For those too young to have seen it, or those too old to quite remember, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) was the lead in Martin Scorsese’s rather dark 1976 movie, “Taxi Driver.” (Not exactly a musical.)
Bickle is a mentally unbalanced Vietnam vet who drives a taxi at night in New York City dwelling on how the world has become a cesspool. The perceived decadence and sleaze feeds Bickle’s violent urges. (Yikes!)
One of the more haunting scenes is in his barren apartment. Wearing a military fatigue jacket, Bickle imagines confronting enemies that exist in his head. “Are you talking to me?” he asks menacingly. “You must be because I’m the only one here.”
Lightning fast, a mechanically-rigged gun darts out of Bickle’s sleeve and into his ready hand. Naturally, the movie’s climax is a bloody shootout. (Did I mention it wasn’t a Disney movie?)
Well, Travis would have loved Florida, one of 24 states that have the “Stand Your Ground” law, aka “Shoot First Ask Questions Later.” (Or, “Shoot First and Why Bother with Questions?”)
“Stand Your Ground” basically states that if you “feel threatened” you have the right to use deadly force, not only in your home, but anywhere. Yes, as long as you are licensed to carry a gun, and you reasonably feel threatened, it’s fire away!
This brings me to George Zimmerman. He’s currently in jail facing a charge of second degree murder for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was armed only with a bag of Skittles and some ice tea.
Before I go further, I beg your indulgence to answer a number of reader e-mails, and even a lengthy letter to the editor. Yes, of course Mr. Zimmerman deserves a fair trial where, hopefully, all the evidence will be presented. (Assuming the Sanford Police Department didn’t botch the case beyond repair.)
But the presumption of innocence shouldn’t stop me from being able to comment on what I see as the horrific ramifications of this unnecessary death. (In this case, an unarmed black youth, and what seems like hordes of others like him who tragically are filling the news lately.)
It’s safe to say that I’m not going to be a juror in Florida at the Zimmerman trial or, unless my readership extends far further than I imagine, that anything I write here could in any way prejudice a Florida jury pool. The fact is the insanity of “Stand Your Ground” might very likely allow Zimmerman to go free despite what I see as his reckless and racist behavior.
To those rallying to Zimmerman’s defense, the National Rifle Association and the Ted Nugent’s of the world, I ask why did he choose to ignore the 911 dispatcher who told him not to follow Trayvon? The police were on their way, his presence not only wasn’t necessary, it turned out to be deadly.
In addition to an ugly racial slur, we hear Zimmerman on the 911 tape tell the dispatcher that Martin was “running away.” So how does “Stand Your Ground” extend to chasing someone who, in this case, hadn’t done a thing other than “walking while black?”
But it’s obvious that Zimmerman is going to assert that he felt threatened. Actually, if anyone had the right to have felt threatened it was Trayvon. In fact, if he’d had a gun, he could have blasted Zimmerman under “Stand Your Ground.” Great, just what we need, more guns.
Frankly, I’m not a fan of the unchecked power of the Second Amendment. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Zimmerman may have thought of himself as a militia but he was anything but regulated.
As for bearing arms, according to recent statistics there are nine guns for every 10 Americans. A lovely thought. Then toss in the 24 “Stand Your Ground” states and we have a scenario that makes 19th century Dodge City and the wild west look like an English tea.
Actually, “Stand Your Ground” reminds me of America’s foreign policy, especially the Iraq war. Imagine you hear that your neighbor is going to kill you. Without evidence, you dynamite his house, killing everyone. When you discover that it was all a mistake, in the immortal words of Rick Perry, you reply, “Oops.”
It took a mere 45 days to charge Zimmerman. Meanwhile the White Plains, N.Y. cop who, in November 2011, shot and killed Kenneth Chamberlain, a 68-year-old ex-Marine with a heart condition, in his own apartment, has yet to be indicted. (Hopefully, soon.)
Some reader criticisms have essentially suggested that my writing is as twisted as Travis Bickle’s mind. To that I answer menacingly, “Are you e-mailing me? You must be because I’m the only one here.”
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org