Monday, March 26, 2012

Trayvon Martin

I know this isn't a Waterbury topic, but it is on the minds of many people in Waterbury, and I suspect it will shape legislation and actions around the country.

There are a lot of terrible things that happen every day for no good reason. That's how life is. For me, what stands out most about the Trayvon Martin case is that his killer was not arrested, that the police believed his action was protected by law. That terrifies me.

I've listened to the available 911 tapes, and I've read the accounts of the night given by Martin's girlfriend, the boy walking his dog, and the nearby neighbors. It seems clear to me that George Zimmerman is a vigilante, that he did not trust the police to do their jobs, that he felt it was necessary to take the law into his own hands.

The story resonates deeply for me. As a woman, I am always hyper-aware of my surroundings when I am walking alone, especially after dark. Women in this country get assaulted far too frequently. When I hear footsteps behind me, I tense up. If the footsteps get closer and closer, I brace myself for an attack. This is the reality of being a woman. I've had friends who have panicked when they found out I walk by myself after dark. I've had acquaintances practically beg me to let them drive me home, because they're certain I will be assaulted if I walk by myself. This is the reality of being a woman in the United States, of having grown up in a time when men argued that a woman was "asking" to be raped because she wore a short skirt, of having attended college at a time when women needed to hold rallies to take back the night, of living in an era in which a woman who has been raped can be treated like a criminal when she seeks help.

When I hear about Trayvon Martin, I imagine myself in his place. I imagine myself walking home in the dark and realizing that a man is following me, I imagine that I start walking faster in an attempt to get home safely, only to end up being cornered by the man following me. I imagine being frightened and assuming this man following me intends to harm me. I imagine the police deciding, because I fought back against my pursuer, that he was acting in self defense when he killed me, that he did nothing wrong.

When Geraldo Rivera, and now Bill O'Reilly, claimed that Martin would still be alive if only he hadn't worn a hoodie, how is that any different than saying a woman wouldn't have been raped if only her skirt had been longer? This adds to the repulsion and fear that is being generated for me by this ongoing story. What direction is our country headed in?

As a nation, now is a critical time. Are we going to decide it's okay to hunt someone down, kill them, then get away with it because the victim fought back, or because the victim was dressed a certain way?  I certainly hope not.

The captain of a neighborhood watch should be armed with a camera, not with a gun. That's why it's called "neighborhood watch" not "neighborhood vigilantes." When the police decided to let Zimmerman go, stating that they believed he acted in self-defense, they gave him the green light to kill again. They endorsed vigilante behavior, and they endorsed murder. As a nation, we must condemn their decision, or find ourselves living in a country where we have no legal protection from vigilantes, stalkers, and even serial killers who claim self-defense when they kill.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been harassed by over zealous neighborhood watch groups before. It seems reasonable that Z took the law into his own hands. However, it is also true that Trayvon was found to be in possession of stolen property. Now, if Z had killed a rapist or someone who had a rape kit, etc. I think the public would not blink if Z was let go. I am happy that this story, regardless of outcome, hasn't turned into a race issue which is insidiously divisive.