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                                                       New thoughts on old values for the Home of the Brave

No winner can rightfully be declared after The State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. It was a tragedy that became a fiasco after it was hijacked by an irresponsible media that longs to see a house divided.

The New York Times set the tone. It shrugged off the killer’s Peruvian identity and called him a “white Hispanic” and so reduced the fourth estate to a schoolyard instigator. The President—  who won’t be referred to as a “white African American” though his mother was as white as Zimmerman’s father— has been intimately involved. As a matter of law, it is settled: Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in an act the jury determined was self-defense. But it isn’t over. The victim was brought up in the New York mayoral race just yesterday, outrage floods the internet, and protests continue in urban communities, including Chicago, where the reverends are wondering where the spotlight is when it comes to harsher realities like black-on-black murder.

At the center of it all is a quiet grave in Dade Memorial Park and a forgotten truth: A young man is dead and America is poorer for it.

Martin was one of our own. A child of divorce, a good to middling student who wanted to work in aviation as a pilot or mechanic, a recreational drug user, and a cell phone addict. He was also a six-foot, one-inch seventeen-year-old who liked to fight.

Zimmerman, and every other “Zimmerman” in the new America, would do well to learn how to fight.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, murders committed with a gun dropped 39% over the past twenty years. Other crimes committed with a gun dropped 69% during the same period. Possible explanations include lower birth rates, a combination of pro-active policing and long-term incarceration of chronic violent offenders, more social programs and government assistance, and the so-called “graying of America” (violent crime, like boxing, is a young man’s activity).

Few experts attribute the decline to private gun ownership, which has doubled since 1968. The U.S. leads the world in guns per capita, according to a survey conducted by a Swiss research group. It’s no contest; our rate is three times Canada’s and six times Mexico’s. In real numbers, there are over 310 million legally-owned guns across the land of the free, and sales are up.

That’s a problem.

The U.S. remains one of the most violent industrialized nations on the planet. And make no mistake; our natural propensities are made that much worse because our guns are within reach. The National Rifle Association disputes this and stands on the assertion that gun ownership is the mark of a patriot. It spotlights examples of self-defense with a licensed gun as much as the mainstream media buries them. The NRA’s lnstitute for Legislative Action invites supporters to contribute stories about the heroics of the “Armed Citizen” protecting person and property. Thus far this summer, there have been eleven entries.

But the facts shoot back. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that “less than 1% of non-fatal violent crime victims reported using a gun to defend themselves.” Meanwhile, the likelihood of suicide, lethal domestic violence, and accidental deaths increase dramatically when a gun is in the house. Homicide and “unintentional gun fatality” rates are off the charts, and they are especially bad in areas with more privately-owned guns and less gun control.

We have an image problem. An enduring one is that of the square-jawed American carrying a musket with one foot on a rock. It hearkens back to the Revolutionary War, when British soldiers invaded these shores and the call went out to every able-bodied colonist for the defense of hearth and home.

The second amendment is a tribute to that image.

What happened on the night of February 26th 2012 in Sanford, Florida is not.

Able-bodied citizens in a first-world country should not need to carry a firearm to feel safe.

Self-defense is an absolute right, but overkill is not. Simply stated, if George Zimmerman knew how to use his fists, he would have spared the life of a teenager and prevented a media-driven frenzy that divided the American house still further.

Zimmerman was described by a witness for the defense as “a very nice person, but not a fighter.” Dennis Root, an expert in “use of force” testified that he considers several factors when examining self-defense cases including gender, age, size, physical abilities, and special circumstances that can figure into such situations. Particular emphasis is placed on background and training, and for good reason. When a person finds him or herself under attack, the immediate question is whether the person is equipped to repel the attack.

When presented with the defense’s version of events that said Zimmerman was punched in the nose and soon mounted and pummeled before shooting his attacker, Root had this to say: “I don’t know what else he could do based on his abilities…not to be offensive to Mr. Zimmerman, but he doesn’t seem to have any…”

Years ago, I was hitting the speed bag in the basement boxing room of the Boston YMCA when a grey-headed trainer approached. The trainer’s name was Pete Cone. “Three hoodlums just tried to rob me,” he said. He was well into his fifties at the time and took care of his housebound mother. He had an easy smile, a twinkle in his eye, and was so soft-spoken you’d have to lean in to hear him. I heard him. “Whoa! Whoa!” I said. “—You all right? Where are they?” Pete said, “I’m fine, just fine… I managed to knock two of them down but the third one, well, he ran off and I just couldn’t catch up to him.” It should be mentioned that Pete also created monsters and once fought an exhibition with the late, great Emile Griffith.

