A hoodie, Skittles, iced tea, and a homicide

I’ve probably let this story cool down a bit more than I should, though technically it is still topical. So, it’s high time for me to weigh in on it before it goes completely cold. For those of you who have completely tuned out of the news over the past 6-8 weeks or so, I’m talking about the death of Trayvon Martin.

As the story goes, on the night of Sunday, 2012 February 26, Trayvon Martin was walking back to The Retreat at Twin Lakes where he was visiting his father and his father’s fiancĂ©e at their townhome in the complex. Trayvon had walked down to a 7-Eleven convenience store, purchased a bag of Skittles and a can of AriZona iced tea, and was walking back when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, the captain of the neighborhood watch.

What exactly happened is still under investigation. We know Trayvon was fatally wounded by a gunshot at the scene, from Mr. Zimmerman’s gun. Mr. Zimmerman was not charged and arrested until today (Wednesday, 2012 April 11), shortly after a new state’s attorney, Angela Corey, took over the case. For further detail I refer you to the Wikipedia article and/or your favorite search engines, as news coverage of this story from whatever news service one may prefer is plentiful.

That said, even though this case is under investigation, there are plenty of things to comment on at this point in time, that are known to the public.

Quoting the Miami Herald’s news story:

Police Chief Bill Lee said that although police do not encourage watch program volunteers to carry weapons, he recognizes a citizen’s constitutional right to do so. No arrest was made, Lee said, because there was no evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s account.

The exercise of one’s legal right(s) is not always a good idea. While the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press (among others), it is not always best to tweet, Facebook, or blog everything. I personally am right now, in a situation where it is in my best interests that I not reveal certain things in a blog post, at least for the time being (not exclusively my own best interests, of course, and I know this is probably a temporary situation).

And such it is with Mr. Zimmerman’s Second Amendment right to carry a firearm. Does he have this right? Yes. That doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea in this situation. Especially in light of the fact that neighborhood watch captains are discouraged from acting as vigilante police. On one hand, I want to say if the problem is that out of hand, a neighborhood watch is just putting potentially vulnerable people in harm’s way and a real armed security detail (either private security guards or real off duty police officers) need to be on patrol for a while. On the other, if it’s known that the neighborhood watch patrol is armed, it can act as a bit more of a deterrent.

Mr. Zimmerman also followed Trayvon in spite of the request of the 911 operator that he not do so. I’m not sure why Mr. Zimmerman did this, but in general, disregarding instructions of a 911 operator is a bad idea. I don’t see anything that would make it a good idea in this instance following the timeline to this point–even without knowing the eventual outcome.

I will admit Trayvon’s death is tragic, but an even bigger tragedy would be an injury to our Second Amendment rights as a result. Yes, there will be the occasional idiot with a gun that somehow qualified for a concealed carry permit despite clear evidence it was a bad idea. No, this doesn’t mean we should institute stricter gun control, it simply means that even the best laws may fail us once in a while.

It doesn’t help that the shooting appears to be racially motivated and/or an instance of racial profiling. As sad as it is, I believe we would not be having the great controversy about the case were it a white victim of similar age in the same situation. I believe racial profiling is wrong regardless of the race profiled against, but the reality is news agencies would not see the profit in sensationalizing the possible murder of a white male in a similar situation.

While I don’t pretend to know everything about the case, at first glance I don’t see any way Mr. Zimmerman has out of this without getting at least a manslaughter conviction. I may follow up on this shortly before or during the trial–and I do believe this case will go to trial–or sooner if more facts become known that would change how I feel about this. I will certainly be following up after the trial.