Surprise! Trayvon Martin Was a Normal Teenage Boy (And the Danger of Seeking a "Perfect Victim")
He used bad words! He maybe smoked pot! He was suspended from school for “truancy” and for being late a lot! He quoted rap lyrics on his Twitter account! Given these revelations, it was clearly ok for an armed stranger to stalk him on the street and shoot him in the chest, right?
Here’s the thing about most people: We are not perfect. Very few of us would make perfect victims. But certain classes of people are given the benefit of the doubt more than others; they’re considered more trustworthy, more deserving of living a victimization-free life. Certain classes of people will have their pasts, or perceived imperfect behavior, brought up to explain why they really aren’t victims, even when that past has no bearing on the particular crime at hand.
Black men are rarely “good” victims.
It sounds like Trayvon Martin was a pretty average teenager. He liked some offensive rap lyrics. He might have smoked pot. He engaged in a few minor acts of delinquency. Sounds pretty much like me and everyone I knew in high school.
But somehow the revelation of “Trayvon Martin: Normal Human Being” is supposed to bolster George Zimmerman’s claim that his shooting of Trayvon was in self-defense. And there are some bits of information that, if they came to light, might do that — if for example the victim of an allegedly self-defensive shooting was known to violently attack strangers on the street. That’s relevant because if the story is “I approached him on the street and he violently attacked me and I shot him in self-defense,” then yes, if the victim had a history of attacking other people on the street, that bolsters the shooter’s story. Similarly, it’s relevant that Zimmerman was known to be an over-zealous vigilante who called 911 dozens of times on any black person he deemed “suspicious,” including a seven-year-old boy. But the “revelations” about Trayvon? They don’t give any credence at all to Zimmerman’s story that he approached Trayvon and Trayvon proceeded to kick the crap out of him (although I’ll briefly point out here that even if Zimmerman’s story is largely true, it feels mighty threatening to be a kid walking down a dark suburban street by yourself, and have some guy tail you in his SUV and then get out and confront you. If I had the heft and felt physically threatened, I might deck the guy too).
Even if Trayvon was all of the things that racist Zimmerman apologists want him to have been — even if he was a juvenile delinquent, a thief, a drug-user, a thug — it’s still not ok for his neighbor to assassinate him on a street corner. It doesn’t make Zimmermans actions de facto “self-defense.” Self-defense requires that the person defending themselves be immediately threatened with bodily harm. Self-defense is not “I’m allowed to shoot this kid because he is Bad.”