I believe several Pittsburgh bloggers are posting about the Zimmerman/Martin case tonight, unless I have missed them doing some earlier time. Whether or not I might have missed the group, I am doing this tonight.
Like so many others, I have been following this case. It certainly seems to have had a polarizing effect, down predictable party and liberal/conservative lines. For liberals, Zimmerman profiled Martin, decided he was up to no good and in danger of getting away with whatever he had done, and literally hunted him down. For conservatives, Zimmerman was merely doing his neighborhood watch duties, apparently thought Martin would elude police, and so followed Martin.
What seems like undisputed facts are that somehow Martin approached Zimmerman and took him by surprise. I do not know if any words passed between them, whether maybe Zimmerman showed Martin that he had a gun in his waistband or a holster, but we do know the two proceeded to start fighting. I think at least one witness said the two were rolling in grass, one or more may have supported Zimmerman's story about Martin being on top of him, another one or more may have said Zimmerman was on top of Martin (possibly post gun shot). Martin may have been fighting harder than Zimmerman expected, possibly because Martin was fighting a man who he thought was about to shoot him. In this context, one can make a case for both the man and the boy invoking self defense, but only one of them had access to lethal force.
Having said all that, I actually want to step back and discuss events directly prior to the fatal confrontation. I want to talk about rules governing our behavior. I know that saying "I was only following orders" is practically an archetype of a certain form of (perhaps bureaucratic) evil, yet I will say I think many of the individual acts of evil in history come from people deciding to ignore orders. The My Lai massacre leaps to mind immediately, although the specific orders in that situation may have been somewhat ambiguous.
But my point in bringing up orders is that as a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman had a set of parameters that were supposed to govern his activities while watching the neighborhood. He was supposed to be the eyes and ears of the police, but he was not supposed to pursue and absolutely not supposed to confront. Yet when Zimmerman left his vehicle to follow Martin that night, he knew he was risking confronting Martin. Why would the neighborhood watch rules say not to follow and risk confronting someone suspicious? Exactly because of what happened next.
In a way, the Zimmerman trial is a simplified version of the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration alleged Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it was going to give to terrorists in the near future. After we invaded, we did not find any WMD's. I maintain that if you looked at the total history of the weapons inspections after the Gulf War and the sanctions, unless you literally had a nuclear bomb or canister of sarin gas in front of you, it simply was not credible that Iraq had any kind of WMD's, and that's what turned out to be the case. Yet George Bush was never held accountable for thousands of American deaths, and as many as a hundred thousand or more Iraqi deaths.
Similarly, George Zimmerman decided not only that Trayvon Martin looked suspicious, but that he must have committed crimes in the past, and was looking to commit a crime in the immediate future. All that based on zero evidence connected to Martin himself and zero evidence of any crime Zimmerman had heard about occurring that night or anything Martin did besides walk. Zimmerman then departed his car in direct violation of neighborhood watch training as well as what the police neighborhood watch coordinator told him on the phone at that moment. Yet Zimmerman is not going to be held responsible for violating his instructions and the eminently predictable death that resulted from his actions.