As a teacher, I play the game of “what if” fairly often. It helps children to think in novel ways, to ask good questions and to imagine a variety of outcomes. “What if” the narrator in the book “Number the Stars” had been too frightened to carry the message that outwitted the Nazis? “What if” the Minutemen on Lexington Green had not dared to muster before the British arrived that morning? “What if” the British commander had been more temperate, had not called them “damned rebels”? What if?
I watched the news this morning about the bail hearing for George Martin, the man who has admitted to shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. And all I can think is “What if?”
What if there had been no loaded gun?
I have no way of knowing what George Zimmerman was thinking that rainy night. I don’t know if he was frightened by the appearance of a man in a hood, by the black face that the man wore, or by the idea that strangers were walking through the neighborhood.
I don’t know what scared George Z. But something clearly made him uncomfortable, and made him call the police.
But what if there had been no loaded gun?
Zimmerman would still have felt threatened, by whatever it was in the way Trayvon walked/looked/acted. He would have still felt violated in some way, although we will never know exactly why. But in the absence of a gun, what would have changed?
I’m sure that Zimmerman would still have called the police. He was upset. He took his job as “neighborhood watch” very seriously. He would have called, he would have described the young man using the same judgmental terms: “he’s up to no good” and “he’s on drugs or something.” He would have still felt affronted somehow by the fact that “its raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
But what if there had been no gun?
Given that George felt so threatened, and was so positive that the man in the sweatshirt was up to no good, I have to wonder whether he would have taken the risk of following and confronting him. If he didn’t have a loaded gun, would George really have gone out of his car to push a confrontation with Trayvon?
Let’s go one step further, and let’s presume that George would have actually stepped out of the safety of his vehicle to confront a guy who seemed to be “up to no good” and “on drugs or something.” Let’s presume, just for the sake of argument, that George would have asked the young man what he was doing.
In the absence of a loaded gun, wouldn’t Trayvon have produced his Skittles and his Arizona Iced Tea, and wouldn’t that have ended the conflict? What if?
But perhaps the young man would have been scared by the stranger in the van who first pursued him by vehicle and then took the risk of chasing him on foot. Perhaps the boy would have continued to run when faced with a scary stranger on a dark and rainy street. Let’s assume that George could have caught up to Trayvon as he ran. What if there had been NO GUN? Maybe Trayvon would have thrown a punch. Maybe George would have fallen. Maybe they would have fought.
But: no one would be dead. No one would be on trial for murder.
What if there had been no loaded gun?
Maybe, just maybe, all of those who pushed for so called “stand your ground” laws should be feeling some shame today. Maybe all of those who have supported the “concealed weapons” laws should be questioning themselves right now.
Maybe those of us who gave up the fight for sensible gun laws in the face of the NRA’s millions of dollars should hang our heads and feel some guilt about what happened in Florida.
Maybe all of us in this increasingly gun crazy, shoot ’em up, “NRA rules” country should get together, hold hands and ask ourselves:
What if there had been no damned gun that night?