By the time you read this column, the jury may have ruled on the highly publicized and racially charged George Zimmerman trial currently under way. Last year, shortly after the events in Sanford, Fla. that took Trayvon Martin’s life, I wrote a column on civility and attempted to point out how current-day attitudes and actions could have played into the events.
Here is a portion of what I wrote in March 2012:
“We’ve heard about the young teen in Sanford, Florida gunned down by a Neighborhood Watch volunteer. More details will be forth coming as to the true events that took place that fateful day, but the events that resulted in the tragic death of the teenager still revolve around the fear of youthful activities and something as common place and innocent as a ‘hoodie’ sweatshirt. Regardless of whether the events were the result of a misunderstanding, an unlawful shooting or an act of self defense they were put into motion by the current affairs of the day. Those types of events are going to become more common place as children show up in schools with guns, act out their frustrations in public and become what they see, hear and are exposed to through our multi-media environment.”
Since that time, we’ve heard a lot of opinions on what happened that night. Nearly all of are based on our predetermined prejudices based on many factors. It’s hard to look at just the facts in a case like this, where only one living person really knows what happened. With limited facts, conjecture and personal prejudices lead to assumptions of what took place. Jurors will be asked to do the near impossible, which is to look strictly at the facts of the case giving no weight to those personal positions on race, attitudes, experiences, and political beliefs.
No matter which way the jury rules, many will be outraged at the outcome, finding the entire trial a charade. They’ll claim to have listened to and read many of the basic facts presented to the jury and can’t understand how the verdict was reached. We can only hope that true justice is done and that more violence doesn’t follow this situation.
But let’s assume that George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin were given an opportunity to go back in time. They both wake up on the fateful day knowing what they know about the events of that evening and the ultimate conclusion. What would they change about their actions? Would they even be in the same place to take the same actions?
We’ll never really know. We get one chance to get it right and while the little errors can be overcome, there simply is no changing a life-changing event. But in the virtual world, where we can kill as entertainment, watch gory abuses of innocent people or make hurtful statements about real people online under the veil of anonymity, we become desensitized to the underlying effects. Sooner or later, that desensitizing will affect real-life attitudes and actions.
While neither George Zimmerman nor Trayvon Martin will get an opportunity to rethink their attitudes going into that night, we must take heed and learn from it and other current events. We must look at how we think about and treat one another from many different perspectives. We must recognize the violence we exposed our children to and recognize those who lack the ability to differentiate right from wrong. We need to look at the level of oversight given to violent video games as well as the television shows and movies marketed as entertainment that we allow into our homes. We must better understand the predators lurking on social media sites looking for innocent victims. We need to think before we send hurtful things we contribute to and participate in while out in cyberspace under the disguise of an anonymous user names.
There should be no difference between our actions in real life and in virtual life. In the end, George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin were just two unfortunate individuals whose paths crossed and they, as well as their families, became victims of a society that needs to correct its path.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.