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What did Travon Martin do wrong? Perhaps, he did not run away

  • Published in Letters
To The Daily Sun,
The acquittal of George Zimmerman has implications for New Hampshire that are subtle but potentially profound.
On July 14, a Florida jury found George Zimmerman, an armed adult, not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the killing of Travon Martin, an unarmed teenager. In essence, the jury said prosecutors failed to prove Zimmerman was not reasonably defending himself when he fatally shot Martin.
From the beginning, charges and denials of racism overwhelmed chattering-class objectivity. In the aftermath, those same undercurrents swamped analyses of fact. Moreover, they drove out consideration of the sociologic and legal implications beyond race.
Rudiments of the case were never in dispute. Zimmerman, on neighborhood-watch patrol, suspected Martin was strolling through his community up to no good. He got out of his car, followed Martin and called 9-1-1 to report the suspicious character. Shortly thereafter, there was a confrontation. Zimmerman shot Martin.
At the time of the shooting, testimony and evidence indicated (but did not conclusively prove) Martin was kneeling atop Zimmerman hitting him. One of them was yelling. It was unclear who or why. Was it for help subduing an attacker or a stalker? Was it fear of severe bodily injury? (A snippet of audio sounded like fear.)
Prosecutors tried to prove Zimmerman initiated the confrontation and killed Martin with malice and forethought (murder). They also convinced the judge to allow the jury to consider manslaughter — an unjustified killing without malice or forethought. In the end, the jury seemed to agree with the defense; Zimmerman was probably defending himself.
The likely scenario — although speculative on my part — is that Martin initiated the confrontation. Once he recognized someone was following him, he had a choice: ignore it, run away, hide or confront. If no one had died, would a jury have convicted Martin of assault, or would it have excused his actions as self-defense? Was Martin attacking, defending or standing ground?
Instead of solely concentrating on race, perhaps a gender perspective could have been revealing. If a woman confronts a stalker in the dark, does the stalker have the right to kill her if she gets the best of him?
In the aftermath of the verdict, an oft-asked question was, "What did Travon Martin do wrong?" Perhaps the answer is he did not run away.
It is a strange answer. Florida, like New Hampshire, specifically authorizes civilians to use force, including deadly force, when threatened even when there are options. Both states offer protections for those using force to counter perceived threats. (Does that encourage civilian to use force?)
Is it reasonable for a 17-year-old to feel threatened when he or she is alone and stalked in the dark? Do "stand-your-ground" provisions of law apply; that is, is it reasonable for the teen to use force to counter the threat? Is the ensuing confrontation, then, a continuation of the stalk or a new threat authorizing the stalker to use deadly force?
In May, in light of the Zimmerman case, the state Legislature thought to reassess N.H.'s stand-your-ground law. Nothing came of it. In explaining the state Senate's decision to table reconsideration, a state senator said, "Since (the bill was enacted two years ago) we've had no problems, no vigilante behavior and no questionable actions. We trust our citizens to interpret the law and behave appropriately."
The senator, of course, was paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln. You can trust all the people all the time. No one need be a double-oh to have license to kill. Chances N.H. will be a national spectacle are nil.
Robert Moran