Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Should He Have Done?

Trey Smith

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Rand Paul, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (also sponsor of his state’s Stand Your Ground law), along with a host of other Republicans, argued that had the teachers and administrators been armed, those twenty little kids whose lives Adam Lanza stole would be alive today. Of course, they were parroting the National Rifle Association’s talking points. The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative lobbying group responsible for drafting and pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, insist that an armed citizenry is the only effective defense against imminent threats, assailants, and predators.

But when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, teenage pedestrian returning home one rainy February evening from a neighborhood convenience store, the NRA went mute. Neither NRA officials nor the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party argued that had Trayvon Martin been armed, he would be alive today. The basic facts are indisputable: Martin was on his way home when Zimmerman began to follow him — first in his SUV, and then on foot. Zimmerman told the police he had been following this “suspicious-looking” young man. Martin knew he was being followed and told his friend, Rachel Jeantel, that the man might be some kind of sexual predator. At some point, Martin and Zimmerman confronted each other, a fight ensued, and in the struggle Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.

Zimmerman pursued Martin. This is a fact. Martin could have run, I suppose, but every black man knows that unless you’re on a field, a track, or a basketball court, running is suspicious and could get you a bullet in the back. The other option was to ask this stranger what he was doing, but confrontations can also be dangerous — especially without witnesses and without a weapon besides a cell phone and his fists. Florida law did not require Martin to retreat, though it is not clear if he had tried to retreat. He did know he was in imminent danger.

Where was the NRA on Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground? What happened to their principled position? Let’s be clear: the Trayvon Martin’s of the world never had that right because the “ground” was never considered theirs to stand on. Unless black people could magically produce some official documentation proving that they are not burglars, rapists, drug dealers, pimps or prostitutes, intruders, they are assumed to be “up to no good.”
~ from The US v. Trayvon Martin by Robin D.G. Kelley ~
All throughout the televised trial and after the verdict was rendered, my wife kept asking the same question: What should Trayvon Martin have done in the situation that ultimately resulted in his death? Her question is rhetorical because all the Zimmerman supporters basically have blamed Martin for his own death!

As Kelley points out above, running away would have been one of the worst possible ways of handling the situation. Why? Because, in a lot of people's minds, a person of color who runs PROVES that they must have been up to "no good." As this bizarre line of reasoning goes, an innocent person would have no reason to run because they weren't doing anything wrong.

So, if Trayvon couldn't flee, what other option is left?

The only one that I can think of is to confront the creepy unidentified person following him. Unfortunately, by doing that, a good deal of white America believes he brought his own death on himself. And this brings us right back to the salient question: What should he have done?

The answer for a lot of white folks is one they won't say out loud because, to do so, would indicate that they are racists. What I suspect that a lot of my white brethren think is that Martin should have acted like a slave with his master! He should have immediately stopped in his tracks and said, "Yes suh" or "No suh" to any questions posed to him by Zimmerman. He should have allowed Zimmerman to pat him down to prove that he wasn't up to "no good." And, if Zimmerman wanted to hold him until the police arrived, Trayvon should have docilely accepted his "fate."

It is because Trayvon probably didn't prostrate himself before Zimmerman -- he didn't act like the second class citizen that many racist whites believe him and his kind to be -- that Zimmerman was well within his rights as a white person to shoot him. It is because Martin defended himself from this menacing man -- who for all Trayvon knew could have been a pervert -- that Zimmerman was more than justified in pulling the trigger.

So, realistically, what should Trayvon have done?

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