On Feb 26th a young man died, and another is set to be tried for this act. I have discuss the legalities of the case on several different posts. For this post I will attempt to look at the incident and the people involved from the Moral point of view. So lets attempt to define “morals”. Morals are seen as “morality is a complex structure to maintain social cohesion and enhance survivability among social creatures(1)” in order words, morals are the beliefs that guide us within our society. Those beliefs that guide our conduct come from typically from religious beliefs and teachings or for the secularists from natural law or a combination of both. Thomas Jefferson used both when writing:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”(2)
I want to be clear in that I am not talking about Ethics here as they are often seen as synonymous but, morals are beliefs based on practices or teachings regarding how people conduct themselves in personal relationships and in society, while ethics refers to a set or system of principles, or a philosophy or theory behind them. A person can have no morals but behave ethically, just as a moral person will or can break laws if it conflicts with its morals.
“Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.” –Mark Twain
Now that I have confused you, lets begin. Where did George Zimmerman derived his morals from? In trying to determine that we need to look at his background, his family, and most importantly his past actions. We know he was raised in the Catholic church, his father was in the military and later a Magistrate. This is a good way to start, and see if he was affected by his surroundings in trying to determine his morals. We have found out that GZ was interested in justice, and combating injustice (Sherman Ware is an example). GZ was known as “tugboat” as a friend described it, he was always there to pull you out of the shoals. This led to his arrest in 2005, when he responded after a friend was man-handled by undercover alcohol enforcement agents and he attempted to aid his friend and got arrested as a result. From a moral point of view it appears that GZ had high morals, and had acted in a manner keeping of those morals.
As we did with GZ let’s examine Trayvon Martin and what his morals were. Unfortunately, due to his early demise, it will be unfair to render a complete judgement as the information about him is scant. The family has not been very honest in its depiction of TM, and the information that has come to light is not very encouraging. Here is some of what we know; his family was complex, his mother had an older brother from a different father. TM’s father has been married several times, had several baby mammas and at the time of the incident was breaking up with his wife, and TM was staying temporarily at his father’s new girlfriend condo, hours away from where he had been living. Based on his social networks and comments by family members, TM’s morality came from emulating the Urban Thug lifestyle. The morals of the Urban Thug are more primal, survivor of the fittest, strength of body, sexual conquests, self-medication, attainment of goods without regard, lack of regard for others (outside your family, and your pack). All these things paint a very unflattering picture, but did they play a role in the incident or the events leading up to it?
“Compassion is the basis of morality.” ― Arthur Schopenhauer
Based on the two comparisons you would be tempted to say that GZ was acting morally, as he morals was his driving force and he acted morally according to his distaste for lawlessness and in an effort to protect those that lived in his community. Perhaps, but if we look at the morals that TM ascribed too, he too was acting within his morals. GZ had disrespected him, by watching and then snitching on him to the police, and “No limit N**gah” is no punk ass b*tch. This is not a comment on the morality of GZ or TM just trying to see if they acted within their own morality.
“Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners” ― Laurence Sterne
On that night GZ saw someone who his own morality led him to believe was suspicious, he did not see color, he saw someone who he wanted to protect his community from. From experience he saw what appeared to be another punk asshole, the kind that always get away, but because of his morality and because he did not see the punk commit a crime he calls the non-emergency number. I often wondered why he did not call 911 and report a prowler, the response would have much quicker, I think his morality prevented him from embellishing the facts and to report only what he knew, there had been many burglaries, the burglars had used this shortcut to access the community, TM was walking aimlessly in the rain, looking at homes.
