Two Wrongs Won’t Make This Right

Trayvon Martin - 17-yr old shooting victim

The news channels, the newspapers, and the Interwebs remain abuzz over the tragic Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.  An online meme of pictures of people in hoodies has taken hold as a collective call for justice.  And a current CNN poll finds that 73% of Americans are calling for the arrest of Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman.

Based on the publicly known elements of the case I personally think Zimmerman was carrying out some sort of misguided, and maybe racially motivated, vigilante justice.

I’m personally horrified that laws exist that allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. It seems that’s just begging for situations like this to happen.

And I find it unbelievable that a 250 pound 28-year old man driving an SUV and armed with a semiautomatic pistol felt threatened by a 17-year old pedestrian who weighed all of 140 and was armed only with Skittles.  There’s no indication he was a trained ninja or the apprentice of a Sith Lord.  So what reasonable threat could Martin have posed?

Further, it’s not at all clear the Sanford Police have handled the case well, or even within established guidelines, and the investigation and intervention by higher legal authorities seems absolutely warranted.

Yet I’m also very aware that these are my opinions based on a very possibly slanted news cycle, and based on absolutely no legal expertise with how the Stand-your-ground law in Florida is adjudicated.  I completely get why everyone is up in arms about this.  I very much want due process and justice to occur here.

But I also want to be very careful that we don’t create a vigilante mob of public opinion to go after a man because he himself was a vigilante.  Those two wrongs will not add up to a right.  Zimmerman should be arrested and subsequently tried based on the merits of the case and the law of the state.  He should not be arrested because a CNN poll says it’s the will of the people.

We also need to be ready and aware that the result of all this could be a repeat of the Casey Anthony verdict.  Justice may be served, and yet not serve up the verdict the public wants.  It may well be that the Florida law, however misguided, allows for exactly what happened.  If that turns out to be true, I would hope for and support the repeal or modification of that law.  But that wouldn’t make Zimmerman guilty after the fact.

In the end, we are a country of laws. The implications of that are not always what feels right. I remain hopeful this is not one of those cases.