Guns and Race in Florida
TWO stories from America, and specifically the State of Florida:
Yesterday evening a man called George Zimmerman walked free from court after a jury, having deliberated for more than 16 hours, had found him not guilty of murder.
Zimmerman had admiited to shooting 17-year old Trayvon Martin, on the night of February 26, 2012, but claimed he was acting in self-defence after the black teenager attacked him.
That night, Trayvon had just gone to a local 7- Eleven convenience store and was walking back through the Retreat at Twin Lakes to the home of his father's fiance, where he and his father were staying. He was unarmed, unless one counts the can of iced tea and bag of Skittles which he had just purchased.
Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer, said he thought the youth looked suspicious because of his slow and meandering gait. Phoning the police, he then set out after the boy, there was a confrontation, and Zimmerman shot him.
After six weeks, and numerous protests, police arrested Zimmerman and charged him with second-degree murder. Later they released tapes of neighbours' 911 calls in which can be heard screams and then gunfire. From these it is not clear who is screaming for help, or who is attacking whom. What is clear is that only one man was armed, and only one lay dead afterwards.
From character witnesses and other evidence it would appear hard to see what Trayvon Martin was guilty of beyond being black, and a teenager. Whereas Zimmerman did have a gun, and followed him, and did have a criminal record.
But now Zimmerman walks free, and whether or not he was racially prejudiced, he has already become a hero to those who are.
We might take that as just another case of America's lax attitudes to gun crime were it not for the next case, which comes from not far away:
Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for firing a pistol in the air, hoping to scare away a physically abusive ex-husband, Rico Gray. Marissa, five feet, two inches tall and slightly built, had been no match for her trucker ex-partner, who admitted that twice he had thrown her out of the house. “She’s a little person so it doesn’t take much for me to pick her up and tote her out my front door . . . You know, I pretty much picked her up and throwed her out.”
In the months before the incident that sent Marissa to prison, in addition to bodily heaving her out the door, Gray had beaten her, head-butted her in the face while she was pregnant, sent her to the hospital. One of his three arrests on domestic violence charges had been for an attack on Alexander that led to a conviction and probation. He had other convictions for violence against women.
On August 10, 2010, as Gray approached her in a rage, Alexander (a software firm employee with an MBA and no previous criminal record) fired warning shots with a pistol. As Gray admitted in a deposition to the District Atormey, he had already attacked her and chased her into the garage, before she came out with the gun.
“I honestly think she just didn’t want me to put my hands on her anymore so she did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn’t get hurt, you know. You know, she did what she had to do.”
“The gun was never actually pointed at me. When she raised the gun down and raised it up, you know, the gun was never pointed at me. The fact is, you know . . . she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it. If she was violent toward me, it was because she was trying to get me up off her or stop me from doing.”
The bullets went into the wall. No one was hurt. Nevertheless a jury convicted Marissa of aggravated assault with a firearm and, under Florida’s draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the presiding judge was left with no discretion. So she got 20 years. Her thug husband got custody of their baby son.
That Marissa Alexander had a similar complexion to Trayvon Martin, rather than his killer, cannot possibly have influenced a court in Florida, US of A, can it? Nor the fact that she is female.
And whatever this says about the state of Florida, I should not think it will influence any one's holiday plans.
BUT along with the demonstrations in many American cities, someone has taken a lead: