George Zimmerman helped rescue four people from an overturned vehicle last week in Sanford, Fla. George Zimmerman was acquitted of a second-degree murder charge in Trayvon Martin’s February 2012 death. [emphasis added]
More details will become public soon enough, I’m sure. What seems clear to me is that Zimmerman is a protector. By that, what I mean is that he has strong instincts to protect others, even at his own risk. This is not to say he was justified in killing Trayvon Martin. I have mixed feelings about it and the witness accounts are contradictory. My point here is that, in his mind, he was acting to defend others, be it people in his neighborhood or people in the crashed SUV.
Contrast this with people who are malicious and who enjoy doing harm to others, or are cold to it. Or people who are too afraid to help or to stand up against injustice (i.e., most of us), with our desire for self-preservation overriding the welfare of others. In previous times, our “tribes” would modify this behavior. Even in modern times, tribe members on police forces and military units overcome their fear and self-preservation instinct to do incredible things for others (with whom they relate). Zimmerman seems to have this instinct naturally.
This is again not to say I agree with his prior actions, but it makes it more understandable in a way. He was defending his village, and in doing so he judged a threat (rightly or wrongly, I suspect wrongly though). He felt compelled to defend against that threat. Faced with a life or death decision (I’ll take Zimmerman at his word that he felt genuinely threatened), he acted both in his defense but, perhaps more importantly, in defense of his tribe (his neighbors) and in defense of his principles.
What would society look like if everyone had Zimmerman’s protective instincts and his principles, which one could rightly call non-apathetic to say the least? Blood in the streets of every minority? No, I doubt that. His mistake was being too focused on the target and for erring on the side of caution too much, failing to presume innocence. Or maybe, as a protector, he saw a monster while everyone else saw “an innocent teenager.” I don’t have the answer to this question, unfortunately, but I believe his motives and principles were pure, even if his judgment was fatally flawed.
Lastly, what would any of us had done had we come across a crashed SUV in this context? After having been dragged through the mud in the media and facing daunting risk of imprisonment, possibly for life, some of us would have decided the world wasn’t worth protecting, that innocent people weren’t worth saving. I certainly would have been tempted to think down those lines. Zimmerman didn’t take that position, perhaps couldn’t take that position.