On Zimmerman and Society as a Whole

The polarization that has developed in the wake of Zimmerman’s encounter with Martin is even more fervorous than it was when MSNBC and CNN doctored the 911 recording to create a narrative or racism. One side sees Zimmerman as a child murdering racist who went out of his way to kill a black child. The other side sees Zimmerman as a pillar that upholds civilization by patrolling his community and defending it against all manner of shady characters. One side views Martin has an innocent child who never harmed a fly, always did his homework, and showed constant respect to his elders. The other side views Martin has a thug who stalked the streets at night looking for victims to rob and homes to burgle. Needless to say, both sides have ignored the flaws of their chosen hero and the virtues of their chosen demon.

I firmly believe Zimmerman’s heart is in the right place. His history of helping people in need, specifically a homeless man who was beaten and left unassisted by police, and his recent act of helping individuals involved in a car accident shows that he has a desire to help people.

I also believe that Martin wasn’t planning to do wrong that night. There have been several uncited accusations made that Martin was planning to make Purple Drank with the iced tea and Skittles he had purchased. In my book making and using a drug isn’t a crime and is therefore irrelevant to the case at hand. Many people have also claimed that Martin was casing houses to burgle, which is just as speculative as the accusations of his intent to make Purple Drank.

In other words that night involved a well-meaning man encountering a man making his way home. The well-meaning man, seeing an unidentified individual cutting through yards in a downpour, believed he was witnessing something suspicious. As the captain of his neighborhood watch he did what he was told to do, he reported the incident to the police. As a person interested in the welfare of his fellow community members he decided to exit his vehicle and investigate the individual that he found suspicious. The man making his way home, seeing an unidentified individual pursuing him, first in a vehicle and then on foot, became fearful. He may have attempted to flee, which would have cause the well-meaning man to become more suspicious and therefore convince him to pursue his investigation more vigorously. The other man, seeing the unidentified individual continuing his pursuit, may have become irrational as fear began to set in. Events from there could easily escalate to the point of physical confrontation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to place blame on either Zimmerman or Martin, nor am I trying to excuse either of them. My point is that the situation likely looked different to both individuals and that difference in viewpoint likely lead to their physical confrontation.

Many people in the Martin camp have asked what would have happened had Zimmerman been unarmed or what would have happened if Zimmerman stayed in his vehicle. That night’s outcome may not have been any different. Zimmerman, doing his expected duty as a member of the neighborhood watch, called 911. As the people in the Martin camp continuously point out, the police disproportionately target black individuals, not just for arrest but also for brutality. What if Zimmerman hadn’t pursued Martin? What if the police were allowed to investigate the entire situation? Can anybody in the Martin camp honestly say that the possibility of the police encountering and killing him was nonexistent? Can they say that the police wouldn’t have gone to his home, kicked in his door, shot any pets or family members in the dwelling, and kidnapped or murdered him? The night may not have played out any differently for Martin had Zimmerman stayed in his vehicle because he already involved the police and involving the police has a tendency of making a bad situation worse.

The crux of this article is that violence is the default tool used in our society to deal with suspicion and wrongdoing. Whenever we see somebody suspicious we’re told the call the police. Police officers, at least here in the United States, are like carpenters that only have hammers; they see every problem as a nail. They are given the privilege of enacting violence on others so long as they can justify their act in some way. Killing a dog for no apparent reason can easily be justified by two words that have become a carte blanche for police officers: officer safety. Transgressions are responded to by police officers through fear, intimidation, kidnapping, and physical force. Violence isn’t the last resort for most police officers, it’s the first resort. Involving the police will almost certainly bring violence into an equation.

In fact, it’s very difficult in our society to lawfully keep an eye on your community without bringing some manner of violence into the equation. The state has declared a monopoly on law enforcement. What private law enforcement options exist either do so with the state’s blessing or are declared illegal operations by the state. If my neighbors and me form a community watch and decide to investigate issues without involving the police we would be seen a reckless vigilantes and would open ourselves up to a great deal of liability.

Much of our childhood is spent being programmed to see violence as the default solution to every problem. How many people reading this article remember the numerous times they were told that the police were their friends and that you could trust the police? That was complete bullshit. The job of a police officer is to use anything you tell them against you:

But we’re programmed from a young age to see the police as the solution to everything we find even remotely suspicious. In essence, we’re programming to see violence by proxy as the only viable solution.

Zimmerman, who is a product of this society as much as anybody else in it, is a well-meaning individual. Just like the rest of us, he was programmed at a young age to see violence as the default solution to suspicious events. When he saw Martin he first called the state’s great violence proxy. Martin, seeing that somebody was pursing him, decided to forgo the proxy and used violence himself.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this event is that our children shouldn’t be programmed to see violence as the default solution for everything. Alternatives to the violence of police forces have been used in many societies throughout history. Medieval Iceland, for example, put a great deal of emphasis on arbitration. Until statism began rearing its ugly head on the island, violence was mostly ritualized and Iceland never knew the sheer violence of all out warfare that its European neighbors knew. Medieval Ireland, likewise, used arbitration as the default solution for problems [PDF]. Again, violence was rare as alternatives such as social ostracization and outlawry were used to successfully deal with most severe cases.

Another lesson that could be taken away from this event is that monopolizing violence greatly reduces its cost. Were the state’s monopoly on violence abolished individuals would be made more responsible for their security. More people would likely be armed and that would increase the risk to anybody wanting to commit a violent act. Would-be burglars would probably consider less risky ventures than breaking into a home if the risk of encountering an armed dweller was above 50%. Neighborhoods such as the one Zimmernman lives in may not have suffered the string of burglaries that lead to the community’s decision to form a neighborhood watch if the cost of violence was high enough to dissuade those burglars. In essence, increasing the cost of violence could actually reduce the amount of violence in a society because, as Robert Heinlein wrote in Beyond This Horizon, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

We can bicker over issues of racism and community vigilance, and I believe that is what the state wants us to do, or we could ask ourselves if there were societal reasons that caused that event to take place and if there are changes that could prevent such events from happening in the future. I believe there are and I believe those changes involve decentralizing power, which involves abolishing the state.