Commentary: Trayvon Martin's image is irrelevant in his shooting

The Miami HeraldApril 25, 2012 

Nearly two months after killing Trayvon Martin with a gunshot to the chest, George Zimmerman apologized to his parents.

"I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son," Zimmerman said at his bond hearing.

Then, answering questions Trayvon’s mother had raised on television weeks before, he added: “I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not.”

The awkward apology is illustrative of how little Zimmerman understands of the scope of his crime.

Released on a generously low $150,000 bond around midnight Sunday, the 28-year-old former neighborhood crime watch volunteer still doesn’t fully comprehend what’s wrong with what he did the rainy evening of Feb. 26. He doesn’t get why his use of deadly force on an unarmed young man merited the second-degree murder charge he’s facing, even if making that kind of murder case to a jury proves difficult and a lesser manslaughter conviction seems more likely.

It was an appropriate charge levied only after a special prosecutor was assigned to review the substandard investigation by Sanford Police, which hastily decided Zimmerman acted in self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” and didn’t even keep him in jail overnight until they could properly interview witnesses and investigate further.

On this point alone, one can reasonably question how the shooting of a white teenager by a black man would have been handled.

But many people, including some like the Facebook-ranting firefighter whose job is to serve and protect the public without prejudice, just don’t get this case. Neither do the people passing around a vicious email portraying Trayvon as a criminal using selective photos and Internet postings, aspects of appearance and inmature behavior that, even if true, are irrelevant.

No, this case is not about age difference or age profiling no matter what Zimmerman and his attorney are cooking up to raise reasonable doubt.

And it’s not about Trayvon’s high school record, as Zimmerman had no idea what that was when he chose to shoot him at the point, if we are to believe him, when he felt disadvantaged in the confrontation Zimmerman provoked.

Trayvon hadn’t entered Zimmerman’s house. He hadn’t engaged in any behavior that warranted police action.

Yet Zimmerman not only called 911, but he got out of his car and pursued Trayvon against police advice.

But this part of Zimmerman’s lame apology to grieving parents is at least somewhat helpful: “And I did not know if he was armed or not.”

Indeed, Zimmerman didn’t know much that night, only what he saw: a young black man walking on a rainy night along the public areas of a gated townhouse complex, covering his head with his jacket’s hood.

In that image, Zimmerman saw a criminal.

In that image, I see the young man my grandson might grow up to be. I see my neighbor next door, this year a freshman at the University of Florida, so polite he still calls me “Miss Fabiola.” I see all the success stories we hear every year at this time of graduations and college acceptances when black youths, like everyone else, make the grade, graduate at the top of their class and move on to higher education.

Trayvon’s brother, a student at Florida International University, is one of those youths. That his little brother may have had an attitude problem, and that he was serving a suspension at the time he had the misfortune of being spotted by the gun-toting Zimmerman, doesn’t constitute a credible argument for self-defense.

How many people don’t raise troubled kids that become stand-up adults? How many of us don’t raise good kids whose year of questioning and limits-testing at 17 we’d rather forget?

Sadly, we won’t get to know what Trayvon might have become in life had he been able to overcome the angst and peer pressure of teen years, as his parents hoped by sending him away from Miami Gardens to his father in Sanford.

In death, however, he has awakened a complacent nation that elected a black man president but has not yet been able to shed its prejudices in the neighborhood.

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