April 2, 2012
The shooting on February 26 in Florida of the unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin by self-imposed and volunteer security guard George Zimmerman was deeply saddening. The fact that George Zimmerman was not charged with any crime, claiming self-defense, provoked outraged throughout the country. A very good account of the shooting was published in the New York Times today in an article entitled “Race, Tragedy & Outrage Collide After Shot in Florida.”
There is still much that is unknown about what really happened. According to police reports, Trayvon attacked George Zimmerman, hitting his head on the pavement. Furthermore it has also being reported that the gun shot was at close range which would credit the theory of the self-defense scenario. Many do not believe those reports. Hopefully a thorough and independent investigation will revealed what truly happened that day.
The fact remains that the life of a young man has been cut short and we should all grieve for him and his family.
President Obama, in a public appearance said, “If I had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon. I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Some have criticized his comments as an inappropriate interference in legal proceedings. I disagree with that criticism. As the President, he was speaking, even if symbolically, for all Americans. He expressed public empathy over the tragic and avoidable death of a young man.
Empathy is the right sentiment in such situations.
Empathy was expressed last month when a Moslem fanatic killed 3 young Jewish children and their father, a Rabbi, as well as three French soldiers in Toulouse, France. The reaction in France was one of shock and condemnation. Frederic Lefebvre, French Member of Parliament and of the French Government wrote in an email to French citizens living in the U.S. “Today I am Jewish.”
Oscar Schindler, who rescued hundreds of his Jewish forced labor “employees” during WWII, spoke of them as “my Jews.”
Collective or individual sympathy and empathy can have a very positive effect on society.
Bryan S. Turner, a sociologist from NYU in an article published by SAGE Journal entitled Outline of a Theory of Human Rights says that: “It is because of collective sympathy for the plight of others that moral communities are created which support the institution of rights.”
As William Fulbright once wrote:
“There are many respects in which America, if it can bring itself to act with the magnanimity and the empathy appropriate to its size and power, can be an intelligent example to the world.”