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Vigilante justice and Trayvon Martin

BY REBECCA ABELLERA | MARCH 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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The outcome of the Trayvon Martin case will be a significant marker in U.S. history that may initiate a dangerous, and possibly necessary, cascade of events. It is time for the public to discuss what steps should be taken if the government fails to step in and prosecute George Zimmerman.

What's done is done, and now it's our turn to discuss what needs to be changed and what action needs to be taken to begin to recover from this atrocity.

The overwhelming reaction the public has had to this murder cannot be attributed to the inherent bigoted motives behind the crime or even that it was a hate crime — it is the public's disgust with Zimmerman's false sense of authority and the nonchalant tolerance the state of Florida and Seminole County governments possess.

The government's general tolerance and even encouragement of feelings of entitlement is revealed through their support of arbitrary neighborhood-watch programs that require no training for participants. It was a neighborhood-watch program that Zimmerman declared himself the captain of that was the cause of his false sense of entitlement to authoritative power.

The public should entertain the idea of taking a Malcolm X style approach to the situation, and we may witness vigilantes taking the law into their own hands — after all, isn't that what the law encouraged Zimmerman and other neighborhood-watch members to do?

Not only did the government create this attitude, it clearly condoned it. If the government condemned Zimmerman's actions and believed his sense of authority was unjust, it would have stepped in or spoken out in a significant way.

Change.com, the website used for the petition to prosecute Zimmerman, Martin's alleged killer, has predicted that the public will demonstrate extreme anger if Zimmerman is not prosecuted.

It is up to the public to decide if this would be the appropriate response.

The New Black Panther Party (not affiliated with the Black Panther Party) has taken steps to ensure that Zimmerman is punished regardless of the outcome of a trial. Taking on the role the police should have, the New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who would capture Zimmerman.

"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," Mikhail Muhammad, the southern regional director of the New Black Panther Party, said.

Esther Whitehead, former Orange-Osceola County prosecutor, holds a different opinion.

"I can't see how anyone can go out and take action as a private citizen without some government action like the issuance of a warrant," she said regarding the statement released by the New Black Panthers. "It doesn't make sense. It doesn't sound reasonable."

But isn't this exactly what Zimmerman did when he shot Martin? Why do members of the government so quickly condemn the actions of the New Black Panthers when government officials have yet to publicly condemn the murder?

Although the New Black Panthers and Neighborhood Watch are different in many aspects, they both operate under the same value of vigilantism. The government should realize that to stay consistent with its actions regarding the Martin shooting, it needs to either condemn or support vigilantism equally and apply it to all groups and organizations.

Ultimately, if the public feels that the government has failed to do its job of prosecuting a criminal, our unavoidable rage will need to be channeled in a way that we deem appropriate, which may strong acts of civil disobedience.


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