Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Russia, Self-Defence, and Trayvon Martin

00 Zimmerman. cartoon stand your ground silence. 16.07.13


Editor’s Foreword:

This is the best piece that I’ve seen on the Zimmerman fiasco. I agree fully with it, and I give this a “read n’ heed” endorsement… there’s nothing higher in my book…



In death, Trayvon Martin became famous. By now, people have even heard of him in Russia… and the “not-guilty” verdict his killer has just won inspired debate here as well. In case you haven’t heard of Trayvon, he was a 17-year-old black teenager who was shot after being followed by zealous neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman in a gated community in Florida. Trayvon was unarmed. The shooting and Zimmerman’s subsequent not-guilty verdict on the charge of second-degree murder and manslaughter sharply divided American society. I’ll not pretend to be unbiased in the Trayvon Martin case. I think Zimmerman’s actions that night were disgusting. The verdict not only makes me feel deep shame, it also makes me seriously question Florida’s notorious “Stand Your Ground” self-defence laws… and how they’re invoked against black people.

There’s no doubt that there was a confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin that night. Zimmerman claimed that he was only trying to defend himself and that he had no choice but to pull the trigger. Yet, before Zimmerman approached him, Martin did nothing wrong. He was just going home to be with his family… and a strange man was following him in the dark. The kid isn’t around to tell his side of the story, but it appears that Zimmerman terrified the teenager as much as the teenager terrified Zimmerman. Police asked Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, but he did so anyway… armed with the racist assumption that any black kid in a decent neighbourhood is clearly up to no good. As many observers have pointed out since the announcement of the verdict… it seems that, in death, Martin was punished for not playing by the unspoken rules. Black boys must appear deferential to authority figures like Zimmerman. Anything else could get them killed. William Jelani Cobb wrote in The New Yorker, “The most damning element here isn’t that George Zimmerman was found not guilty… It’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty”.

However, for many in Russia, we need better self-defence laws. Just take the case of Aleksandra Lotkova… sentenced to three years for defending her friends with a rubber-bullet gun on the Moscow Metro. A friend told me following the Zimmerman verdict, “Lotkova didn’t even kill anyone, and look what happened to her!” This same friend had been watching the Zimmerman case from abroad and had no doubt that the shooter would be found not guilty, saying, “It’s not just the local mentality, it’s also the laws that are on the books. Florida’s laws are far too loose, and ours are too strict”.

For some Russians, the protests in the USA that followed the verdict were an amazing show of self-restraint… as opposed to the protest that took place on Manezh Square, when an ethnic Chechen shot football fan Yegor Sviridov following an argument on the sidewalk on Kronshtadt Boulevard in Moscow. A good friend of mine, let’s call him Pasha, is a fan of FC Spartak, as Sviridov was. Pasha followed the Trayvon Martin case, struck by what he saw as the similarities between the Moscow shooting and the shooting in Florida. The verdict came as a shock to him. He told me over the weekend, “I don’t understand how the US legal system allows you to shoot a person and just walk away. I understand that Americans are fond of their guns, but don’t you have to draw the line somewhere? They didn’t even convict [Zimmerman] of manslaughter. If the court had found [Sviridov’s killer] not guilty, I can only imagine what would’ve happened in Moscow, the kind of reaction that would’ve followed. The American reaction to the [Zimmerman] verdict was very calm, comparatively speaking”.

A journalist friend of mine, who also asked that I not use his name, told me that the Trayvon Martin case was a stark reminder that senseless death can happen anywhere, saying, “This kid was just 17-years-old. It’s hard to think that something like this can happen in America; you have these illusions about American communities being safe for children. I guess for a kid who’s black, it’s an altogether different story”.

15 July 2013

Natalia Antonova



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