The Case for George Zimmerman Is the Case Against Him

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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.

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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