July 31, 2013

When Worlds Collide

Hatched by Lee

The fatal encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman was brought about by the opposing aspects of male identity that the respective principals were seeking for themselves. These identities, mostly idealized until the night of the incident, collided when both were acted upon.

Zimmerman desperately wanted to be in law enforcement, to be a protector of the community and seen as such. His law-enforcement studies, his carry permit, his neighborhood watch involvement, and his own statements attest to this -- and the prosecution and media disparaged him for all of these things.

Martin, ten years younger, wanted a different identity; his self-portraits with bling, a firearm, and marijuana suggests that he sought "street cred" and identified with activities and attitudes that he believed would confer such status on him. The gun and the interest in developing his physical combat skills could be completely unrelated to any desire for gangsta credentials; but in this case, taken together with his school suspensions, his attire, his mode of speech, and the photos on his cell phone, the connection seems clear.

It may well be that when young Martin set out for the store, only snacks, not trouble, were on his mind. But sometime between his first sighting of Zimmerman and the moment when Martin threw the punch that broke Zimmerman's nose, that intention clearly changed.

No theory of the encounter will comfort Martin's parents. No rehash of the facts will satisfy every protester or armchair analyst. Martin and Zimmerman could each have made different, conciliatory, or at least de-escalating choices at many points on the timeline. But these two facets of male identity are so antithetical to one another by nature, it is no surprise that they often collide in the field.

Given time and guidance toward better aspirations, Martin might well have outgrown his identification with the trappings of the gangsta lifestyle as a path to respect. But the door to that alternative future began to shut when Martin eschewed a clear chance to go home or just talk to Zimmerman, and instead lingered in anticipation of confrontation. The door slammed shut when Martin either threw the first punch (as I believe he did), or at least pressed the attack when Zimmerman went down.

In the final scene, Zimmerman fired a single, fatal shot, driving the deadbolt home. But given Trayvon Martin's life trajectory, the same sad ending might well have eventually happened, even if Martin had never crossed paths with George Zimmerman.

Hatched by Lee on this day, July 31, 2013, at the time of 12:24 PM


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