I'm sitting here watching the closing arguments in the Trayvon Martin murder trial and am struck once again by the both the majesty of the law --- and its limitations. Trials are part drama and part reason and you can't help but be impressed with the rituals and how seriously we adhere to them. But it's limitations are on obvious display here.
The facts show that George Zimmerman armed himself with a gun loaded with hollow point bullets and ended up killing an unarmed teenager who was just out buying some snacks. How that happened is disputed but to me it's obvious that when you strap on a gun, go looking for trouble and end up stalking and killing an unarmed 17 year old, you've done something wrong. To me, the carrying of that gun morally requires that he be held liable in some way for the unarmed Trayvon's death.
But, as this article shows, the law in Florida says something different. It says that he was legally entitled to carry that gun with hollow point bullets, chase down someone he thought looked suspicious and then kill him in "self-defense" when they got into a tussle. In this trial the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not shoot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. It makes your head hurt a little bit.
Perhaps they should have charged him with criminally negligent manslaughter to begin with (or whatever the equivalent Florida statute.) But regardless, for him to walk completely is not justice. It's simply wrong if it's determined that the level of irresponsibility and recklessness shown by this man that night is less than that of someone who gets drunk and kills a teenager in a car accident. His judgment wasn't impaired by alcohol. It can't be less than a doctor who fails to notice something on a medical history or an employer who fails to properly secure the safety of an employee. There are people convicted of those crimes in jails all over the country.
Chasing a "suspicious" person you know nothing about in the dark with a gun loaded with hollow point bullets should mitigate against whatever we might normally think of as defending yourself. But in a country that allows scared little men like George Zimmerman to make up for their shortcomings by carrying a great big gun, loaded for bear, as if that's not dangerous in itself, means I suppose we'll have to get used to this kind of vigilantism. If the law allows this, we're basically saying that people can conceal a gun, provoke a fight and then shoot someone dead in "self-defense."
Let's hope the jury finds a just way of punishing George Zimmerman for his recklessness. The judge will allow a manslaughter verdict. He should get no less.