Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trayvon Martin and My Driver's License

Note: This was supposed to appear a few days ago, but I had a sudden issue come up with my hand that delayed everything. So here it is, two days late.

If I had my druthers, I’d be happily writing about my 25th wedding anniversary today, instead of about the Zimmerman verdict. Of course, if we all had our druthers, there wouldn’t be any Zimmerman verdict to talk about, because he would’ve stayed in his car, as he was told, and Trayvon Martin would still be alive.

But that ain’t the way it is, and so here I am, talking about it. And this is gonna be a longer one than usual.

Let me get this out of the way and perfectly clear right now, what Zimmerman did was wrong. Not just wrong, but heinous. I also believe that most of the jurors think the same thing. But…I’ve served on a jury, and you’re given very specific instructions about what you can and can’t consider, and just what fine points of the law the case is actually about. So even though your gut may say “String the mofo up,” the specific piece of law you’re looking at may say, “Not so fast, cowboy.”

And this is where my driver’s license comes in.

I don’t recall whether it was in getting my original New Jersey driver’s license (yes, I’m one of those drivers), or taking the written test to change it over to New York, but I recall reading about a concept called the last clear chance. What this means is that it doesn’t matter if the accident was entirely caused by the other driver; if you figured out that the other driver was going to do something stupid, but didn’t change your course because you legally had the right of way and “shouldn’t have to,” you had the last clear chance to prevent it from happening, and bear some responsibility for it.

I don’t know the details of the Florida Stand Your Ground law, and I don’t know exactly what instructions were given to the jurors, but if they were anything like the “last clear chance” rule that I learned when I got my driver’s license, then even though Zimmerman was morally wrong to get out of the truck and follow Trayvon, Trayvon had the last clear chance to avoid the altercation that ended up with him getting killed.

Note very carefully what I am saying here. I am not saying that Zimmerman was right. I am, however saying, as I said a year ago in You May Be Right, They May Be Crazy…and Armed, had Trayvon Martin not turned around and confronted Zimmerman, with the feelings of invincibility so common among young men that age…had he used his cell phone to call 911 instead of talking to his friend, he might be alive today. I am also saying that the verdict of “Not Guilty” is likely based not on whether or not Zimmerman got out of his vehicle to follow Martin, but on whether or not he was defending himself after Martin confronted him.

Let me say this again. As much as emotionally we want it to be otherwise, this case was not about whether or not Zimmerman got out of the car and basically stalked Trayvon. We all agree that he shouldn’t have, we all agree that this contributed to the final tragic result…but there’s no law against that. The case was basically about whether or not Zimmerman was defending himself when he shot Trayvon, after he, having all the wisdom, maturity, and cockiness of your average teenaged boy, allegedly turned and attacked the person who was following him.

My heart tells me that Zimmerman is culpable for the entire tragedy because he didn’t stay put, and leave the kid alone. But my driver’s license tells me that Trayvon had the last clear chance to avoid the confrontation that eventually took his life.

And that’s why Zimmerman was found “not guilty.”

But wait…suppose…just suppose…that for the rest of his life, Zimmerman noticed that wherever he went, he was being trailed by people wearing hoodies…

And openly packing Skittles.

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