The law, paranoia and Trayvon Martin

Published 8:05 pm Saturday, July 20, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

The word “triumph” feels out of place among the mourners of what is and technically isn’t a miscarriage of justice in the Trayvon Martin murder trial.

Justice in the broader sense was tragically denied in the trenches of his life — the Jim Crow-esque trenches in which George Zimmerman’s decision to racially profile, confront and then arguably kill a boy for defending himself is effectively sanctioned by state law.


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Murder is murder or is it under Florida statutes? The truth is, the wrong person was protected, and the same person became the victim of a deadly Catch-22.

In Florida, anyone can use deadly force the moment he believes his life’s in danger. The law didn’t allow the jury to decide whether Zimmerman was right or wrong or whether he provoked the attack.

Once fearing for his life, in a struggle of his own making, Zimmerman legally had the right to use deadly force. By Florida law, what he did is not murder.

The deeper tragedy in all of this is that the second Martin defended himself, the law effectively turned against the 16-year-old. It forced the jury to ignore the 200-pound Zimmerman’s decisions to ignore a police directive and go out of his way, with a gun, to confront a 158-pound teenager minding his business, packing only Skittles and iced tea.

It’s a deadly bad law. As written, it has the practical effect of making the legal system an accessory to murder. Should any law in America do that?

Now all of us must live with another deep racial scar in our collective spirit. Even those who support the right to “stand your ground” know something’s wrong. Has paranoia taken so strong a hold on our country that we can kill because we can’t control our bias and fear?

So how does Trayvon triumph? How can he, when life for him is unnecessarily over? He does so when the melting pot refuses to forget what happened, when multi-racial numbers stand together in opposition to the law that affirms his death.

I see a triumph rising from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come of age, to be defined by a moment. The death of Emmett Till, killed because he looked at a woman who didn’t look like him, defined generations of civil rights activists. Is it possible Trayvon’s will define another? I hope so. The source of Inspiration doesn’t have to be perfect.

Maybe his death wakes up our privileged children to the realization that injustice for one is injustice for all. Will it help them understand what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now”? Does it show the time to oppose a deadly law is before it passes? Will they come to realize their lives literally depend on their personal political participation at every level?

Maybe they will join those who’ve walked this path before to say racial and individual paranoia are not an excuse to kill.

This is not a setback for one group of Americans. It is a setback for all of us. Zimmerman’s actions mean the same thing can happen to teenagers of every color. Do we really want someone deciding whether our sons or daughters live or die based on a distrust of what they wear or whether they simply look suspicious?

What happens in the inner city eventually happens in the suburbs.

Martin’s death is a troubling reminder that in disturbing ways “no one walks alone.” Do we really want to walk in the company of a random, irrational paranoia so deep it can’t tell the difference between needlessly killing the innocent and self defense?

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at