Recently, in an unannounced press conference, President Obama spoke about the Trayvon Martin case, describing his own experience with racial profiling in America. His speech was moving, putting Trayvon Martin's tragedy into a context that I had, despite my best intentions, not quite been seeing it in. If you haven't yet read it, I highly recommend that you read it here.
However, I want to talk about an aspect of the Zimmerman case that I haven't yet heard anyone writing or talking about, an aspect that I feel is just as relevant to the psychology of the crime as racial-profiling. This is an aspect that still would have catalyzed a confrontation if, as many like to conjecture, race had been neutral and both actors had been white.
Zimmerman was originally on high-alert, we are told, because his neighborhood had been afflicted with a string of thefts. In choosing to defend his neighborhood against this, he sat and waited, and approached Martin with, we are told, gun on person, hand suspiciously in pocket. And the rest is history.
To me, both these choices: to defend the neighborhood against theft and to approach the "thief" with a ready gun show to how vengefully against these thefts Zimmerman was. To me, this is a important focal point of the crime: how highly Zimmerman regarded material property, and how willing he was to devalue life in the pursuit of property's protection.
Of course, some argue, theft is not simply material, it is abstract: it is a violation of space, it is a breach of the social construct, it is a disrespect of law. But we as a society have chosen not to punish this violation with death. Recently in Florida, a man was convicted for stealing close to $100,000 of government money in a tax fraud. From us, as a society, he stole $100,000. From the same pot that funds our social security, our roads and our bridges, our schools, our hospitals, and our public defense, he stole $100,000. And yet an unbiased jury punished him with 2 years in prison.
Of course, in good faith, we can assume that Zimmerman did not mean to kill and was simply seeking to enforce the law. But police protocol for the investigation of theft reflects our society's values: "-handcuff suspect and frisk, keeping guns in holsters." Yes, Zimmerman was untrained, he was simply a neighborhood watch volunteer. But he approached the situation with deadly and unpardonable force.
To Zimmerman, justice was a categorical imperative, worth more than life and circumstance. His was the self-appointed responsibility to avenge the sanctity of the material good and protect it with a deadly force that our legal system has, in similar cases, deemed excessive.
While I understand that racial-profiling has a terrible and pervasive history in the U.S., and I don't mean to minimize its role in Zimmerman's crime by talking about materialism, it surprises me that materialism has been completely overlooked thus far. Is it not shocking that a man holds the value of a material good so high that he is willing to dispose of a life to protect it? Is it not tragic that Martin's life, to Zimmerman, was worth less than the goods he suspected Martin of stealing?
This is not a precedent that we as a society have established, and it is not a psychology that we as a society should embrace. The bonds with which we are bound as a society demand the fair valuation of life, a valuation determined by law, precedent and rationality, not by vengeance or materialist inclinations. The Zimmerman case is a wake-up call for all Americans: black, white, young, old. It is a disgusting devaluation of life and social bonds in favor of the material good.