… in my humble opinion, that is.
For anyone who doesn’t know about the Zimmerman trial — and it’s not been flooding the Australian media — read this summary from the Guardian. For those who don’t want to click on the link, here’s a synopsis:
In Feb 2012, George Zimmerman, a twenty-eight-year-old armed Neighbourhood Watch volunteer, followed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, because he thought he looked dodgy – Trayvon was black and wearing a hoodie. George called the police, who told him they were on their way and to stay in his car. George continued to follow Trayvon, then, ignoring Police advice, got out of his car and confronted the boy. The real truth about what happened next will never be known because one of the two witnesses is dead, so we will only ever hear one side of the story: Zimmerman’s. Zimmerman says Trayvon pushed him to the ground and he had to shoot and kill him in self-defence as he feared for his life.
Sixteen months later, when Zimmerman was tried for Trayvon Martin’s murder, he was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. What’s more, he’ll get back his gun.
This story saddens me: I hate it when a kid dies. I hate it when a kid would still be alive except for a bastard decision. I hate that two parents now have to live without their son.
But it more than saddens me. It angers me. It eats at me. Because I hate racism. I hate the racism that caused a black kid to die. I hate the injustice that has allowed his killer to walk free.
I cannot stand injustice and I cannot stand inequality. I cannot believe this sort of thing still goes on in this day and age. I know that people kill and there will always be bad people in the world, but as an Australian who has grown up under a different set of laws, I cannot fathom how someone can kill an unarmed teenager and get away with it. Under the law.
I cannot swallow the statements: ‘That’s what happens in Florida.’ ‘You gotta expect that in Florida.’ ‘The jury had to acquit him.’ ‘That’s the law in Florida.’
What sort of law is that? It seems incongruous with justice. It just doesn’t seem fair ...
At the risk of sounding like I’m saying ‘We’re better than you’, I don’t see someone who has done this getting away with it in Australia. It would be harder to do in the first place, as we have much tighter gun-control, but even if a man did kill an unarmed teenager, our self-defence laws are not as soft.
In Australia, it is not every citizen’s right to own a gun. It is also illegal to carry a loaded gun in a public place. There would be no community here that would engage an armed Neighbourhood Watch volunteer.
We don’t have a big gun culture here in Australia and maybe that’s why our gun control laws are much stricter, and, I must add, I like it that way. Certain guns, like automatics and semi-automatics are prohibited. Revolvers and pistols are severely restricted. To own a gun, you have to get a license, and to get a license, you must pass a background check and do a training course. You must also have a valid reason to own one and ‘for personal protection’ is not considered a valid reason. If you’re a member of a gun club, your gun has to stay at the club. When you transport your gun, it has to be unloaded and carried in a locked case. The ammunition must be carried separately and also in a case.
Granted, these conditions are possible to flout, but they do deter. The rate of private gun ownership in Australia is 15 firearms per 100 persons, compared to 101 firearms per 100 persons in the USA. Australia is ranked forty-second internationally in its rates of private gun ownership. America is #1. (This data is from the website http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/home.)
Without a weapon to fall back on, people act very differently — you can’t pick a fight and if you get scared, pull out your weapon. If George Zimmerman wasn’t carrying his gun that night, I wonder if he would have climbed out of his car and confronted Trayvon Martin …
Let’s consider that a similar incident did happen in Australia, hypothetically. That a man — a fit martial arts practitioner who was a good 20kg heavier than his victim — decided to protect his neighbourhood, illegally concealed his weapon, then followed and confronted an unarmed teenager, and in the ensuing melée, the man shot the boy.
Self-defence laws here in Australia are not as forgiving. If you’re attacked, you can only use a force that matches that of your aggressor. If someone pushes you and you fall and hit your head, you can’t pull out your gun and shoot them in the chest and call it self-defence. It simply would not wash.
Let me stress: Australia is no Utopia. We have our problems. Racism is a serious issue – it’s nasty and obscene and ugly and as deeply entrenched here as it seems to be in America. It disturbs me deeply and one day I hope to write about that, too. The difference is that we don’t arm our racists. (Except some of our Police — they have been known to abuse their right to discharge a firearm. It’s no co-incidence that an indigenous Australian is twice as likely to be tasered as a white Australian.)
The shooting in the chest of an unarmed kid is, to my mind, murder. Something is seriously wrong with a system that allows a man who shot a frightened, unarmed teenager, quite literally, to get away with it.
I hope this whole incident causes people in the States to pause and reflect, and spurs someone to act and to do something to bring about change.