By Ken Trainor
In the virtual reality of our court system, George Zimmerman is "not guilty." In the real world, however, he is guilty of many things.
Zimmerman is guilty of being an incompetent Neighborhood Watch volunteer. An effective Neighborhood Watch volunteer, if he sees something he considers suspicious, calls the police. He doesn't go out hunting for "bad guys" as he defines them. He partners with local law enforcement. He doesn't pre-empt them.
He is guilty of being an extraordinarily inept vigilante as well. Taking matters into his own clumsy hands, he managed to get so tangled up with a "suspect" that he felt his only recourse was to use lethal force. Having established his ineptitude, one can't help but question the quality of his judgment in deciding to pull the trigger.
He is guilty of stalking and perhaps entrapment. It's a free country, we're told. Free enough to allow goofs with delusions of grandeur to carry a loaded gun and freely decide when to discharge it if he feels threatened. Theoretically, it was a free country for Trayvon Martin, too, but George Zimmerman begged to differ.
He is guilty of being the "initial aggressor." He created the conflict. He started it, whatever "it" was. We have only Zimmerman's side of the story after all. Florida allowed him to "stand his ground," only he wasn't standing still. He was following an unarmed kid. Zimmerman was the instigator, the protagonist, the aggressor. He brought the fight to the kid. Florida law, I've heard, states that when someone is the initial aggressor, he or she must take any and every opportunity to withdraw. That didn't happen.
He is guilty of racial profiling. Young black male, wearing a hoodie, walking in a subdivision where he "doesn't belong." Must be a criminal. Is a racial profiler a racist? Yes. You're acting in a race-based or race-ist manner. Is Zimmerman a hate-filled, habitual, incorrigible racist? That's between him and every African American he meets for the rest of his life.
He is guilty of being a killer. Did he get away with "murder" or "manslaughter" like O.J. Simpson? Those are also technical designations from our obviously flawed system of "justice." But George Zimmerman is certainly a killer, self-admitted, having taken the life of an unarmed 17-year-old who had done nothing to him until he accosted Trayvon Martin and took his life in a violent manner.
Was that killing "justified"? The court ruled him "not guilty" of various levels of homicide. But justification is another matter. Killing an unarmed human being when you're armed and initiating the conflict is not justifiable. Was it justified for Trayvon Martin to "stand his ground" after Zimmerman confronted him? Clearly his life was threatened.
The verdict angered and depressed me, but it didn't surprise me. At the outset, acquittal seemed a foregone conclusion in this case. When you call a law "stand your ground," you've already established a bias in favor of the person doing the killing. George Zimmerman will now become a darling of the vigilante crowd and no doubt end up a wealthy man, which is galling, but I don't much care what happens to him as long as he stops playing vigilante and doesn't kill any more unarmed teenagers whenever he feels threatened. I sure don't think he should be allowed to carry a gun, but I know full well that won't happen.
This verdict has set us back, as did the concealed-carry legislation that cleared its final hurdle in Illinois last week — a very bad week indeed for those who oppose gun rights without responsibilities.
We're living through a time of national insanity and many who shouldn't be carrying loaded firearms will do so. This verdict gives them the confidence that if they shoot someone and declare self-defense, they will likely get away with it.
George Zimmerman got away with it. He has to live with his act, but that's the only price he has to pay. Some will turn him into a hero or a martyr. He may well consider himself the real victim in all this. Others will shun him and occasionally tell him what they think of what he did.
Or maybe he'll surprise us all and make amends, pay his debt to society even though society did not insist that he pay one. Instead of becoming a poster boy for our national gun cult, let's hope he feels some remorse, recognizes what he did wrong, and understands that we're all worse off for his actions.
He could serve his community in constructive ways — like warning other would-be vigilantes about the terrible responsibility of carrying a loaded gun while arrogantly assuming your own self-righteousness and the other person's wrongfulness. Some good could come of all this. He can either learn from his mistakes or he can retreat to his bunker and await imagined reprisals from those he so clearly fears.
In the eyes of our highly imperfect court system, George Zimmerman is "not guilty."
In the court of public opinion, however, a very different verdict has been reached.