Recently, noted comedian, educator, and social commentator Bill Cosby intimated that George Zimmerman’s access to a gun is ultimately to blame for the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin in February, rather than race relations as has been posited by so many other pundits and community members.
I have long admired much of Dr. Cosby’s commentary and social positions but in this case he is simply wrong – as are those who insist that in paramount race lies at the heart of this case. This incident is about one of two relatively basic elements. Either the case is about the just right for a man to defend his personal safety with deadly force if necessary or it is about the irresponsible and ultimately unjust application of that right to deprive another of his. In either situation, individual actions and accountability primarily lie at the heart of the events in question and if George Zimmerman is in fact guilty of murder then he should be punished accordingly; if he acted in accordance with basic self-defense principles then he should retain his freedom.
When Dr. Cosby insists that neighborhood watch members should not be armed he is simply wrong. Every law abiding citizen possesses the natural right to arm themselves in the defense of their person, their family, and/or their property. Approaching or challenging someone who is trespassing on your own property – even collective property in the case of a volunteer private watch organization or homeowner’s association – is a basic tenet of private property rights. No one is required by the Natural Law to surrender their direct involvement or interest with the security of their person or property to the state or any other entity, particularly given that the state only legitimately exists by the willing consent of its free citizens. If someone subsequently abuses this prerogative to unjustly harm another’s individual rights then there are already legitimate criminal codes on the books to address such an encroachment. Blaming the access to or existence of guns for such alleged behavior is ignorant and very much akin to blaming the right to free speech itself for people’s hurtful or hateful written and spoken words, or the freedom of religion for certain individuals’ or groups’ moral rationalization of atrocities.
This case is also not about race – at least, not in the sense that some are characterizing it in the public eye. While it may be true that Zimmerman killed Martin because he was black, though the publicly available evidence is far from conclusive at this point, this is nonetheless irrelevant to the underlying point – that Zimmerman allegedly acted in a criminally irresponsible manner and must be personally held accountable if he is determined guilty pursuant to due process. For folks that like to point to an individual’s alleged racism – and incidentally, everyone possesses the natural right to think and feel however they wish, even if immoral – as a reflection of an entire social demographic, this is as much a bigoted sentiment as the very fault that they are themselves judging. This is especially interesting to me given that racism is so often ignorantly and collectively labeled as a white conservative characteristic and George Zimmerman is apparently a self-identified Hispanic Democrat.
The tendency in this case to blame guns and/or race for the death of Trayvon Martin highlights a growing and troubling trend in American society, where individuals act but are rarely held individually responsible in the public view. It is always someone or something else’s fault for the irresponsible choices that are made. As much as it could be argued that George Zimmerman allegedly acted irresponsibly with regard to his self-defense rights, so too can it be pointed out that Spike Lee acted irresponsibly with his free speech rights by erroneously posting the address of innocent people – knowingly encouraging their inevitable harassment – before he possessed all of the facts. Perhaps Dr. Cosby should also opine that Spike Lee should never have had access to a Twitter account either. As author David Gerrold wrote, “I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.”
Of course, certain folks have vested interests in simplistically making such cases about race and/or guns, as is most often the case with social/political collectivization. Collectivizing a society that is ultimately made up of individuals encourages gross misuse of authority and fosters mass acceptance of wide-sweeping political agendas based on relatively few anecdotal, and often hypothetical, arguments. While it is certain that America’s justice system has a well-established legal history of inequality with regard to the races, this itself is just another example of Big Government and how it functions: outside of its just role of protecting the individual rights of all and instead as a mechanism to popularly benefit some at the expense of others. As such, any accusatory discourse of race regarding the Trayvon Martin case should be concentrated on the arrest and retardation of Big Government, not the labeling of an entire demographic as being somehow responsible for a single man’s alleged actions.
The same is true for the gun element of this debate. Seeking to punish law abiding citizens by eroding their individual rights for the alleged irresponsible actions of a single man is no different morally than assuming law abiding citizens are criminals because a single man who happens to be in that same superficial group (whatever group that would be – race, occupation, sex, political party, etc.) commits a crime. Collectivization lies at the heart of all forms of bigotry and has contributed significantly to virtually all mass rights suspensions and abuses throughout history. At its base, collectivization is ultimately the failure of people to recognize the sovereignty of the individual – the fact that individuals’ rights form the foundation of any free society and that in such a society people make individual choices for better or for worse (hence the legitimate need for a just government).
It is thus the just government’s role to seek justice when an individual’s rights have been violated and I pray that in the Zimmerman/Martin case justice is truly realized in accordance with the facts of the events, whatever they may be.