Perspective. (pr-spktv) n.
a. A mental view or outlook
b. The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole
c. Subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view
d. The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance
Our perspective in life is shaped by our experiences. This controversial case has shown me that there is a clear divide in the perspectives that we have in America. This may not always be reflected as racism, but it clearly can result in tragedy due to bias and prejudice. Perhaps what bothers me most about this trial is that aside from the unnecessary death of a young man, there are a lot of people out there (including associates and colleagues of mine) who feel 100% that justice was served and George Zimmerman rightfully acted in self defense.
From one perspective, as a homeowner who has worked on HOA’s and Neighborhood Watch Committee’s I completely understand the concern of break-ins. The police in my community told us that a “nosy neighbor” is your best friend; be nosy, be alert, and call the authorities if you see anything suspicious! From this point, George Zimmerman did the right things. Where he crossed the line was when he ignored the 911 operator’s instructions and chased after the “unknown stranger.” This was not smart, as he placed himself into immediate danger. I would never arbitrarily chase after a “stranger” in my neighborhood; you never know who someone is or how crazy they are. Additionally, one person walking alone doesn’t pose a major threat to me for break ins. Break ins typically occur between 10:00am-2:00pm while people are working or not home. They commonly have vans or large vehicles, and have at least two people involved (a driver and a person ringing the doorbell and checking the scene). Unknown cars may also cruise to notice patterns. How much could one person steal by himself in the rain from a gated community? Zimmerman was a bit too overzealous here.
From my perspective, I have a hard time with this case because I can’t find anything that Trayvon did wrong. He was a 17 year old kid walking home from the store in the rain, with skittles candy and an Arizona iced tea. A strange car starts following him, so he calls his friend on the line (smart). The car asks him who he is, he ignores them and keeps walking. Even the police only have the right to question people in this manner if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is committing a crime. Continuing to walk home, the car parks and Zimmerman gets out to chase Trayvon. At this point Trayvon runs away, but is later caught and a fight ensues. Had I been in this situation, I would have done the exact same things that Trayvon did. You follow me in the rain and chase me down, best believe I will be prepared to fight for my life. Zimmerman initiates the confrontation by chasing Trayvon, but loses the fist fight. Then, he pulls out his gun and shoots in “self defense.” Legally, he appears to have been in the right. Realistically however, I don’t consider this to be self defense. Can you really start a fight with someone, get beat up, and then shoot them and claim self defense? I have a hard time with that; I certainly doubt his life was in danger.
People get frustrated when this case becomes a racial one, but they lack the perspective one has who lives as a minority in America. Some people think race had nothing to do with this, but would this case have played out exactly the same if Zimmerman was black and Martin was white/Hispanic? What about if Trayvon had been a girl walking home? I seriously doubt it.
It’s hard not to view this as a case of prejudice by Zimmerman (it fits the definition to a T) because as a black male, I know what it is like to be profiled. I know what it is like to be followed around in stores; to be questioned by mall security and accused of stealing because you didn’t buy anything; to see women clutch their purses, their kids, or even cross the street when they see you or you and friends approaching them; to be pulled over by police, car searched, and even have guns drawn on you because you “fit a description;” to walk into an expensive store and see salespeople ignore you because they falsely assume you can’t afford to buy anything. I’ve lived through every one of these scenarios at different phases of my life, and will probably continue to due to the prejudice of others. I can easily see Martin being profiled for looking “suspicious” or out of place in a nice neighborhood, and it pains me that it resulted in his death. My mother and her siblings lived through periods where they were refused service at restaurants and hotels while traveling to Georgia as children. My grandfather told me stories of seeing his friends get lynched in Mississippi as a boy. As African Americans we’re taught this history as children and it shapes our perspective. It makes us particularly sensitive to these kinds of situations.
So when we see cases like THIS: Marissa Alexander: Sentenced 20 years for firing warning shot in air to defend herself against an abusive husband. Florida judge refuses to allow her to invoke the “stand your ground law.” Story here.
Or cases like THIS:
John McNeil: at his home in Kennesaw, GA (a city where it is mandatory for all homeowners to own firearms) a white contractor charged him and his son with a knife angrily. After firing a warning shot into the ground, McNeil was forced to shoot the contractor, who passed away. He was not allowed to use Georgia’s “Stand your Ground” law, was convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. 6 years later, he was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and was released with time served and 13 years probation. His wife and mother both died while he was in prison. Story here and here.
Or cases like THIS, we get concerned: Michael Dunn shoots 8 rounds into an SUV containing 4 teenagers after a dispute over their loud music, fatally killing Jordan Davis. No weapons were found in the car, no drugs, and the boys had no criminal histories. I’ll be paying attention to this case’s conclusion. Based on the Marissa Alexander case, shouldn’t this be an automatic 25 years to life based on Florida’s 10-20-Life law? Hmmm. Story here and here.
I encourage people from both sides to look at things from the opposite perspective. Then perhaps we can meet in a better place that will result in a safer environment for all of us in the future.