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Carty '15: Complicating the moral of the Trayvon Martin tragedy

Approximately five months ago, two men robbed me. On Meeting Street at 2:30 p.m., one pulled a cord over my head, dragged it taut across my open mouth and held it in place while he spun me around and had his partner relieve me of my possessions. I did not see the man holding me, but the one who faced me, taking my wallet and phone, was African-American.  Aside from some mild cuts on my mouth, I was not injured, and an insurance policy held by my parents covered the cost of my lost belongings. But there was one incredibly unexpected side-effect.  

Four nights ago, after reading a few articles about the death of Trayvon Martin, I went to bed and experienced one of the strangest dreams of my life. In it I faced the man who, I was sure, had mugged me five months ago. Unconsciously acting in my dream, I felt threatened and killed him out of apparent self-defense. But at the close of my dream, I realized that the now-dead man was not a man at all. In fact, he was a familiar-looking teenaged boy - he was Trayvon Martin. In my dream, I had become George Zimmerman.  

I'm not making this up. It should be noted that I am not a violent person and that none of us has control over his dreams. It should also be noted that I - in no way, shape or form - want to defend or ameliorate Zimmerman's behavior.

Being Zimmerman, albeit unconsciously, was frightening. But, more frightening is the thought my dream inspired, the thought of how easy, in real life, it is to be a George Zimmerman. How's that?

Well, he was somewhat angry, muttering about the "f---ing punks" that "always get away" in the 911 call he placed before the shooting. One would be hard-pressed to argue that this irritation did not contribute to his willingness to needlessly follow Martin. And anger is easy to develop, whether one is a militant neighborhood watchmen or a white-collar office worker.  

Secondly, though it may be difficult to determine the inner psychology of Zimmerman, it does seem that he appraised Martin according to his race. On the call, Zimmerman implied that the 17-year-old was casing houses and that he looked "like he's up to no good, or on drugs or something." Such testimony, devoid of real evidence that Martin was high or behaving criminally, does appear to be racially charged. And racial profiling isn't a hard thing to do. All that this behavior requires is passivity of thought and an unwillingness to interrogate your own biases.  

And lastly, Zimmerman empowered himself to kill another. It goes without saying that Martin would probably be alive if Zimmerman had not been armed. But reaching the potential to take a life does not require a 9mm handgun. David Buss, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, once conducted a study that found that 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women have personally had vivid, detailed fantasies of murdering another person. If Zimmerman, or someone like him, had maintained a homicidal fantasy, it is conceivable that he would not even need a weapon to carry out that vision in the heat of the moment. This is precisely because, as is the case with other things in life, imagining an activity beforehand makes it easier to do that action. Envisioning murder, something many of us do, can bring murder closer to reality.  

In the wake of Martin's death, an enormous amount of moral outrage has been directed at Zimmerman. Factually, this makes sense. Seeming to have been acting on his stereotyped perception of Martin, Zimmerman pursued him, an act of unnecessary aggression that brought an instance of unnecessary death. This deserves outrage.  

However, Zimmerman has also been raised up as some rogue and racist other, as completely different from the rest of us. Psychologically, such a reaction is understandable for socially unacceptable crimes. It is easier to believe ourselves moral and deem our society good when we isolate our criminals by labeling them deviant and calling their crimes anomalous. But doing these things does not make us moral - it only makes us feel better.  

If we want actual personal and societal improvement after Martin's shooting, we're called to do more than denounce Zimmerman and self-righteously demand justice. We're called to face the difficult truths of human similarity by remembering that it's not that hard to be Zimmerman. We're called to calm our frustration, check our stereotyping and become more peaceful-minded.  

If we accept some of our inner flaws and do these things to address them, we'll be better, more responsible people. That is a fundamentally good thing and an excellent way to move on from a tragedy.


Kevin Carty '15 is a 19-year-old from Washington, D.C. He would love to hear any responses and can be reached at



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