Some might have considered my pursuit of the purse snatcher a foolhardy act. The cautious yet responsible thing to do, they would argue, would have been to go and help the fallen woman and add my account and description to the police report that would be made, a report which, I am certain, would have come to nothing more than a piece of paper being moved from one police station in-box to another for a few days before being completely forgotten.
I was reminded of this chapter from my past when the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin controversy exploded into national awareness. My pursuit of the purse snatcher ended as well as these things can: the woman got her purse back, she wasn’t seriously injured, and the guilty party was punished, however slightly. But it could have turned out otherwise. The purse snatcher might have had a gun and shot me. He might have wrested the flashlight from my control and hit me with it. Or he might have resisted to the point that I had to hit him in the head with the flashlight, seriously injuring or even killing him. And if that happened, would I have been arrested and put on trial?
I should add at this point that the purse snatcher was black, a fact I didn’t consider relevant at the time but, given George Zimmerman’s ordeal, do now. It’s true that the incident I describe and the Martin-Zimmerman encounter are not directly analogous. I had witnessed a crime occur (or its immediate aftermath) while Zimmerman merely entertained a suspicion that one was about to occur. I was not armed with a gun while Zimmerman was. And though there was a very brief struggle between me and the purse snatcher, neither of us was hurt, much less killed.
Trayvon Martin was not so lucky. And, though he survived, George Zimmerman was only somewhat more so. But now he’s had his trial and, after all the evidence was aired, won his acquittal. He is free to resume his life as circumstances now allow. And yet he’s as demonized today as if the trial hadn’t happened. The trial, the evidence, and the jurors be damned, no force on earth will disabuse some people of their cherished beliefs.
I believe the verdict (which I predicted here and here) was the proper one, indeed the only one that could have been rendered given an impartial examination of the evidence. And yet as I write this, I await directions to report to this or that area of Los Angeles where anti-Zimmerman demonstrations are getting out of hand. It’s possible that LAPD officers will soon come into violent contact with the demonstrators, an incident that will no doubt be recorded on countless smart phones and tweeted and YouTubed and googled and what have you-ed until the next controversy eclipses that of Trayvon Martin. I hope no one gets hurt. But if someone is, I hope it’s not me who hurts him.