Thoughts on the death of Trayvon Martin

A verdict of “Not Guilty” has been rendered in the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. Some have decried the verdict as a travesty of justice, while others have applauded the verdict as justice prevailing. Here are my thoughts:

What actually happened on February 26, 2012?

While some of the bare facts of the events that led to Martin’s death are known, many crucial facts are unknown. It is unknown whether Martin attacked Zimmerman, or whether Zimmerman attacked Martin. While it is known that Zimmerman lost track of Martin about 3 ½ minutes before the shooting, it is unknown whether Zimmerman found and followed Martin, or whether Martin came back and began following Zimmerman. The only two people who knew what actually happened between 7:09 and 7:18 pm were Zimmerman and Martin. Zimmerman’s version is biased to protect himself; and Martin’s version will never be heard. The truth is, the truth can never be known. There is simply not enough evidence.

Was the shooting racially motivated?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably, at least in part, yes. However, there was probably racism on the parts of both Zimmerman and Martin. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons Zimmerman was suspicious of Martin was because he was an African-American teen in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood. Zimmerman was looking for anyone who did not seem to belong; Martin fit Zimmerman’s profile. However, I also suspect that others would have also aroused Zimmerman’s suspicions. A white teen with drooping pants, a scruffy looking middle-aged white man loitering, or a Goth twenty-something would have also gotten his attention. Zimmerman was a wanna-be cop out looking for anyone he could find to feed his vigilante mentality. Martin, on the other hand, was also probably suspicious of Zimmerman because he is a white male. Many (but certainly not all) African-Americans are taught from a young age not to trust white people, especially males in positions of authority. While I certainly do not claim to know how Trayvon was raised, some of the comments I heard from his parents during the trial revealed their own racial bias. Children tend to pick up on their parents’ attitudes and beliefs, so it’s reasonable to conclude that Trayvon held similar racial biases. Did Martin’s racial views lead him to circle back and attack Zimmerman, as Zimmerman’s supporters have claimed? We’ll never know. So, while I believe racial bias was involved, I also don’t believe it was the only motivation. How much of a role racism played, I don’t know; only Zimmerman knows for sure.

Was Zimmerman justified in shooting Martin?

This is really the crux of the controversy. Unfortunately, the answer depends on facts we can never know, as well as how one defines what justifies the shooting of another human being. Under Florida law, there was not enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of the unjustified shooting of Martin. However, this doesn’t really answer the question. There is a wide spectrum of beliefs as to what justifies the taking of another person’s life. At one extreme end, some argue that taking another life is never justified. At the other extreme, some argue that if a person feels threatened in any way, they should be able to take a life to defend themselves. Between these two extremes lies wide range of views. The problem is that most of the views people hold are entirely subjective reflections of the individual worldviews held by each person. There is no universally accepted standard for determining right and wrong. As our country continues to move further away from the foundation of Biblical truth on which it was founded, our collective standard of right and wrong will continue to become more and more subjective and incongruous. Even if all the facts were known beyond a shadow of doubt, I suspect we would still be divided over the issue of whether Zimmerman was justified in shooting Martin.

The aftermath: Media coverage and politics

For me, the most disturbing aspect of Trayvon Martin’s death is the politicizing of the tragedy by the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle. Both sides have played the so-called “race card,” and there has been deliberate distortion of the facts by both conservatives and liberals to further their agendas. For example, NBC News edited the tape of Zimmerman’s call to police. In the edited tape, aired on the March 27, 2012 broadcast of the “Today” show, Zimmerman is heard to say, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” The actual, unedited phone call:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Even the photos selected have been blatantly biased. The most widely-distributed photos of Martin show a very young looking boy. Others have used photos of completely different people to try to make Martin look like a muscular thug. Very seldom is the last known photo of Martin shown, taken nine days before his death. Images evoke emotional responses; and, unfortunately, emotions count for more than truth.

Young-looking Trayvon

Young-looking Trayvon

Fake Trayvon Martin photo

Last known photo of Trayvon, 9 days before his death.

The racially charged comments and reporting by both liberals and conservatives has been disgusting, yet not at all surprising. Racism sells newspapers, boosts television ratings, and advances political agendas. There are thousands of senseless murders every year that barely get 20 seconds of attention on the local news, or maybe a paragraph buried someplace in the back pages of the local newspaper. The only reason anyone outside of the Sanford, Florida area ever heard the names of Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman is because the politicians and media decided they could exploit the case to their advantage. The senseless death of Trayvon Martin is tragic; the politicizing and marketing of the case is repulsive. Yet, because our society has lost its foundation in the truth of God’s Word, such ghastly exploitation is the accepted norm. Since racism and divisiveness boost ratings and political donations, politicians and news reporters will continue to abuse the truth to gain selfish advantage. The coverage and political commentary have demonstrated yet again that ethics and truth have become irrelevant in American culture.

Was George Zimmerman a hero defending his neighborhood from a juvenile delinquent thug? Or, was Trayvon Martin the innocent victim of racist vigilantism? Or, is the truth someplace between? The truth no longer matters. The truth now depends entirely on your worldview.

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