It was only a matter of time. Victim blaming was to be expected among racists on internet message boards or with whispers, but until this point few had dared to say on television anything defending George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee had already paved the way, publicly saying that he thought Martin would “do things “differently” if he could relive the night of his murder. Lee’s quote in The Miami Herald seems to imply that Martin should have done something differently–despite the fact that there is absolutely zero evidence suggesting Martin was the aggressor in his his confrontation with Zimmerman. In any case, Lee’s was only the public trickle in the rush of victim-blaming sure to come. And today, we got another preview of what it will sound like.
Frank Taaffe, a fellow neighborhood watchman of Zimmerman’s, has been claiming for days that his friend would never discriminate against blacks. He’s even brought up a potentially legitimate point that a series of break-ins had been perpetrated by young black males in Zimmerman’s neighborhood–although it falls apart when you consider that Martin was simply walking. If Zimmerman had caught Martin, say, slinking out of a window or carrying an HDTV out of the gated community, Zimmerman’s responsibility as a watchman would have been to call the police and still not follow the potential perpetrator, as is standard. In any case, was it truly inconceivable to Zimmerman that a young black male might have family, a friend, or a home of his own within the community?
Further, Taaffe goes on to say that all Martin had to do was answer Zimmerman’s question when he was approached by the watchman, then “there would be no tragedy today.” But there are a few things wrong with Taafe’s assumption. First of all, if Taaffe was referencing the fact that Zimmerman even asked Martin a question, then he must know how that question was reported: through Martin’s girlfriend’s recounting of what she heard on her call with him just before his death. If Taaffe trusted what was said on the call as fact, then he can’t exactly ignore the rest of what the phone call revealed: Trayvon Martin was terrified. He told his girlfriend that a white man had been following him, and he didn’t know what he wanted. Martin, as Taaffe put it, was a “guest” in Zimmerman’s community, visiting family; he may not have known about he neighborhood watchmen’s patrols, and even if he did, there was no way to know that Zimmerman was necessarily one of them. Just as Zimmerman had assumed that Martin was up to no good, Martin could only assume the worst when he was followed not only followed by a strange man in a car, but hunted down on foot by that man and cornered. Zimmerman wore not police badge or uniform. He didn’t present himself as a watchman. Not only did Martin have no obligation to answer him under normal circumstances, but he shouldn’t have told this man anything about himself under these circumstances. Zimmerman was a stranger, and if Taaffe should have remembered, Zimmerman was the reason Martin ran in the first place.
And let’s not forget what Zimmerman “should” have done in this situation: He should have opted not to get out of the car. He should have chosen not to corner a stranger whom he suspected to be dangerous. He should have left his gun at home, due to watchman protocol.
And he should have thought twice before pulling the trigger.