As he drove past him and parked by the Clubhouse and was talking to the NEN dispatcher, as TM came to check him out his moral indignation shows as he says; ” these assholes they always get away” but notice that he does not get out of the truck and try to apprehend, he was again apprehensive, attentive of TM but calm. He continues the conversation and tries to give directions to where he was, unsuccessfully, it is at this time that TM skips. runs away. Now he has lost contact, at this time Sean the NEN dispatcher asks? “He’s running? Which way is he running?” It is at this time that you hear the door chime and suddenly there is wind noise on the cell, GZ answers Sean, “Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood. (He watches Trayvon from a distance and sees that he is headed toward the “back” entrance.” Wind noise, has been used to say that GZ was running towards TM, but as the conversation continues we can tell that is not the case, he was just walking trying to maintain eye contact. It is at this point that the question is asked by Sean, Are you following him? To which GZ answers in the affirmative, and Sean says; “Okay, we don’t need you to do that”, to which GZ responds “Ok”. At this point the dispatcher starts asking GZ his name and other information and is asked if GZ wanted to meet with the police, to which he says yes, and to have the police call him to get directions. It appears as if GZ walked to the end of the T, whether to get an address or to see if TM had left out the back gate, I don’t think he knows for sure, but as he is walking back towards his truck, TM reappears. “Why are you following me,” or ” Do you have a fucking problem” , GZ attempts to tamp down the confrontation, he says “no”, “I am not following you” (in the first interview that W8 gave, the first time she described the incident, this is what she quoted hearing from GZ, which is what he says he said, later this was changed to ” what are you doing here” which completely changes the dynamics of the situation, and it makes GZ appeared as aggressive towards TM on first encounter. Interestingly enough this bit of recording from the interview was in the ABC tape that never made it to the State’s attorneys discovery. Here is a great break-down of the NEN call for reference.
“A moral system valid for all is basically immoral.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
TM’s movements are a little harder to pin down, as there is conflicting testimony, some outright lies, but in this instance I don’t think it is needed. What we know is that TM was not a happy person that day, it now appears that he had been arguing with W8 throughout the day, he was also out of pot, his cousin had left for Miami, which left him alone with Brandy, his father’s girlfriend and her son Chad, and it had rained most of the day. At some point during this miserable day TM went to the store, upon his return a truck drove by him and stop the person inside appeared to be looking at him, as he got closer he decided to check this dude out. He sees that this cracker was not only spying on him but may be calling the police on him. He keeps walking and then suddenly he skips away, cuts through the building and finds a hiding place. Sure enough the lights of the truck and then the stupid asshole. As he tells W8 was is happening he lowers his voice, yes he is getting closer, run, shit I am not going to run, GZ keeps walking toward the end of the T to get his address, TM tells W8 he lost him, and continues talking, then, oh here he comes again, he lets GZ go past him and then surprises him, “why are you following me, ” challenging , GZ responds meekly, Punk , “you do now” …
“The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. (from “Rediscovering Lost Values”)”
― Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight
So whose morals values are we going to use, GZ’s or TM’s or should we use the Judeo-Christian morals or to be fair, use their own morals to judge their actions. If we do that then according to their own beliefs, they were both morally correct. GZ was caught in very fluid situation, and with his moral respect of authority following orders. When faced with an escalating situation, he tried de-escalate the situation, even when under attack he still tried to get help, to disengage, it was only when the moral choice was him or TM did he pull the trigger, a moral decision that will haunt him for ever. TM, to made some moral choices, when he approached the truck, he behaved as his morals guided him, acting tough. After he ran, and he saw GZ was still trying to maintain contact he acted with moral indignation, and GZ was walking back his morals dictated that he showed GZ a lesson in respect. They both acted within their moral bonds, and their actions were guided by them. This is why I prefer to refrain from Moral judgements, as they are only a reflection on your own morals, not necessarily those involved.
Having found that both had acted within their moral codes, how do I judge the situation since my morals are closer in values to GZ, I find that after evaluating the situation his actions were moral as I see it. Regarding TM and knowing the morals that they live by, I understand the actions, I just don’t approve of them. The feeling that they are living in a jungle and that this is how they must act, is causing great harm within the community and out of it, as adjusting your morals to a new reality is very difficult. When judging events morally we need to take into account not just our moral values, but the ones who we are judging, it does not mean we approve or condone it just that we understand their morals. It is only then that we can try to help those whose morals are falling outside society’s norm. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes about morals;
Whether you feel GZ is or not responsible for part, all or some of the events, he is morally entitled to a fair trial, something the State is working hard to prevent, so please if you are able to donate to his defense fund.