Can we calm down and just talk good common sense for a few minutes?
The Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case has been tried and decided in an American court of law. A jury, approved and chosen by both the prosecution and defense, has heard the evidence and arguments on both sides, seen and heard from parents, neighbors, girlfriends and brothers and law enforcement figures … and declared a verdict: not guilty.
But as if the actual trial had accomplished nothing, the “court of public opinion” is more absorbed, inflamed and tending toward violence – all over the country – than before!
Protests, some spontaneous and many organized and called for by irate political figures, are making headlines and TV lead stories in increasing volume. The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, has made several highly publicized statements calling for a federal governmental “review” and investigation, obviously intending to overturn the duly decided verdict in Florida!
President Obama made a surprise, unannounced appearance before the press to opine, in effect, that “if this Trayvon incident had happened 35 years ago, it might have happened to me.”
It seemed a poignant statement, and it was meant to be. But my first thought was a response: “Yes, and the man on the ground, with you straddling him and pounding his head into the pavement, might have been me. What’s your point?”
Before you or anyone gives a knee-jerk reaction, may I ask two questions of everybody, from the president on down? Apart from any consideration of race, color or ethnicity?
“Who struck the first blow?”
And if you had been the one on his back with a superior opponent straddling you, attacking and intending to seriously injure or actually kill you, and you had a weapon in your pocket:
“What would you have done?”
May we pause and consider both those questions?
Compounding all the testimonies, what apparently happened in Sanford that night was this: A neighborhood watchman spotted a man in a hood starting to pass between some houses where several break-ins and robberies had been previously reported; he phoned in a quick report, got out and approached the hooded figure, perhaps calling out to ask who he was and what he was doing; whatever the response was, the watchman turned and headed back toward his car, as he had been instructed by the dispatcher; at that point, he was attacked from behind, struck in the face, breaking his nose, and found himself on his back with the attacker pounding his head into the sidewalk; he called for help, fumbled for the gun in his pocket and pulled the trigger.
Think. Put yourself in either place. See yourself as the hooded figure. And now as the neighborhood watcher. And ask those two questions. All other considerations aside, it all boils down to those two.
We can all think of many “what ifs,” can’t we?
What if young Trayvon had simply answered the questions, saying who he was and what he was doing, even if he resented being asked? He’d have continued on his way, and that would have been that. He must have known something of the previous break-ins and why a watchman might be patrolling. He probably didn’t know the watchman had a gun, or he wouldn’t have approached and hit him. Right?
What if Zimmerman hadn’t used the gun to stop the attack? None can say for sure, but permanent brain injury, further lacerations, even death might well have resulted. He was pinned down and obviously not physically equal to his attacker. What should he have done? I agree a shot in the leg or some less lethal spot would have been far better – but in the violence of the moment, crying out for help, what would you have, what could you have done?
This was a terrible moment. A terrible outcome. An avoidable tragedy, yes. It can’t be undone, but instead of using this incident to gain political points or promote political or social agendas, we all should try to view it objectively and without bias, and learn a very valuable lesson. May I make a suggestion?
My wife and I just viewed the excellent movie “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson, whose professional baseball career had its start in Sanford, Fla., when he reported for spring training with a Dodger farm team. What that fine young man, that UCLA four-sport athlete, endured in prejudice, hatred, even violent attacks on the ball field and even early in the Dodger locker rooms is heartbreaking and inexcusable!
But he admirably and courageously “turned the other cheek” and won the fame he so richly deserved, not just for his baseball prowess, but for his true social leadership.
Need I even mention Martin Luther King and the triumph of his non-violent approach to bigotry and civil rights abuses? Did all prejudice and racial injustice disappear in his lifetime? No, of course no – but his reasoned and strong example of bravery in the face of lethal threats has made him an American icon.
I was so moved by Rodney King’s plea after he was so savagely beaten by L.A. police that I wrote and recorded a song featuring that poignant plea, “Can’t We Get Along?” Rodney, after riots began in response to the cops’ acquittal, instead of railing against injustices and white police, as he certainly could have, pleaded for compassion, understanding and brotherhood.
As I observed then, he said vastly more that was helpful, instructive and inspirational than anybody else – from the then-president, governor, mayor or police chief to political and social leaders all trying to make points.
The Bible says “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” Both Kings heeded that and set a wonderful example. When Jackie Robinson was asked what he’d do when opposing pitchers aimed at his head, he thought a couple seconds and answered “duck.”
I pray that our current president, who happens to be ethnically both black and white, will follow the example of these former icons, realizing and affirming that his black heritage is not threatened by his white one. That through time, patience, understanding and familiarity, both can function and prosper in one body and one mind.
And in one country.