Stand your ground, or change your mind?

zimmerman mug shot, color red, with date 2012In 2009, I wrote about the day when I realized some of my friends were viewing me through the lens of stereotype, at a previous post.  The observation affected me powerfully when I realized how stereotypes impact perception.  What one believes is not necessarily true.  Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, says he warned his son about stereotypes.

Recently, I connected the  political stereotypes of my experience with the stereotypes that caused the death of Trayvon Martin.  I was not there, and my knowledge of the incident comes only from reading a few dozen news reports, and without TV.  I don’t  have television service by choice.  So if I make a mistake, please comment, so that I can realize my error, and change the post here.

A person’s behavior might match a stereotype in your mind, or maybe not.  Without personal experience to support the stereotype, or undermine it, a stereotype can be a very evil thing.

I read that Zimmerman believed he was volunteering his time as part of a neighborhood protection group.  In an interview with the head of that Florida group, I heard that it was not an official Neighborhood Watch group.  Either way, I think that Zimmerman, in his mind, was protecting his neighborhood, because of a series of burglaries.

I also read that Zimmerman said “Punks.” in his recorded dialog with the police.

So Zimmerman suspected that Martin was a punk and a burglar.

That means Zimmerman was applying two powerful and negative stereotypes to Martin, even though they had not met, and they had not talked at any time before that night.  The only evidence, at least the only evidence of which we are aware, is that Martin was walking in the dark in Zimmerman’s ‘neighborhood’.

So when Zimmerman applied those two stereotypes to Martin, he set the stage for murder.  Zimmerman’s beliefs caused him to act, in spite of whatever the truth of the situation was.  The police told Zimmerman, “we don’t need you to follow him” [Martin].  Unfortunately, Zimmerman’s beliefs caused him not to listen to us, the real people of the world.

In my case, in 2009 I only had to worry about what was going on in the minds of my friends, so the stereotypes might have social consequences. Yes, my friends did have licenses for weapons, but politics is not a cause for shooting, not here in Massachusetts. Also, they have known me for a long time and have other knowledge beyond the political stereotypes of  Yankee Liberal versus Tea Party Birther.  Trayvon Martin, and all of us who step outside our homes after dark, now have to worry about being murdered, summarily executed, based on fears in the mind of a stranger.

This is a very bad situation.  If you still support the “Stand Your Ground” approach to law, would you please reconsider your support for such laws? Or at least consider how we could modify them for improvements, perhaps requiring some type of objective, observable facts to support the theory that the mind of the shooter is correctly perceiving the world?   For example, if the shooter is off  his medications, and is fearful about something that exists only in his mind, does he still have the right to pull the trigger?   Wouldn’t you agree that just being fearful, regardless of circumstance,  is insufficient evidence for killing another human being?

When the only knowledge which you possess about a human being consists of categorizations and stereotypes, you may lead yourself into an evil act. What stereotypes sit behind your eyes, coloring your perceptions, and changing your behavior when you meet strangers?

How many of the things that you believe about people are not really true?

Jay Fulton


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