What If Trayvon Martin Swung First?

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There was a lot of new reporting out yesterday, that wasn't really new:


With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk, leaving him bloody and battered, law-enforcement authorities told the Orlando Sentinel. 

That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say. There have been no reports that a witness saw the initial punch Zimmerman told police about.
Aside from getting knocked out with one punch, Zimmerman's account was already out. The Sentinel's account of what the witnesses actually saw is vague. From what I can tell, no one actually saw Martin throw the first punch, but someone did see him getting the better of Zimmerman.

I think two things are worth remembering here. In the earliest defense of Zimmerman given by his father, it was claimed that "at no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin." This was proven false by the 911 tapes which showed that Martin in fact ran from Zimmerman, and Zimmerman chased him. I'm very interested in what would make a kid whose greatest offense to society, seem to be weed and juvenile tweets, simply cold-cock a man and repeatedly slam his head against the ground for no reason.

As a legal question, it may not much matter. By the lights of Florida's law, Zimmerman doesn't need much to immunize himself. Part of what's disturbing  about this case, is I can easily imagine myself in Martin's shoes. If you are following me in a truck, if you come out your truck to pursue and eventually confront me, it would not take much for me to believe that I needed to do whatever it took to stand my own ground.

I can't say I would wait for you to swing, anymore than the law expects defendants pleading self-defense to wait for someone else to shoot. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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