Our Opinion: Lessons from the Martin shooting

Tuesday July 16, 2013

Media pundits, columnists and anyone with a keyboard and link to the Internet Saturday night was ready to share their thoughts on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. While everyone is entitled to their opinions, we think it's a shame that the conversation immediately turned (once again) to race relations in our country.

The fact of the matter is that, even though police were first hesitant to arrest Zimmerman in the shooting death of Martin, he was eventually arrested, charged and sent to trial. During that trial, a jury was selected by both the prosecution and defense teams. That jury listened to testimony for weeks, eventually deliberating for more than 16 hours before finding Zimmerman not guilty.

Like it or not, that is our justice system at work.

"It's impossible to know whether it was Trayvon Martin or George Zimmerman who threw the first punch in the confrontation that ended Martin's life," Ryan Grim wrote in a Huffington Post report on Monday. "The jury apparently relied on that ambiguity to acquit Zimmerman on murdering Martin, because he said he killed the 17-year-old in self defense."

For those who are unaware of the details of the case, they are as follows: Zimmerman, an aspiring police officer, was on patrol as part of a neighborhood watch, when he discovered Martin walking through a gated community in Sanford, Fla. He called 911 and began to follow the 17-year-old. At some point, a confrontation ensued, in which Martin was subsequently shot and killed.

During the trial, less than savory accusations were made about the characters of both individuals. And you know what they say about hindsight? As it turns out, Martin, being followed by a stranger, felt just as threatened as Zimmerman claimed he was. And, as the Huffington Post points out, this whole ordeal could have been avoided if any of the following decisions had been made that night:

Zimmerman could have decided not to follow Martin. Or, he could have heeded the advice of a 911 operator, who instructed Zimmerman to discontinue the pursuit.

"If Zimmerman had not been secretly armed, he probably wouldn't have followed Martin. ... If Zimmerman's weapon had not been hidden, Martin probably would have dealt with him differently." Makes sense. Zimmerman wouldn't have had the gun to fall back on in a "worst case scenario," and Martin, if he knew there was a possibility he could have been shot and killed, may have adjusted his demeanor appropriately, as well.

Or, given his history (which includes domestic assault), Zimmerman could have been barred from carrying a weapon.

And, lastly and perhaps most obvious, Zimmerman could have simply chose to not shoot and kill Martin. Despite who attacked whom, it was Zimmerman's "series of aggressive decisions," as the Huffington Post puts it, which led to the fight. Imagine where each would be today if, instead of going for his gun, Zimmerman chose to re-think his strategy.

Ultimately, the editorial board doesn't believe this needs to be relegated to nothing more than a race issue, despite what many on both side of the argument say. Instead, this case shows the various, deeply troubling loopholes and problems with the stand your ground laws on the books in Florida and several other states around the country. Just as the Sandy Hook shooting last December, this case should force our elected lawmakers to take a closer look at and begin to revise the many lax gun laws in this country.

"We should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis," President Obama said following the verdict this weekend. "We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that's a job for all of us."

Let's hope this case doesn't become a forgotten memory before action could have prevented a similar tragedy down the road.


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