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George Zimmerman, the Constitution, and the shifting politics of self-defense

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“People … are definitely thinking and talking about it,” Terrence Mayfield, 61, a Florida gun permit holder, told the New York Times a few weeks before the latest bond hearing. “This whole thing rests on who threw the first punch. Either the gun saved Zimmerman’s life or we had a cowboy, someone who thought because he had a gun things could escalate.”

Zimmerman, who is in late 20s, shot Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, after a scuffle on the night of February 26 in Sanford, Fla. Thousands of Americans rallied to the side of Trayvon’s parents, who demanded justice after local police decided they had no probable cause to disbelieve Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.

To Trayvon supporters, the fact that a half-white, half-Hispanic man went free after profiling Trayvon, an innocent black boy, as a criminal, chasing after him, and then shooting the unarmed boy reeked of racial inequality and even institutional racism. Others say Martin is the only one who had a legitimate self-defense claim as he lashed out against a combative stranger following him on a dark street.

But after the state, 44 days after the shooting, decided to charge Zimmerman with second-degree murder, evidence began to emerge showing glaring injuries sustained by Zimmerman to his head and face. While even Judge Lester this week called Zimmerman manipulative, evidence shows he did pass a non-admissible “stress test” that suggested he was telling the truth when he said he feared for his life.

Zimmerman, who was heavier but shorter than Trayvon, has also stated he thought Trayvon was an adult, and that he wasn’t sure if he was armed or not. He said he reached for his 9 mm handgun after he believed Trayvon was going for it.

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