The sweet science is a social hub for stories like this, and they’re not hard to substantiate:

  • Last year, an eighty-four-old former fighter named Peter Sandy was walking to a Tesco store in Cambridge, England when a mugger pulled a commando-style knife on him. According to Mail Online, Sandy threw a left hook and the mugger fell to the ground. “When he recovered, he ran off.” Sandy said. “The punch was instinctive. I used to train for six hours a day and in that moment it all came back to me.” He retired fifty-six years ago. The article is entitled “You Picked the Wrong Guy!”
  • Rossie Ellis was a middle-aged ex-boxer when he was stabbed in the arm with an ice pick. According to the Hartford Courant, he turned around and knocked out the man who did it.
  • Last October, the Telegraph reported that Amir Khan and his brother, also a professional boxer, fought six men who tried to steal his Range Rover. One of the attackers took a swing at Amir, who was three months removed from his third career loss, and was knocked cold when Amir pulled back and countered. The other five went down like Whac-A-Moles.
  • In Oklahoma City last December, a young man broke into the garage of a boxer, took a swing at him, and ended up taking the beating of his life. The young man’s mug shot says it all: both eyes swelled shut and gauze stuffed up his nose and in his lip. The Blaze entitled the article “This Is Why You Never, Ever Break Into a Boxer’s Home.”
  • In Manhattan around 1970, a well-dressed elderly gentleman sat in the back of a taxi stopped at a red light. He spied two “young punks” running toward the doors on either side. While the driver sat terrified, his fare clambered out and “flattened both” with a right cross for one and a left hook for the other. Two unofficial knockouts can be added to the record of Jack Dempsey.

These types of confrontations are every-day occurrences or close to it. Most go unrecorded though the result is the same —no one had to die.

When Zimmerman joined the Kokopelli Gym in Longwood, Florida, he was obese. He did a commendable job losing weight and turned up in a boxing class. At his trial, gym owner Adam Pollock testified that he was considerably “nonathletic” and never advanced beyond shadow boxing and working the heavy bag. “He didn’t know how to effectively punch,” Pollock said, though the fault of that would lie with the trainer, not a willing client. An advertisement for the Kokopelli boxing program asserts that “transferring energy to a specific target is a skill that ANYONE can learn providing they have the right coaching.” It goes on to invite clients to “learn to hit with POWER regardless of gender, size or age” and “develop practical defensive fundamentals like catching, parrying, redirecting and leverage stopping.”

Pollock made it clear that in his gym, novices are not allowed to spar until they develop the requisite skill. Zimmerman never developed the requisite skill. However, he also took a grappling class and managed to advance enough to work with a partner.

“It’s very important to understand the difference between the two concepts,” Root testified. “In grappling you have the opportunity to what we call ‘tap out’. You can say ‘I quit’ [or] ‘I give up’ if something hurts too much.” Not so in boxing. “In boxing,” Root said, “when you enter the ring with another person, you find you’ve entered into too much, you know, more than you can handle when you’ve been punched and injured already.”

It’s an important differentiation.

It is nearly certain that a fight between Zimmerman and Martin took place on the grounds of the gated community. The defense presented a narrative that placed Zimmerman outside of his vehicle looking for an address to assist police in locating what he believed was a suspicious person. When Zimmerman proceeded back to his vehicle, Martin supposedly appeared and said “What the f*ck’s your problem, homie?” Zimmerman replied, “Hey man, I don’t have a problem.” Martin approached with a balled fist and said “you have a problem now!”

—Even if we accept the defense’s version of events, an incident that begins with a conk on the nose should not end with a call to the coroner, particularly if the victim is an able-bodied male.

Had Zimmerman been trained properly and/or took boxing more seriously, he could have slipped the first blow and countered it with his own. Eventually, he could learn to counter a blow with a six-punch combination like the great Peruvian light heavyweight Mauro Mina, the “Bombardero de Chincha.” Who knows.

We know this much: The sweet science is extraordinarily effective in the street. It breeds confidence, teaches self-control, sharpens the senses, and has been known to remain viable for self-defense long past physical primes. It can cancel out disadvantages in size and flab and it gives citizens something to hold on to, something other than cold steel. A well-schooled left hook is enough to dissuade most anyone from bad intentions. There is no need to kill him. Let him get up, wipe the red off his face with his sleeve, and stumble on his way. Once his head clears he’ll have new manners to think about.

The iconic image of the stalwart American proudly bearing a firearm is selling us short. For a people who have historically prided themselves on self-reliance and skill, why bring a gun to a fist fight? Patriots shouldn’t and true tough guys wouldn’t. The end result is only trauma for victim, shooter, and everyone around them. We just witnessed how traumatic it can be for the whole country.

There are a hundred forty-nine handgun ranges and a hundred sixty-nine boxing gyms in Florida.

Neither is hard to find.




Art credit: “Blood, White and Blue” by Jace McTier.

See “Gun Violence is a U.S. Public Health Problem” (Celeste Monforton 7/13/12) for details not otherwise referenced. Dempsey’s late-in-life double knockout is found in his autobiography, Dempsey (written with Barbara Piatelli Dempsey, New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 285.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at

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