Sunday, March 25, 2012

Not safe, not sorry

I was looking down, worried that my son would trip on the descending escalator. He's never had even a hint of trouble, but it doesn't stop me from holding my breath every time we approach the splintering stairs.

It's a momentary worry.

My husband shot me a narrow-eyed look and tilted his head in the direction of forward. I took the hint and followed his withering gaze.

“I'd rather have a gun in my hand than a cop on the phone” read the broad back of the man in front of us.

Heavy sigh.

I wondered if he'd read the news stories about Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teen gunned down in a gated community by a volunteer of the Neighborhood Watch. I supposed he'd hadn't.

The shooting happened weeks ago, and only now it seemed the nation was waking up to the tragedy.

Perhaps the news wouldn't matter to Mister Gun-in-Hand. His definition of justice I'd wager is entirely different than mine. In his eyes, I'd reckon, criminals have too many rights.

I'd have to admit in this case I'm in agreement.

The shooter, George Zimmerman, by news accounts, was a student of criminal justice and an obsessive volunteer on the Neighborhood Watch. In the last year he'd called authorities 46 times to report suspicious incidents. He wanted to be a cop.

After he called 911 on Feb. 26 to report a suspicious black teen wearing a hoodie, police saw no reason to dispute his version of the events that lead up to Martin's shooting death that evening.

Zimmerman wasn't charged.

Experts listening to the 911 tapes pointed out a hallmark sign that Zimmerman may have been intoxicated – slurred speech – was apparent to them, but police hadn't tested his blood alcohol level, something that is routine in all homicides.

According to ABC News, police even corrected a witness who said she'd heard the teen yell for help. Police told her it was Zimmerman who yelled. That's what he told them.

They took Zimmerman at his word that he had no criminal history, though it turned out he was charged with battery against an officer and resisting arrest in 2005. That charge was later expunged, allowing him to legally possesses a weapon.

Even when these and other discrepancies came to light, the shooter wasn't arrested.

While pressure mounted to charge Zimmerman and let a court decide what happened based on evidence, Federal investigators warned that the laws of Florida could likely protect the shooter. The law in question allows citizens to protect themselves with deadly force anywhere they happen to be.

Known as Castle Doctrines for residences and Stand Your Ground laws outside of one's home, it means those who feel threatened are legally allowed to protect themselves from any force with deadly force. They don't have to retreat.

But are they allowed to pursue?

Should average citizens who suspect criminal intent -- who actually look for it -- be allowed to stalk, corner, confront and then shoot those individuals they distrust?

What if they're wrong? What if they had a grudge?

No one will ever really know. Not unless thousands of people, from all corners of the country, stand up and demand it.

Shoot first, don't bother sorting it out later.

Justifiable homicide without justification. Not safe, not sorry.

The more I think about it the less I'm sure the crime itself was as racially motivated as the laws that allowed it to play out the way it did. Laws that just perpetuate the deplorable divide.

I think about how this ride will end just as the escalator reaches the ground floor.

The stairs before us straighten and slide under the floor. My son looks at me with his devilish smile and hops off at the last moment.

“I'm Safe!” he hollers.

But I can't help thinking we're still not on solid ground.

The man in front of us had already dismounted, his message of vigilantism disappearing into a crowd.

How can there be safety looking down the barrel of a gun? Even one on a t-shirt.

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