An Emotional Response to Trayvon’s Tragedy

A beige, leather-bound notebook with the word 'Journal' on the front. On top of the book, there is a pen with a blue marble-patterned barrel.

I’ve had a lot to say lately. Image via eHow.

One of the things I’ve been observing as I watch my own writing habits – what I write when I’m writing just for me – is that I tend to chew over people’s motivations a little bit more. I’m not required to defend my position in my own journal, so my focus strays away from bolstering my argument, and that seems to get replaced by considering why someone might hold a position I find repugnant or illogical. I’ve been looking at people’s words, not to evaluate their logic, but to find some understanding of what psychology and emotions underpin the position they take.

Sometimes that leads me to become more empathetic and accepting. For instance, I think it’s pretty clear to readers of this blog that I reject Christianity and Catholicism, but it’s easy to understand the reasons why people might believe in spite of certain problems I might see with their religion: to fit in with family, to find comfort in times of injustice, to feel purpose in their existence. (Note that I’m not saying that’s why they believe – I think believers are sincere – but I think people might gloss over some of these issues because of the benefits and comforts their religions provide.)

But sometimes, considering reasons behind people’s positions reveals prejudices that make me less comfortable with their convictions. For instance, when it becomes clear that a person’s opposition to abortion has more to do with controlling women than with rescuing the unborn, I become really troubled and far less sympathetic. If a person seems to genuinely believe they’re helping babies, I still disagree with them that what they want is best, but I feel more empathy for their position.

I’ve also spent more time examining my own motivations. Why do I find some positions so unworthy of sympathy? What I’ve found is that I just really detest exploitation. If I see people whose positions of powerlessness are being exploited, if I see people being abused, I get mad. And if I see situations being set up for future abuse, I get mad. I could be a social worker if I weren’t so emotional.

In the middle of this process, something devastating and emotional happened. George Zimmerman fell into my field of vision.

A screencap of a Tweet from Amy Davidson, which says, "I still don't understand what Trayvon was supposed to do."

It breaks my heart. Image via Raw Story.

Under the rules of the Florida legal system, Zimmerman probably should have been acquitted, but that just highlights the injustice of the American legal system. The verdict strikes me as profoundly unjust. Lots of people more knowledgeable than I am have talked about the racial aspects, which are very important to the case. But what upset me most was the idea that a person with a violent history and psychology should be given a pass on owning a gun and then, when he kills someone, his violent and entitled psychology gets glossed over at trial.

George Zimmerman, in court, smiling.

The smile of a man who skated past the need to account for his choices. Image via Eben Gregory.

He doesn’t have to account for a history of molestation, racism, and domestic abuse – all of which speaks to a sense of entitlement as well as an antisocial mentality – and the jury gets instructed to ignore anything that happened before the physical fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon began, meaning that anything Zimm did to provoke a fight no longer counts. (Whether Trayvon has sampled weed, however, is apparently relevant.)

Everything I know about abusive, entitled people – and it’s a literal metric fuckton, if you’ll pardon my French – convinces me that Zimmerman decided he wanted to exercise his power over Trayvon, got angry when Trayvon failed to bow and scrape like he felt owed, provoked a fight (possibly with words, possibly using threatening physical tactics that wouldn’t leave a mark, like shoving him), and shot to kill when he started losing.

I don’t think Zimmerman set out to kill that night, but I really think his intent and belief is evident in his remark that “these assholes, they always get away”. That says it all.

I have to say, I hesitate to post my white-girl-from-Canada point of view on Trayvon’s case, which has huge racial aspects that didn’t impact me emotionally in the same way as it affected black Americans, who now fear for the lives of their children and those children being denied justice because it’s totally legal to shoot them if they fight back. I don’t have to live with that fear. As a woman, my fears are different . . . and as a woman, I’m usually given permission to fight back. It’s not seen as a good reason to kill me. Nor is me walking around after dark in a hoodie. I’m not Trayvon.

A woman in a crowd holds up a sign that says "Does the Stand Your Ground law apply to Trayvon?" An American flag flies in the background.

Trayvon was being pursued by a stranger with ill intent. Image via BET News.

But I have seen abuse up close. I’ve seen people pick fights for the entire purpose of provoking a response. When your personal boundaries get violated by someone who acts angry or seems to mean you harm, it’s fight-flight-or-freeze. It’s scary. And people who want to pick a fight aren’t going to let up until they get a reaction. It’s straight-up bullying, which is a form of abuse. And this case is symptomatic of a system that permits abuse.

We all lose out in a culture where the law permits entitled, abusive people to act entitled and abusive. It’s a culture where rape victims are more on trial than the rapists. It’s a culture where domestic violence victims can be punished for retaliating or leaving. And it’s a culture where you can pick a fight with somebody for any reason or no reason, then use lethal violence if you perceive yourself to be losing the fight you started. It’s a culture where the extent to which you lose out depends on how far you are from the default perception of ‘human’ – white, male, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, well-to-do.

Apparently that’s legal. But it’s not justice.

Observing Zimmerman’s behaviour and attempting to pick out his motivations is driving me crazy. Really, I should be avoiding any and all talk of the case. Instead, I’m obsessed. I’ve been writing about little else, and reading plenty of articles from Internet pundits who see the same things I see. It helps me feel validated, knowing that other people see the things I saw. It helps to know I’m not reacting in an out-of-the-ordinary way. That’s a validation I really need sometimes, because an extensive history of gaslighting has left me with a constant suspicion that my brain lives in Crazytown.

I’ve spent time examining the opposite perspectives too, testing whether my analysis holds. I don’t want to be reaching paranoid conclusions or making unjustified judgments based on my own history. But everything I have read – both for and against Zimmerman – bolsters my conclusion that he was a person with an abuser’s mindset, that he behaved abusively in his encounter with Trayvon, and that the courts let him get away with being an abuser.

A political cartoon in which Lady Justice, blindfolded, sighs and delicately hands a gun back to an eagerly reaching George Zimmerman. On the ground behind him lies a crumpled, empty hoodie.

Is this what justice looks like? Image via Newsworks.

And because I’ve been journal-keeping for myself and analyzing people’s emotions and motivations, my analysis has made me a shade suspicious of people who support Zimmerman. What is in your psychology that supports dismissing everything that happened before the fight? Why do you think it was fair to instruct the jury to dismiss any questions of motive or intent in evaluating Zimmerman’s culpability? Again, it may be legal, but it wasn’t fair. Why are you willing to accept laws that coddle abusers at the expense of their victims? Why are you willing to call that justice?

Honestly, there’s a part of me that can’t help but wonder: if you saw a chance to entrap somebody you didn’t like into a fight they couldn’t win, would you do it? Because when you refuse to recognize the relevance of Zimmerman’s approach to Trayvon before the fight began, you’re saying it was okay if Zimmerman did just that.

This is going to be my first and last comment on Trayvon. I haven’t the strength for a long fight about it. The verdict was legal, but it wasn’t right . . . and I’ve seen it happen too many times in cases where abusers manipulate the system for their own gain.

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One thought on “An Emotional Response to Trayvon’s Tragedy

  1. “The verdict was legal, but it wasn’t right . . . ” – Indeed…

    There is a ton I’m tempted to say about this, but at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Rightness and legality have parted ways on this subject and – pardon my French and my stealing your words – it sucks a literal metric fuckton.

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