I remember sitting in a political science class as a young, innocent freshman several years ago. The topic of discussion was one I’d never really experienced before, the ethics behind the possibility of killing another to save yourself or in some cases, your loved ones.
Unsurprisingly, most students in the class thought that they would be able to take another person’s life in order to save themselves or their family. There were a few holdouts, myself included, who didn’t believe they could kill another human being in order to save themselves or possibly their family.
The answers varied depending on the circumstances surrounding the events that would require taking another person’s life in self defense. If it was clear cut self-defense versus survival or if the other person was acting in self-defense were all plausible situations but for the core few of us, it was unchanging.
There is no doubt that as the situation changes, the lines between what is right and what is wrong begin to blur and what actions should be taken become more of a gray area.
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It was strange to watch some of these grey-area ethical events unfolding right before my eyes in the weeks following the Feb. 26 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. There are few recent cases that have such a clear element of the idea of harming someone else in the name of self-defense.
For those of you who may be unaware, Martin was shot and killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman working in a central Florida gated community.
Without a doubt there is a never-ending barrage of questions surrounding this case and what actually happened. Regardless of these questions, what two things are clear is that there was some sort of altercation that resulted in lethal force and that an unarmed teenager is now dead.
The controversy in this case surrounds the lack of an arrest of Zimmerman on the grounds of a Florida law, known as the “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows citizens to use lethal force outside the home when their life is in danger.
According to police, lethal force was used following an altercation with Martin where Martin used physical violence against Zimmerman and Zimmerman acted in self-defense, shooting and killing Trayvon. Under this Florida “Stand Your Ground” law, investigating police decided not to charge Zimmerman with Martin’s death. This decision would ultimately lead to turmoil across the country.
Controversy has been and is still erupting around the country where protests and petitions across the country have called for Zimmerman to be arrested and held accountable for the death of Martin.
So far, a petition started by Martin’s parents has collected well over two million signatures and tens of thousands of citizens across the country have participated in protests and marches in solidarity of Martin and the events surrounding his death.
There has been much to-do made in the media regarding this event, especially by political commentators. Even the president of the United States has made comments about Trayvon Martin, saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera also came under fire recently for blaming Martin’s death as much on his choice of clothing as Zimmerman, who was in possession of the gun. He publicly apologized to Martin’s family on a recent episode of his show, Geraldo at Large.
The greatest issue in this case is what exactly constitutes self-defense. According to a majority of accounts of what happened that night they allege that Martin was walking home from a store with a bag of skittles and a can of iced tea in a gated community.
Zimmerman saw Martin walking and called 911, alleging that he seemed to be “up to no good.” Against the 911 dispatcher’s instructions, Zimmerman pursued Martin. This is where things become unclear and it turns into a vicious “he said, she said.”
According to a sworn affidavit by a teenage girl claiming to be on the phone with Martin in the moments leading up to the altercation, Martin was aware he was being pursued and didn’t want to run away but did attempt to walk faster to evade Zimmerman.
According to Zimmerman’s father, Martin attacked Zimmerman, not the other way around. Martin approached Zimmerman, where Martin attacked him, punching Zimmerman and smashing his head to the ground. According to the police report, Zimmerman was bleeding from the head and nose. According to the young girl, Zimmerman approached Martin, and she heard several seconds worth of the exchange. According to her, Zimmerman spoke first and Martin responded. She allegedly heard Martin get pushed and heard his phone fall before the line went dead.
Either way, there is one thing that can be taken from this exchange, that the very notion of self-defense is flawed. No matter who swung first and who attacked or approached whom, either party was equally to blame. A stranger wielding a deadly weapon was following Martin, and Zimmerman was ignoring 911 dispatcher instructions and following a stranger who he thought to be “up to no good.” I’m not saying that Zimmerman is innocent of his crime by any stretch of the imagination. Martin had just as much a right to defend himself as Zimmerman did; it just so happens that Zimmerman was carrying a loaded gun and it’s awfully hard to defend yourself against that.
Chelsea Mellin can be contacted at email@example.com