Slate’s Will Saletan takes a break from concern trolling reproductive rights to declare that everyone who is upset about the outcome of the Zimmerman trial has it all wrong: Race, guns and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law weren’t significant factors in the outcome after all.
According to Saletan, the real problem was that George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin assumed the worst about each other and overreacted, and people who are all pissed off about the verdict are doing the same thing: making false assumptions and overreacting.
Let’s unpack the three supposed non-factors: race, guns and SYG. Saletan links to articles alleging that Zimmerman profiled Martin based solely on his clothing, but even if you confer magickal colorblindness on Zimmerman himself (and I don’t), how do you explain this?
And how do you wave away a case like Trevor Dooley’s — a mirror image of the Zimmerman case in many instances, except that it was Dooley, an older black man, who was the armed neighborhood busybody confronting unarmed people while carrying a gun. In the Dooley case, the unarmed man who was shot and killed was white. Dooley was convicted of manslaughter after less than two hours of deliberation.
In his zeal to insist that everyone who is critical of the Zimmerman trial outcome take context into account and see the larger picture, Saletan seems to assume that since Zimmerman was never captured on tape using the n-word, race isn’t a factor in this case at all, and the societal context and the outcomes of similar cases in the justice system don’t matter.
It does matter, and the people who are pissed off about it aren’t focusing exclusively on whether or not Zimmerman is a racist douche. Rather they’re noting the larger implications of the fact that a grown man who pursued an unarmed teen who was minding his own business and shot him in the heart has apparently not broken any Florida laws.
Saletan also waves away the role the gun played in the stalking and killing of Trayvon Martin, admonishing us not to focus on “our pet issues.” But it was the gun that emboldened Zimmerman (and Dooley too in the case above) and turned what might have been a non-event at best or scuffle at worst into a homicide. Why the hell should that be ignored?
The same goes for “Stand Your Ground,” which Saletan falsely says wasn’t invoked in the case. The juror instructions included this:
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
The jury instructions in Florida pre-SYG did not contain that clause, and there is no doubt that the inclusion of the SYG principle affected the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. The juror who appeared on Anderson Cooper’s show last night specifically mentioned SYG twice and alluded to its role in finding Zimmerman not guilty:
Juror B37 mentioned Stand Your Ground a second time in saying that the jury ultimately made its not-guilty verdict Saturday night based on the evidence and “because of the heat of the moment and the Stand Your Ground.”
A Texas A&M researcher found that states that passed SYG laws experienced a 7% to 9% increase in homicides. This follows free market principles since the cost of killing to the shooter has dropped in SYG’s wake. It turns out the Invisible Hand has a trigger finger.
Of course, the NRA disputes these figures (including that blood-soaked bat Marion Hammer, who spearheaded the drive to enact SYG in Florida), but they’re today’s Big Tobacco lobbyists, shilling for manufacturers who sell products that kill when used as designed.
Saletan wants us to believe that it’s just oh so complicated, and if you think the Zimmerman trial reveals anything systemic that’s wrong with our justice system, you’re overreacting. But there are things we do know. There are staggering inequalities in how the law is applied, and relieving a heavily armed populace of the duty to act responsibly to avoid and deescalate altercations means more people die and no one is held accountable. That’s worth getting a little worked up about.