New Castle News

April 2, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: Florida shooting raises multitude of questions

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — “The fog of war” is a term for confusion that arises from battlefield actions.

Who fired first? Who issued that command? Why was that order missed or misunderstood?

Whenever there are mistakes made in combat situations, and investigations result, answers can be difficult to come by. In part, that’s because some of the participants are dead, while others don’t want to talk.

And then there’s that fog problem, where the deeper you dig for clarity, the murkier things seem to get.

That’s what’s happening now in the Florida community of Sanford, in the aftermath of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, admits to killing Martin, but told police the boy attacked him and said the shooting was in self defense. Authorities know that prior to the shooting, Zimmerman was keeping tabs on Martin. Zimmerman claimed the black youth was acting suspiciously.

Police did not charge Zimmerman, apparently deciding his self-defense argument met the standards under Florida law. But the incident has sparked mass outrage across the county, with many people condemning the failure to arrest Zimmerman as an example of racism in America.

Over time, various details involving that night and the backgrounds of the two people involved have oozed into the public spotlight. We’ve learned that Zimmerman was a serial caller to police while participating in watch activities. We learned that Martin had trouble in school and apparently used marijuana.

A tape recording picked up part of the deadly confrontation with someone calling for help. But who?

Zimmerman told police he suffered head injuries, including a broken nose, at the hands of Martin, who attacked him. But a videotape taken of him shortly after shows no indication of such injuries.

And if Martin did attack Zimmerman, why did he do it? Was he a troublemaker, or was he worried for his safety because Zimmerman was following him? Was Martin’s mistake not having his own gun for self-defense?

With state and federal officials now taking a deeper look at this case, perhaps some real facts will come out. For now, I think there is ample indication police were too quick to accept Zimmerman’s version of events.

When someone dies in this manner, you hope for a complete examination of possible evidence before reaching a final determination. Obviously, too many questions in this case haven’t been answered.

However, beyond the immediate case are some larger issues it raises — not the least of which is the ongoing conflict over race in America.

We see sides being taken automatically, and the din may drown out truly serious matters. If authorities were quick to clear Zimmerman, why? How do you get away with shooting an unarmed 17-year-old kid?

Then there is the harm this matter could do to legitimate neighborhood watch programs, which provide useful community services. Experts caution that watch volunteers shouldn’t be armed and they shouldn’t engage or follow people in the way Zimmerman did. Watch participants are to assist police with information, not play the role of cops.

Finally, the shootings shine a light on a movement in many states to loosen rules on when people legally may shoot someone else. Police in Florida argued that a so-called Stand Your Ground law protected Zimmerman, who was not obliged to avoid conflict.

Is this really a wise standard? How many more of these incidents does America want?