Recently a black teen-ager was shot and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watch guard in Florida. From what I’ve seen in the media, this young man was just walking through a neighborhood, and not engaging in any “suspicious” behavior. As a matter of fact, he was talking on his mobile phone to his girlfriend. The shooter, Zimmerman, called 911 and was told not to approach the boy, but Zimmerman followed him and eventually shot him. Zimmerman claims he felt he was in danger and invoked his right to self defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.
This unfortunate incident brings up a whole series of legal, ethical, and moral issues, including racial profiling. Let me express some thoughts on these matters.
If the young man hadn’t been black, I suspect he wouldn’t have been followed or shot. Zimmerman was engaging in racial profiling in targeting this young man, which is fairly easy for anybody to do.
Let’s say you live in a predominantly white neighborhood and you see several black men wearing hoodies walking down your street. Be honest, now. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? I think it would be the question, “What are they doing in this neighborhood?” That would be followed by the thought, “I’ll bet they are up to no good.”
Now let’s say you see several young black men wearing suits and carrying Bibles walking down your street. What would you think then? I suspect you’d say to yourself, “They must be Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ll pretend I’m not home.” You may want to avoid their proselytizing, but you wouldn’t suspect them of any potential wrongdoing. If they walked up to your front door, I doubt if you would call 911.
So profiling is a little more complex than we might think. It involves dress, behavior, and other factors, but shouldn’t be the basis for shooting someone.
When Self Defense Is Justified
So when is shooting in self-defense permissible? Obviously talking a life should be a last resort. Let me give an example of a case in which shooting a perpetrator is justified in my opinion.
A month or two ago, I saw on the news the story of a young mother who heard men outside her house. She was alone with her kids, and it was obvious these guys were trying to break in. She called 911, and then got her shotgun ready. Before the police got there, the men broke into her house. She confronted them with shotgun in hand, but they didn’t leave. So she opened fire, killing one or two of them as I recall.
Compare that to the case in Florida where the boy was outside, walking briskly through the neighborhood, and was minding his own business. To me, Zimmerman was not at all being threatened nor was there any clear and present danger like the young mother. I believe self defense is justified when somebody breaks into your house, tries to hijack your vehicle with you in it, or tries to mug you on the street, and they don’t flee when you threaten them with a weapon.
I believe the Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms for at least three reasons:
(1) First, to be able to rise up in armed rebellion against an oppressive government, similar to the way the colonies did against England.
(2) For self defense when your life is in danger.
(3) For hunting animals for food.
Should Zimmerman Be Arrested?
I believe he should have been arrested because he went well beyond the limitations of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. I’m glad the local police chief resigned, because his reluctance to arrest Zimmerman and let the judicial system do its thing just fanned the fires of anger, especially in the black community. It is the Grand Jury’s job to determine if this case should be prosecuted, not the police chief’s.
This incident (and a number of others) also points out that we still have a long way to go with respect to racial relations, and I’m talking about both sides. As Bill Cosby has repeatedly pointed out, the African-American community has to take responsibility for cleaning up its act. The white community has to stop stereotyping and practicing other forms of bias.