The Case for George Zimmerman Is the Case Against Him

The Atlantic's Andrew Cohen reported yesterday that, in the Trayvon Martin case, George Zimmerman's side of the story is starting to "get traction."

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the facts of the case are basically as Zimmerman's defenders claim: Zimmerman killed Martin because Martin was beating him up and Zimmerman felt his life was in danger. Even so, it seems to me that Zimmerman should do jail time for killing Martin.

Here are some things we know about the case:

1) A man with a gun pursued an unarmed teenager who had done nothing wrong.

2) The man with the gun initiated a confrontation with the teenager. I realize that we don't know exactly how any fight between Zimmerman and Martin started. And we never will, because only Zimmerman knows the details, and he's not exactly unbiased. But by my lights, if you pursue an innocent, law-abiding citizen, thereby giving him or her reason to believe that you mean them harm -- and reason to conclude that their self-defense may require fighting--you have initiated a confrontation. Zimmerman will presumably depict his role in the encounter as passive. That testimony should count for roughly nothing, but in any event I'd say that even if it's true, he still initiated a confrontation just by pursuing a guy in the dark until he caught up with him. (And he did that even though he knew he was violating the rules of the Neighborhood Watch game and in fact had just been reminded of that by a 911 dispatcher!)

3) As a result of the confrontation, the man with the gun shot the teenager to death.

When I see pictures of George Zimmerman I actually feel kind of sorry for him (though not as sorry as I feel for Trayvon Martin), and if his defenders are right about what happened then I should feel even sorrier for him. Still, do we want to live in a society where somebody with a gun can chase down an unarmed, law-abiding citizen, presumably scaring them to death, then kill them after a fight unsurprisingly breaks out--and still get off scot-free? Do you want every wannabe cop in America reading that this sort of thing is legal? Do you think America's actual cops want to live in a world like that?

If we don't want to live in a world like that, then the law shouldn't let George Zimmermans kill Trayvon Martins. And if Florida law now allows for things like this to happen, and Zimmerman gets off the hook, then after this case is over, the law should change.

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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