Monday, July 15, 2013

Hoodies Up for Treyvon in Minnesota

The verdict is in -- and although we must abide by the rule of law, acquitting George Zimmerman of murder or manslaughter in the death of Treyvon Martin just does not ring true for me.  On the one hand, having followed the trial pretty closely, I can see why the jury was not able to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  There was indeed some doubt as to exactly what happened that night.  Who threw the first punch?  Who was on top?  Who called for help?  There were conflicting testimonies, with parents on both sides each claiming  it was their son on the tape, etc.  So maybe it was not possible to say "beyond a doubt" what really happened.

But an acquittal does not necessarily mean the accused is morally or ethically innocent.  It seems clear to me that none of it would have happened at all if Zimmerman had not followed Martin in the first place.  Deep in my heart, I still feel that he provoked the tragedy.  It might not have been premeditated murder by legal definition, but it was no accident, either.

Rabbi Gershom in a hoodie
Tonight at the Minnesota State Capitol there is a rally called "Hoodies Up for Treyvon."  I live 100 miles away and can't be there in person, but I do raise my hoodie to say that the conversation cannot stop here.  Beyond the details of this particular case is the greater question of racial profiling in general, as well as the wisdom of those "stand you ground" laws.  This verdict sends a disturbing message that says if you feel threatened by the way somebody looks or dresses, you can justify stalking and violence against them.    

When I was growing up, "self defense" meant that you could use force to save yourself, but only as much as was necessary to either subdue your assailant or escape.  It did not automatically mean you could use deadly force just because you felt threatened.  And even in the Old Wild West, you simply did not shoot an unarmed man.  There was a sense of fairness, even in self-defense.  

Since Treyvon was unarmed, the original "threat" must not have seemed all that deadly -- unless we assume that Zimmerman felt a personal threat beyond just seeing a teenager walking home.  What did he see?  A black kid he did not know, wearing a hoodie in his gated neighborhood.  I believe it was that profile that initially caused Zimmerman to feel threatened -- and I'll bet that if Trevon had been a white guy with an umbrella (it was raining that night, hence the hoodie up), he would not have been stalking him that night.

Which brings us back to the original question:  Are we now going to say it is OK to stalk somebody just because you feel their appearance threatens you?  I certainly hope not.  That would be a terrible step backward in society that claims to value diversity.   This is an important discussion, and if anything good can come of the Treyvon Martin tragedy, let it be this:  that we all take a long, hard look at our own prejudices, and take steps to correct them.


Anonymous said...

This case has been seen around the world and does not reflect well on American justice.


Yonassan Gershom said...

Agreed. I'm glad to see that his parents are now mounting a movement to repeal "stand your ground" laws in states that have them.

Precious said...


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should stick to the woods and stay out of politics.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Let me guess, Anonymous: You're the right-wing spammer-bully who has been following me around on YouTube. I figured you'd find my blog sooner or later. Maybe if you actually bother to READ it, you might learn that I'm not the really "self hating Jew" you think I am. I just don't agree with your narrow version of Judaism. My G-d is much bigger than that!