Marilee Swirczek: Zimmerman had two big advantages over Trayvon

The Zimmerman verdict sits like a stone in the guts of many Americans. We struggle to put our finger on what sickens us, but we know something feels really bad.

It wasn’t until I read Guy Farmer’s commentary (“Zimmerman trial marred by racial politics,” July 21) that I started to get it. Amid hundreds of words reviewing the facts of the case, which we all know by heart, Farmer reveals in 13 words what is wrong with the Zimmerman verdict: “Martin wasn’t an innocent young boy; he was a head taller than Zimmerman.”

In that profoundly disturbing sentence, Farmer demonstrates the deep, probably subconscious, generational and regional biases that fester in our complex American culture. In a sentence, Farmer absolves Zimmerman of the termination of a fellow human being’s existence and judges Martin guilty and culpable for his own death — because Martin was taller than Zimmerman.

That sentence makes me think about both Zimmerman and Martin in a new light.

Zimmerman, a 29-year-old man, possessed something — in addition to a gun — that the just-turned 17-year-old Martin did not possess — a fully developed prefrontal cortex.

In human beings, the maturation of the prefrontal cortex is not achieved until about 25 years of age. That gave Zimmerman an advantage over Martin in the areas of cognitive analysis, abstract thinking, problem solving, determining and evaluating consequences, calculating strategies in shifting or urgent circumstances, recognizing and controlling intense impulses and emotions, modulating behavior and considering complicated incoming information in fight-or-flight situations.

In other words, Zimmerman, almost twice Martin’s age, had a mature prefrontal cortex and a gun, while Martin had an immature prefrontal cortex still overruled by primitive limbic structures, a can of sweet tea, and Skittles.

Farmer sums up his analysis by quoting Reno attorney David Houston: “This was a case where [Zimmerman] forced a confrontation, but did what he had to do when he was attacked.”

Houston’s words reveal what makes our guts clench when we realize the sickening abdication of Zimmerman’s personal and social responsibility as a grown man in a position of power. Using Houston’s logic, maybe Martin did what he had to do when he was confronted — or more accurately, maybe Martin did what his immature prefrontal cortex thought he should do.

So if Farmer is suggesting that 29-year-old Zimmerman was frightened for his life, I am suggesting that 17-year-old Martin was too. But Zimmerman possessed all the ammunition to prevent this tragedy.

We’ll never know exactly what happened that night. According to Farmer, Martin wasn’t followed and killed because he was black, but because he was tall and therefore not innocent. And therein lay the convoluted and absurd rationalizations being offered to justify the uninvited confrontation and subsequent killing of an unarmed, immature, and yes, innocent boy by an armed, mature man.

The gnawing in our gut confirms that something is wrong here: In the case of George Zimmerman, the law may be satisfied, but justice is not.

Marilee Swirczek is professor emeritus at Western Nevada College and lives in Carson City.


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