A Counterfeit Trial

In the Middle Ages, travelers understood that if they encountered a stranger who kept his visor up, he was friendly; if he closed it, that signaled enmity. Other signals were primarily communicated by dress and banners. The “attitude” of strangers on the open road was instantly recognized.

Dress, deliberately or otherwise, has always been something of a message. Despite the fact that dress can be deceptive at first sight, most people judge strangers by the way they dress. There are several misapprehensions about people at first sight, among which are the notion that a shirt and tie guarantee that the wearer is a gentleman and that a lady’s dress signals the degree to which she’s ‘open to sexual advances.’

In a larger context, dress indicates ‘peer identity,’ ‘rebellion,’ and ‘individuality’ (a blatant contradiction in terms, of course). Dress codes are in effect in almost every walk of life: military, commercial, and social. Nowhere are codes more rigid than with teenagers who proclaim their non-conformity by conforming to their peers.

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog about the Zimmerman-Martin incident titled, Justice, Prejudice, and Testosterone, April 9, 2012). Seemingly simplistic, my article partially but significantly attributed that tragic incident to testosterone. I didn’t stress the hood Martin wore, an article of dress that is now regarded as the ‘visor’ down. Given the current resurgence of attention on that fateful meeting between two men in the dark, I want to add the following.

Prejudice is not limited to ordinary minds. Even Aristotle and Plato had serious prejudicial notions that rationalized the justification of slavery. We know that Martin was prejudiced against white people, and for the sake of argument, allow me to assume that the same is true of Zimmerman even though there is no evidence of that, and that Zimmerman is regarded as free from prejudice.

I also don’t question Martin’s reason for being where he was or why he was there. And, of course, his wearing a hood is basically irrelevant other than as a possible status symbol. If Zimmerman is a wannabe cop, Martin was a wannabe ‘tough guy.’ The two men had their fatal encounter primarily because of those attitudes, exacerbated in part by undertones of prejudice at least on the part of Martin. In any case, I maintain that the principal trigger for the fatal conflict was unbridled testosterone.

Although little is known about the incident, lots of people are opinionated about what actually happened that night. Conclusions about the encounter are mainly defined by inference.

Apart from the testosterone factor, I have little to say about the incident itself. It is the post speculation about it that disturbs me. A major example of this is the notion that Zimmerman should not have shot Martin because Zimmerman’s head injuries were not life-threatening. They claim this in the safety of their living rooms or television panel appearances or syndicated newspaper columns or on the Internet.

I was prompted to write this article when I read a blog on the Internet in which the author actually said that Zimmerman did not shoot Martin because he had to shoot him, but because he wanted to shoot him! (exclamation point, mine) That is the voice of prejudice, not reason. Zimmerman may have made mistakes prior (or even leading up to the deadly encounter), but it takes blind prejudice to accuse him of wanting to kill Martin.

But there is another factor, not prejudicial, that impedes objective judgment about the incident: lack of imagination. There are people who genuinely think that Zimmerman did not have to shoot Martin when he did. They cite the superficial wounds to Zimmerman’s head as proof of that. At best, they claim, Zimmerman should not have shot Martin at all. Or, at least, he should have waited longer before he might have done so. Most of them say that Zimmerman’s head injuries were not serious enough to warrant shooting Martin at all. Would that have been true if Martin had continued to pound Zimmerman’s head against concrete? Would any of us risk waiting for a concussion or brain damage before defending ourselves with a gun? I know I wouldn’t wait even though it would break my heart to kill a young man, however ruthless he might be. Anyone who claims otherwise is indulging in armchair nobility

At a time of life and death conflict, survival instincts take over, not legal procedural manuals on violence management. It is tragic that Zimmerman’s body position was such that the only shot he had available to him was to Martin’s chest where so many vital organs are located. Any one of us would have done the same thing.

Severe physical fights are always fought with the intent to kill even if the opponents are not aware of that. Consequences are the furthest thought from their minds when engaged in violence. That’s why there are (and should be) degrees of murder, from pre-meditated murder, a felony, to involuntary manslaughter. The Zimmerman-Martin case is being tried according to legal definitions. However, outside the court, the media are prone to use the word ‘murder’ instead of ‘killing’ because murder has a more negative connotation. I hear people say, Zimmerman did not kill in self-defense. Well, if that’s true and he’s not prejudiced, why did he kill Martin?

The difference in age and physical power of the two men heavily favored the young man in their street fight. Predictably, Martin could easily—even unintentionally—have killed Zimmerman without meaning to do so. There must have been a terrible moment when Zimmerman knew that instinctively and pulled the trigger. This is the nature of tragedy. Nobody wins.

I believe that a million hooded-men march is being planned. Others are preparing for riots should Zimmerman be acquitted. I learned of this when a prominent city official claimed that preparing for that contingency is in itself prejudicial. Yet, we have repeatedly witnessed rioting and looting when a mob disagrees with a verdict. So, storekeepers and others prepare for riots in the likely event that there will be one if Zimmerman is acquitted.

Again, no distinction is being made between prejudice and past experience. It would not surprise me if some people are hoping for Zimmerman’s acquittal so that they can have an excuse to loot, breaking windows and grabbing appliances as though their anger motivates them to do so. Tragically, that diminishes the dignity of a genuine protest whether or not the verdict is the right or wrong one. It also reinforces racial discord over a complex case that has nothing to do with prejudice and everything to do with politics.

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