Authorities had initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, citing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force when they believed they were in danger of getting killed or suffering great bodily harm. The decision sparked a flood of rallies in Sanford, where the shooting occurred, and in many parts of the US, demanding Zimmerman be arrested.
Demonstrators also criticized the police for their handling of the case with civil rights activists saying racial prejudice played a role in Zimmerman’s view that Martin looked suspicious and in the police decision not to arrest him. President Obama also added his voice to the case, saying: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” a statement that some of his critics blamed for being divisive and demanded he apologise.
But the Justice Department promised independent investigation of the case and promised justice would be done. Last Thursday, a handcuffed George Zimmerman finally appeared in court charged with second degree murder, which if convinced could see him in prison for life.
As neighbourhood watch volunteer, Zimmerman had spotted Martin walking back home and branded him “a suspicious character” even though the young man was unarmed and had committed no crime. He radioed the police who told him to keep clear of young Martin, advice he disregarded. Contrary to advice, he approached the young man and a fight between the two allegedly ensued during which Zimmerman pulled his handgun, which he was licensed to carry and shot Martin in the chest, killing him.
For days after, Zimmerman went into hiding as the police were reluctant to arrest him since he shot and killed a man “standing his ground.” For us non Americans, American justice can be one hell of a wacked experience. A man kills another against the advice of the police and then they summarily rule that he benefits from a state law, which “allows people to use deadly force when they believe they are in danger of getting killed or suffering great bodily harm.”
For observers, the initial handling of the Trayvon Martin case smacked of a clear case of double standards for a country that pursues vigorous justice for any person who sheds American blood from whatever corner of the world he might be. Zimmerman may have been doing his job but initial evidence suggests he was no lesser than a vetted terrorist.
It is a travesty of justice to disregard loss of life at home but place a premium on bringing to book foreign masterminds of terror attacks in which Americans too were among those killed. I am not disputing America’s prosecution of its “permanent interests” but rather trying to make the case that where the question at issue is concern for human life, then justice must be seen to be done whether at home or abroad in line with the unbendable policy for relentless pursuit of justice however long it takes to net the culprits.
No one can expect drastic change overnight but many of us had seriously started to believe that America had began to put its sad, tragic and blistered racial experience behind. Unfortunately, the Trayvon Martin case has made us to take a second look at our views. This again is not like calling for automatic conviction for Zimmerman simply because he has now appeared in court. No. Justice calls for the weighing and balancing of evidence for justice to be done.
The courts of law are extremely competent to do that. Most shocking was that a man could kill another and walk scot free, and for that to happen in the world’s most sophisticated democracy! It is important for America to know that as they play the world leader, the people around the globe are watching. It is useless for them to act as the standard bearers of virtue when people see that there is nothing of superior value to learn from them.
But the racial question is also very much for real, not quite aided in this case by Zimmerman’s own profile, the son of a white father and a Hispanic mother, America’s fast growing minority. Currently Hispanics are poised to overtake African-Americans as the largest community of minorities. In America, that means taking away resources from the black community to Hispanics, which of course could aggravate the historical racial prejudice and imbalance.
Young Martin’s life was tragically plucked from the ages but there is hope for America to emerge from this case even more united than it was before. People demanding Zimmerman’s arrest came from all walks of life and all races. Perhaps for as many days in recent history, America was really angered across the nation. What the people seemed to say was that people like Zimmerman had no place any more in a changing America.
It could only be a tribute to my hero and mentor, Mzee Gene Patterson, who as Editor of the “Atlanta Constitution” penned daily editorials urging tolerance and moderation at the height of America’s racial tension in the 1960s. That is why I wouldn’t support anyone calling for the lynching of Zimmerman. It won’t help make America great.