July 13, 2013 has been a date I’ve looked forward to for months now, as the date I’d be back in East Lansing, seeing my family and friends. It was a great day for me, but as I learned from the paper the next day, it was a terrible day for justice in this country. George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, and the Stand Your Ground law of Florida is now firmly established as a law that does just the opposite of its supposed intention: it is now legal to intimidate and chase down an unarmed teenager, then shoot them dead after 911 tells you to back off–and you can do it all while claiming you’re the one being victimized. I heard someone say they weren’t surprised by the verdict, but I say you don’t have to be surprised to be outraged.
One of the major differences between the United States and other Western countries is that we are the only country that not only sees gun violence as a sad but inevitable part of normal life, but that fiercely defends those who want to keep it that way. Literally everyone I’ve met from another country can’t comprehend the American approach to guns. We actually have a hard time discussing the issue, even, because the idea that civilians can be so casually and heavily armed is utterly foreign to them.
A lot of people want to know if I feel safe traveling in cities around the world, and I tell them I lived in Chicago for five years, which has one of the highest gun homicide rates in the country. I’m no safer at home than I am abroad, and in many ways I’m less safe, in the most mundane of locations: movie theaters, elementary schools, even the fat ladies store I shop at–all of them have been fatal sites of gun violence. Someone had easy access to a deadly weapon, and they used that weapon in a public place, injuring, killing, and terrorizing people trying to live their daily lives. This happens far too often here. I am happy to be back in the States for many reasons, but I’m certainly not feeling safe here.
And I’m not black, or poor, or in an abusive relationship, or any of the other factors that make it far more likely that you’re going to be attacked by someone with a gun. It’s a scary thought for me, but it’s a terrifying reality for millions of people across the country. The racism evident in the shooting, the arrest, the trial, and the verdict is abhorrent, and an integral part of the problem of gun violence in the US. How is this a situation we’ve come to accept as a nation? How is this a country we want to live in? Surely we all want better, safer lives. Sign the petitions, call your representatives, and don’t let up until the gun lobby is defeated and we have strong gun laws in place. It’s the least we can do in memory of Trayvon and the others killed by armed Americans, and the least we can do for our own future.