Several years ago I was motorcycling with some buddies, coming down Highway 95, somewhere north of Blythe, CA and south of Parker, AZ when we spotted a roadhouse. This was one of those speed-fueled marathon bike rides that I favored back in those days, leaving Lake Havasu that morning and expecting to be back in ‘Dago before dark. Hundreds of miles of Mojave dust made us thirsty and the roadhouse looked inviting. Entering the bar and allowing our eyes to adjust from white heat to cool dark, we weren’t surprised that we weren’t alone. Pick-up truck cowboys, bikers, and assorted desert rats packed around the bar and pool tables. What we weren’t expecting to see was that half of the men were openly packing guns, large caliber pistols holstered to their belts, like Dodge City before Marshall Dillon. But this was, after all, Arizona, and Arizona was, and is, an “open carry” state. What Arizona did not have back in those days was a “stand your ground” law.
In the wake of yesterday’s verdict in the George Zimmerman case, along with other verdicts in similar cases, any of those yahoos that afternoon in that bar could have picked a fight with me or with my friends, found himself on the losing end of that fight, and resorted to the use of deadly force, all within the framework of the law as it is currently construed. The most generous case that can be made for Zimmerman was that he was on the losing end of a fight that he had provoked, he panicked, and killed Trayvon Martin with a gun shot to the heart at close range. These facts were not disputed by Zimmerman’s defense attorneys, nor by the Sanford County prosecutors office.
I will admit that I did not share the fascination with this case and trial with most of the nation. It’s obvious that this fascination stemmed largely from the racial angle that was played up by the press and “racial justice” advocates like the Reverend Al Sharpton: bigotry drove Zimmerman to first suspect, then encounter, and ultimately kill a black teenager who was minding his own business and doing nothing wrong, simply because blacks are perceived as innately dangerous by white Americans, especially when they are walking around after dark. There is no doubt a lot of truth to that reality. Pop culture images of young black men in America have always played up this angle, from Malcolm X to Marion “Suge” Knight, while black entertainers like Ice Cube and 50 cent have capitalized on the same image. One doesn’t have to go through the entire history of race relations in the United States to understand that there are plenty of shit-heads like Zimmerman who instinctively fear black men.
Then as the case went to trial and approached the verdict, right wing websites like Drudge Report and Red State America were peeing all over themselves at the prospect that an innocent verdict for Zimmerman would set the night on fire again, just like after the Rodney King verdicts. Bigots love nothing more than to confirm their own bigotry as justified: If Zimmerman is acquitted the jungle bunnies are gonna burn the place down! Mercifully, nothing close to that has happened, owing in large part, I believe, to the class of Martin’s parents who have comported themselves throughout this entire ordeal with grace and dignity.
But if race is an inescapable element of this case, from beginning to end, it is still possible to over-play it. And because it was over-played, the real issues of gun violence and the nonsensical stand-your-ground laws were over shadowed. I watched the Florida state attorney Angela Corey and her Sanford minions post-verdict press conference last night. They apparently could not utter a thought without first disclaiming that they all proudly stood behind the concept of keep-and-bear-arms. At one point I was certain she was going to pull back her jacket and display her 357. I’ve written about the new American gun fetish on this website in the past, and the Zimmerman verdict only validates the gun nut’s fantasy that the only safe America is an America that’s packing heat. Too bad that facts interfere: study after study indicate that increased gun ownership, open carry laws, and stand-your-ground have made America a more dangerous place, not a safer one.
I have never thought of George Zimmerman as an evil man, or even a mean man, just a man with a serious case of penis envy. If anything, Zimmerman seems like an average schlub who got a little taste of authority while serving as a neighborhood watch captain and he really liked it. On the night he confronted Trayvon Martin for no good reason, he righteously deserved to have his ass kicked. But he had a gun, and a vigilante law to back him up and that made all the difference in the world. Zimmerman will have the rest of his life to contemplate his actions that night. Too bad the same cannot be said for Trayvon Martin.