After learning about the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was gunned down after leaving a convenience store with Skittles and iced tea, I asked whether it would be OK for me to declare myself a neighborhood watch captain, arm myself and shoot anyone I deemed suspicious. Wouldn't the world be a better place if I did that?
Well, no, it wouldn't - I was being sarcastic. There are a lot of things to object to in the story of Trayvon Martin, and a lot of the discussion has centered on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives people who feel threatened the right to use force without first making an attempt to retreat. (Emily Bazelon explains the law's history in Slate.) Trayvon's killer, self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, wasn't charged by local police, presumably because no one witnessed the attack and because he claimed self-defense. But recent reports suggest that the local police are a bunch of bumbling fools, and left a whole lot of questions unasked. Fortunately, ThinkProgress has compiled a list of 20 facts about the Martin case, for people who might not realize what an outrage it is.
One question that later occurred to me: If Zimmerman thought he was in imminent danger, why did he pursue Trayvon Martin? (It's a Stand Your Ground Law, not a Chase After People Who Aren't Bothering You law.)
Another: If the dispatcher told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, why did he?
Also: Why has Zimmerman called the police 46 times in the past eight years?
And: Who will protect us from dangerous idiots like George Zimmerman?
The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisis Coates is following the Martin case closely and is worth reading.
Coates flags this stunning quote by self-pitying police chief Bill Lee: "We are taking a beating over this," said Lee, who defends the investigation. "This is all very unsettling. I'm sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he'd probably do things differently. I'm sure Trayvon would, too."
Sorry, it's just not clear to me what Trayvon did wrong, or what he should have done differently. HE WENT TO A CONVENIENCE STORE TO BUY SNACKS DURING THE NBA ALL-STAR GAME. I'd like to think we live in a country where teenagers can do that without getting killed by neighborhood vigilantes. Maybe not.
The New York Times' Charles Blow has a good column on the case, and the difficulty of preparing African-American boys for the suspicion they'll encounter out in the world. It actually pairs well with this New York Times piece from December, about being young, black and constantly stopped by the police.