We sold my brother’s house this week. Almost five years since his death, a year or more on the market, and three years of holding on to a place that was both full and empty of him. So many things that I didn’t want and didn’t want out of place. Something about losing Taylor so quickly and so surprisingly and so violently made me feel like maybe it just. didn’t. happen. And I imagine that his things and his house being in their proper place helped my heart to catch up with my head in realizing that he really was gone.
The farther time marches, my baby brother’s memory is more and more distant. I last knew him as an enthusiastic, indecisive, openhearted, impetuous 25 year-old and the 30-year old that he would be today is a mystery to me. He made me so angry sometimes but I counted on him- his smile, his company, his help, his uncomfortably-tight hugs, and the fact that he loved me no matter what and would always take care of me. When I was 21 and he was 18 we had a massive argument which concluded in my yelling, “Just make it better, Taylor, and say you’re sorry!.” It ended, not because he followed my older-sibling order to apologize but because he was laughing too hard (and maybe a bit bitterly) at the older sister he knew so completely and couldn’t help loving.
Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal have brought back memories from a despairing, frustrating, dead-end time. At the very middle of this maze of memories and feelings is the moment when the world turned upside down as I learned of Taylor’s death one cold Monday morning, early. Then followed a very murky several hours of disbelieving, grieving, praying, and waiting for some answer from law enforcement as to what happened, a revelation.
But the tragic events the detective summarized for us that morning were beyond my wildest imaginings. What did he mean Taylor forced his way into a man’s home? We knew that his truck had hit a tree in front of the home, but why had he broken in? And how was it possible that Taylor had killed a man? With the man’s own gun? And how could a second man have appeared with another gun to kill my baby brother with not one, but two gunshots? And then, with all of the facts as clear as mud we were dismissed. Not questioned or interviewed or promised further clarity but dismissed.
The Castle Doctrine provides the legal justification for why the occupants of that house had the right to use deadly force against my brother. The only survivor of this incident claims that my brother broke into the house through the front door. Taylor did not bring a gun or any other weapon into this home but investigators determined that his actions presented a serious threat of bodily harm or death to the two men present and that the two guns pulled on my brother were a justified course of action, as was his death.
Although I typically don’t put it to use, I would like to keep my right to bear arms. Despite the circumstances of Taylor’s death, I’ve maintained that the freedoms protected by the Castle Doctrine are imperative and having to accept that one man was allowed to be Taylor’s jury, judge, and executioner is the lesser of two evils. Until now. Trayvon’s death, the question of where the aggression between he and Zimmerman began, and the fact that only one man is left to tell the story has haunted me. Especially over the last two weeks as the entire world became privy to every investigative detail.
I’ve been pouring through those details, almost obsessively, with a twinge of jealousy and bitterness. Jealous that a fickle, self-serving media and racial politics could inspire this amount of investigation, attention and, most importantly, answers; the investigation and answers that I was waiting for on a cold October morning. But as I watched hours of testimony on Youtube I realized that Trayvon’s family, like ours, still doesn’t have the answers. Even if Trayvon attacked & beat George Zimmerman,he had a reason, a motive. Was he just being a mean-spirited, unruly “punk”, did he feel threatened, and how many other possibilities are there? The only answers that would satisfy our collective conscience and legitimize our cleaving to our right to self-defense would have to come from Trayvon himself.
And what if Trayvon had survived? What if he had wrestled the gun from and shot Zimmerman? Would he be defending his right to stand his ground against a neighbor whose initial intent was just to ‘check him out’ but who happened to be armed? What if, what if, what if. If I say this every time I think about my brother’s violent death, surely George Zimmerman and Taylor’s killer ponder it, as well.
I’ve listened to Root, Di Maio, Good, Singleton, Serino, Jeantel, and Noffke. I’ve watched the police video of Zimmerman re-enacting the events at the scene the day after he shot Trayvon. I’ve read his police statement, the autopsy report, and I’ve listened to his 9-1-1 call. I’ve read articles debating the legitimacy of the FL State attorney’s affidavit of probable cause and accusing her of filling the affidavit for political gain. I’m exhausted but I think I know now that Trayvon, and Taylor, did not have to die.
Their killer-victims made a choice; and unfortunately, Stand-your-ground and the Castle Doctrine throw a big blanket over all of the facts and choices that occurred before the “threat” they claim to have felt. In Zimmerman’s case, it’s his vigilante behavior that instigated the altercation with Trayvon. In Taylor’s case, it’s the cloudiness of the facts that will never be investigated beyond the account given by his killer: most importantly, Taylor’s motive for breaking into the house, the escalation of violence given that Taylor didn’t have a weapon, Taylor’s killer’s decision to re-enter the house given that that he presumed a deadly threat, and his final decision to shoot my brother in the head when the first shot through the chest had left him incapacitated.
I entered the sheriff’s office on that brisk, sunny October morning feeling desperate and when I left, that feeling grew over time into confusion and guilt. I would never accept that my baby brother could become “the perp” in the 12 hours since I had hugged him goodbye. I felt guilty for expecting the sheriff’s department to investigate beyond the simple parameters established by the Castle law. I’m not feeling apologetic now. I loved my brother; he was big-hearted, funny, gregarious. I will never again consider that his death was justified.