The Trayvon verdict

Amid the ongoing concern about racial profiling in America, last Saturday evening’s verdict in the Trayvon Martin killing came as stunning news.

Protests erupted across the country, with the one Sunday in Times Square reportedly having been the largest of all.

At Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, worshipers this past Sunday, once again — as they did after Martin’s killing in February 2012 — donned hoodies during their service. The gesture is intended as a protest against racial profiling and also in the hope that we, as a society, will be able to transcend the racial injustice that still plagues our country. It is also a call for justice for Trayvon Martin.

Mayor Bloomberg, probably the country’s most high-profile advocate for gun control, put it correctly when he said this case makes it “crystal clear” why the so-called Stand Your Ground laws, like Florida’s, must be rolled back.

In a statement, Bloomberg said, “Sadly, all the facts in this tragic case will probably never be known. But one fact has long been crystal clear: ‘Shoot first’ laws like those in Florida can inspire dangerous vigilantism and protect those who act recklessly with guns. Such laws — drafted by gun lobby extremists in Washington — encourage deadly confrontations by enabling people to shoot first and argue ‘justifiable homicide’ later.”

The Department of Justice is being called on to continue its investigation into whether the shooter, George Zimmerman, violated Martin’s civil rights. That investigation had been suspended with the start of the Florida court case. Many legal experts, however, think it highly unlikely that Justice will find against Zimmerman at this point, after the Florida court cleared him of murder, as well as manslaughter.

Clearly, Zimmerman — a wannabe cop who was merely a so-called neighborhood watch patrolman — never should be allowed to carry a firearm again. He has already taken one innocent life, and that is too many. In fact, he never even should have been permitted to carry a gun while patrolling as a volunteer watchman. All he needed was a cell phone or a walkie-talkie — and, in fact, that’s all any volunteer patroller needs. Having a guy like this armed and out looking for teens — or “punks,” as Zimmerman sneeringly described Martin — was an accident waiting to happen, and, tragically, it did.

Zimmerman never would have been as quick to get out of his car and tail Martin — expressly violating police orders — had he not been packing a handgun. Without the gun, after initiating a scuffle with Martin, Zimmerman maybe just would have gotten beaten up — maybe even badly beaten — and maybe he would have then given more thought in the future to confronting teens merely committing the “offense” of W.W.B., Walking While Black.

Furthermore, Zimmerman definitely should have been wearing a bright-colored windbreaker — like the Guardian Angels — or security-type vest that was clearly marked “Neighborhood Watch,” or something to that effect. This would have at least let Martin know what he was dealing with, and might well have kept the situation from escalating. Even with a concealed handgun, wearing this kind of identifying garment lets people know that this person is presenting himself as some sort of pseudo-authority. Regardless of whether or not the person in the vest is a nutcase, at least the other party can grasp the situation, and has more information to help decide how to respond.

Local police — such as in Sanford, Florida — surely know who the neighborhood watch people are in their jurisdictions, and they certainly know if these individuals are armed. There should be greater oversight and training of them by police, and this could at least start with making them wear mandatory identifying garments or patches, badges, etc.

Zimmerman should never be allowed to carry a firearm again — though, legally, he will get his gun back. But the issues of Stand Your Ground laws and armed vigilante watchmen who profile our youth must be addressed. Reforms are needed, or more innocent youths will lose their lives.

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