The killing of Trayvon Martin has gripped America intensely because it raises two hot-button emotional issues: (1) the tendency of some whites to see young black males as a menace, and (2) the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality among some gun zealots.
Make-believe cop George Zimmerman told police dispatchers that the clean-cut black youth looked like "a real suspicious guy" and he added: "These a--holes always get away."
Apparently the only reason the amateur cop thought the teen was "suspicious" and an "a--hole" was because he was black. The boy had no police record, wasn't armed, and was walking peacefully. He was totally innocent, yet he was targeted, followed and killed -- even though a police dispatcher told Zimmerman to cease the pursuit.
Unlike most neighborhood watch volunteers, Zimmerman insisted on carrying a loaded pistol. Then he invoked Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law to claim that he was justified in shooting the youth because he felt threatened. At first, police in Sanford, Fla., accepted this explanation and wouldn't charge the volunteer.
Zimmerman claimed that the followed boy attacked him, broke his nose and bashed the back of his head. But surveillance video at a police station after the killing showed no sign of such damage. Screams heard on a cellphone call have been identified as coming from the youth.
Thank heaven, the original brush-off of the boy's death didn't stand. Snowballing protests forced the Sanford police chief to step aside, and Florida's governor appointed a special prosecutor. She filed second-degree murder charges, putting the case properly in court, where all the evidence can be evaluated in the fairest manner. This may relieve pent-up feelings -- especially those of American blacks, who constantly feel abused and targeted by authorities.
A white racist "skinhead" group declared that it was sending armed agents to Sanford to protect "white people." And some feared that black militants might become involved. We hope the long-delayed prosecution averts such dangerous developments.
The San Jose Mercury News in California noted that "24 other states have variations of the NRA-backed stand your ground law ... . Until this case went viral, many Americans didn't know these laws existed, let alone that they might allow someone to go unprosecuted for a killing that took place under questionable circumstances."We hope the Trayvon Martin tragedy teaches Americans two lessons -- to avoid stereotyping young black males as a menace, and that ugly outcomes can occur when self-appointed vigilantes insist on carrying loaded pistols.