar tools" at the time of the incident.

Thank you for your comment as well.

-B.T.
Tragedy
I take exception to your characterization of Mr. Zimmerman as a "vigilante". And you miss (or ignore) the point that according to police reports and trial testimony, Mr. Zimmerman was attempting to return to his vehicle when he was attacked by Mr. Martin. Several years ago my father was the intended victim of an armed robber. He wrestled the gun away from the attacker and fired, wounding the would be robber who was later found hiding under a nearby house. Was he displaying a "vigilante ethos"? I think not. He was fearful for his life and defended himself, just as any reasonable man would.
The fact that the community where Mr. Martin died has had an increase in reported crimes from 654 to well over 900 per year is the primary reason they began the neighborhood watch. We have one in our neighborhood and I'm glad for it.
Finally, I would ask you to consider what would have happened had Mr. Zimmerman been able to leave the area and Mr. Martin had gone on to subsequently attack and/or brutalize one of the residents. If you research Mr. Martin's background, you will discover at least two offenses that should have been cause for an arrest (drugs and possession of burglar tools). In both instances he received only a one day suspension from school because of political guidance to the school and law enforcement agencies in Miami-Dade County. Perhaps if the system had responded in a more appropriate manner, Mr. Martin would have become aware that there are consequences for errant behavior. And perhaps he might still be alive today because of that lesson.
Re: Happylada
A few comments:

1. If you explain my other "serious errors of fact" I would be happy to address them.

2. I addressed that "third" group when I said, "Some think that George Zimmerman was justified in his use of deadly force (and thus the verdict of the actual jury should be praised)." Also, I spoke to them indirectly when I said "If we spend our time after the trial rejoicing because we like guns and gun laws, or because we think the letter of the law was upheld in the Zimmerman trial, then we are seriously missing the forest for the trees."

3. I in no way addressed issues related to procedure; I will decline to do so here, though I assure you that I do have opinions in abundance on the topic.

Thanks for your comments, which engender robust discussion.

-B.T.
Happylada, Ben addressed your point about profiling and race in the second note at the bottom of the article.
Zimmerman trial
Are we talking about the same George Zimmerman?

GZ could NOT have profiled Martin on a rainy night wearing a hoodie. He was being followed purely because of suspicious behavior - running from house to house in an area with a number of recent breakins. You neglected to mention that. When asked by 911 of Martins race, GZ was unsure. Your profiling mis-truth is only one of many serious errors of fact in your presentation.

As a Christian, you need to get your facts straight.

You have also ignored a third group of people = that group who are contented that the stand your ground law worked as intended, and that IF you are attacked (which seems pretty obvious to any informed observer) you can defend yourself with the support of the court.

Only in that aspect was this trial a success. The irrational interference of the government in replacing a police chief, appointing a special prosecutor (with a reputation for dirty tricks, demonstrated ably in this face trial by withholding evidence, etc.) , and using DOJ crews to stir up trouble all smack of targeted persecution of GZ by the govt.

Something all thinking people, especially Christians, should oppose.