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A Question for the Jurors: Is George Zimmerman Evil?

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The trial of George Zimmerman for shooting and killing Travyon Martin has begun with the selection of jurors. It promises to be a spectacle where dividing lines of race, as well as competing notions of what constitutes “justice”, will play out on a national and global stage.

The public debate over George Zimmerman’s innocence, and the a priori assumption by no small number of white folks (and some others), that an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin fleeing for his life from a stalker somehow posed an existential threat, is a reminder of how black people are viewed as inherently violent and dangerous. Historically, and in the present, this attitude has excused all form and manner of violence.

Black teens walking down the street can legitimately be shot dead, because as  Fox News notes they have a “street attitude." Rodney King, a man beaten and subdued by almost a dozen police officers, was viewed as somehow “threatening” to men armed with guns, batons, and tazers. Black young people who are walking while holding a puppy in their arms can be beaten and choked by police because of “dehumanizing stares”—apparently this is a superpower that only black people possess, along with the ability to transform candy, ice tea, and other harmless objects such as wallets, cell phones, and house keys into deadly weapons.

In trying to work through the legal puzzle that is George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin and the absurdity of what has come to be known as “Stand Your Ground” laws, basic questions about human nature have not been asked.

I will remedy that oversight.

Thus, my question.

Is George Zimmerman evil?

This is not an appeal to religion and god. Nor, is this question about a red man with horns and a pitchfork who punishes sinners, or a some deity who sits up in the sky rendering judgment on people’s deeds be they good or bad.

The evil I speak of is the banality and mindlessness of taking another life without the thought of consequence or action. This evil is indifferent. This type of evil also imagines itself as the victim and the unfairly persecuted.

For example, in Errol Morris’ TV series "First Person", he interviews the world famous forensic psychologist Dr. Michael Stone.

There, Dr. Stone describes evil-doers in the following way: "The interesting thing about evil is that those who commit it do not often think of it as evil...other people think of it as evil."

The valorizing of George Zimmerman by the Right-wing media and its public, and how he seems to be genuinely surprised at the consequences of vigilante murder, would seem to fit Dr. Stone’s observation quite well.

Philosophical and moral questions of what constitutes good and evil are necessarily complex, nuanced, complicated, difficult, and provocative. This should not prevent us from trying to develop criteria for deciding if a person, from a clinical perspective, is evil.

As a helpful aid,  Dr. Stone has developed a scale he describes as "The Gradations of Evil"that lists in ascending order 22 degrees and types of evil.

His scale includes two measures which I suggest are apt descriptions for George Zimmerman on the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

Number 4 "includes those who have killed in self-defense, but had been extremely provocative toward the victim for that to happen."

This result would make George Zimmerman an "impulsive murderer" on Dr. Stone's scale.

Number 12 are “power-hungry psychopaths who kill when they are ‘cornered.’”

This result would make George Zimmerman a "semi-psychopath" on Dr. Stone's scale.

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