Followed Home—What Trayvon Martin and I Have in Common and What We Don’t

When I first heard about the shooting in Florida, I felt it very much as a gun issue. Another jerk with a gun in his hand and a chip on his shoulder who felt someone owed him a life because he didn’t like how his had turned out. Then people started talking about George Zimmerman’s victim, Trayvon Martin. They started talking about hoodies and self defense, and I thought, Oh, my God, it’s Jennifer Levin all over again. The Girl in the Park is based on what was known as The Preppie Murder of the late 80s. A young woman went into Central Park with a young man. He walked out a little while later. She was dead. He admitted to killing her, but claimed it was “self defense,” despite the fact that she was half his size. His lawyers trashed her in the papers. She was a party girl, she drank, had lots of boyfriends. To many people, Jennifer seemed a little slutty, a little dumb. It was sad, what happened to her, but…sort of one of those things. Her killer, Robert Chambers, got a hung jury and pleaded to a lesser charge. After the trial, his behavior made it abundantly clear he was a sociopath. He is still in jail today for other crimes.

It has always seemed very clear to me that George Zimmerman was guilty. He was told to stay put. He didn’t. He didn’t because he had decided that Trayvon Martin was a thug and he was going to get him. We know this from what he said. “They always get away with it.” I cannot imagine anyone who seriously disagrees with Trayvon Martin’s father when he says that had Trayvon been white, this would never have happened.

Every time we heard what Trayvon Martin said or did, I felt rage. It was blame the victim all over again. The only thing he said that mattered was when he said “Some creepy ass cracker is following me.” Because that told me he knew he had bad news walking behind him and he was scared.

When I was 15, I walked to a friend’s house at night. About two blocks from her house, I had the strong sense I was being followed. I stepped up the pace until I got to her lobby, a tiny vestibule. A man followed me and grabbed me violently. I punched him in the face. I don’t deserve any Wonder Woman credit for that; my nervous system does. I was being attacked and the Fight/Flight alarm went off. To my amazement, my body chose fight. Which startled the guy—who was white, if anyone cares—and he ran.

So, what would have happened if he’d had a gun? Would he have been within his rights to shoot me? Of course not. And if he had, self-defense would have been a tough claim, given that I am small, a woman, and white. (Although I hear the ghost of Jennifer Levin chuckle, “Don’t be too sure about that.”) If I did the right thing—and most people will say I did—then didn’t Trayvon Martin also do the right thing?

It has always made complete sense to me that Trayvon Martin would hit George Zimmerman. He was being followed. He was frightened. He was defending himself. But it is not okay to hit someone in self-defense, it is okay to kill them. Explaining her verdict, one juror said she felt bad for both of them, but it was one of those things. Terrible, but Zimmerman was afraid—although not afraid enough to follow the 911 operator’s instructions and stay put. Just afraid of that young man with his snacks that he had to kill him.

I was afraid of a lot of men I saw in the street the year I was attacked. I was quite convinced they were going to hurt me. My feeling was real—but obviously irrational. And had I shot any of them, I would deserve to go to jail. But I don’t own a gun. And I don’t want to. One of the first things Zimmerman’s lawyer did after he was acquitted was to demand his gun back. This is a man who has lost jobs because of his anger, has been involved in domestic violence, and has now killed someone. But hey, we can’t take away his gun.

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3 thoughts on “Followed Home—What Trayvon Martin and I Have in Common and What We Don’t

  1. I was pistol whipped in the doorway of my building around 1989 or so, the height of the crack epidemic. I was traumatized for months; I felt menaced just walking down the street in broad daylight, and for a while I even fantasized about what I would have done if I had a gun. I’m very glad I didn’t.

    • I was reading about the Bernie Goetz case the other day. Ironically, the one thing they convicted him of was illegal possession of a firearm. I sometimes wonder if many of us haven’t accepted that heightened, irrational state of terror and hostility as a natural, even righteous, state of mind. It would explain Ted Nugent.

  2. Arthur Goldwag says:

    I got curious and checked up on Goetz the other day. His current cause is the protection of squirrels.

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