Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two Comments on the Killing of Trayvon Martin

Both of them from blogs, and both of them better than anything I could come up about this absurd, horrible tragedy. First, Ethan Gach from The League of Ordinary Gentleman, on the obvious--but all too often ignored--fact that our (perhaps justified) paranoia about crime and our (certainly unjustified) fetishizing of personal liberty runs into problems when it is extended to include a rather simply piece of deadly technology: that is, essentially allowing anyone who feels threatened to use a gun:

The reality of the matter is that in Florida the law will protect you if you gun someone down because you felt “reasonably” afraid for your life. Referred to as the “Stand Your Ground” laws, 16 other states have them....Reading through the news stories, I haven’t found anything that says Trayvon was armed with a gun or even a knife. Or anything that says he was threatening Zimmerman with either of these weapons. Which makes it appear as though Zimmerman got a bloodied nose and decided to slaughter a 17-year old teenager because of it....

People have a right to carry around hunks of intricately designed metal that can shoot tinier hunks of metal with the ease of contracting a single muscle group. These tinier hunks of metal, upon making contact with human flesh, will continue on, either burrowing deep within one’s body, or blasting out the other side. In order for someone carrying one of these tools around to use it on me, and be justified in doing so, they need only feel afraid.

Of course, self-defense is only a legal and moral abstraction. And has no bearing on actual circumstances, the reality of which is that Trayvon, will still be dead, because another person killed him, no matter what the police, FBI, or Justice Department find out later on. And for no reason other than that someone had the effortless means to do so, and a system of justice that would condone it.

Second, my old friend Michael Austin, who is just getting better and better at this pundit thing, reasoning how the situation in Florida essentially suggests an abandonment one of the most fundamental basics of the liberal order: namely, a social contract which assures us that the use of force is going to be subject to the rule of law:

For Thomas Hobbes, civil society was pretty much a no-brainer. However bad it might get (and Hobbes lived through some pretty bad times), it was better than the alternative, which was a worldwide and eternal version of The Hunger Games called the state of nature, also known as the state of war. In this latter state, the only law that applies is brute force. Whoever can take stuff gets to keep stuff, until someone else takes it again. Killing people while taking their stuff is optional, but not discouraged. In the state of nature, Hobbes famously opined, the life of man (and woman) is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”....

Fast forward from the English Revolution to February, 2012, when Trayvon Martin, a young African-American man, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain with a long history of harassing people on the street. He (Zimmerman) was told by police operators not to pursue Martin, yet he did so anyway, shooting him in cold blood while the young man begged for his life. Three weeks later, Zimmerman remains free, even though he admits to killing an unarmed seventeen-year-old boy, because, police say, they cannot dispute his narrative of self-defense.

Not getting arrested because of a “Stand-Your-Ground” law is a very different thing than claiming self-defense at a trial. Anybody accused of murder has a fundamental right to make the case that he or she was acting because of a perceived threat, and juries have been known to be very sympathetic to such claims. If George Zimmerman were acquitted by a jury on the grounds that he was defending himself against a perceived threat, I would be very disappointed, but I would ultimately accept it as a verdict reached through the rule of law. Trayvon’s family would, in such a case, at least have their day in court....

[In the absence of any attempt to introduce law into this terrible event, so say that if] only Trayvon had been armed, he would have been able to stand up for himself....This reasoning leads us directly back to the Hobbesian state of nature. If everybody has to walk around carrying their own weapon, and shooting before being shot, than there is ultimately no point in having a government, for we do not live under the rule of law. If Florida cannot find a way to at least bring Mr. Zimmerman to trial...then they do not deserve to be a state, having failed in the most fundamental responsibility of the social contract.

1 comment:

nancydrew said...

Russell -- You might consider adding a follow/forward gadget to your site. I'd like to pass this post on to as many people as possible. Twitter does have it occasional uses.