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.
**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.