The death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who was fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., has sparked a national outcry.
Martin’s family has criticized police for not arresting 28-year-old George Zimmermann, who admitted to shooting the teen but said he fired in self-defense.
However the more evidence that comes out on the case the more it appears that Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is not justified.
Martin had gone to a convenience store and was carrying nothing but a bag of Skittles, some money and a can of iced tea when he was shot.
Martin, a tall Miami high school junior, had returned from the convenience store and was headed for his father’s girlfriend’s house, where he was staying.
Under public pressure, the Sanford police department finally released the 911 tapes that recorded this tragedy.
The tapes detail a series of events that began with Zimmerman calling 911 to report a suspicious “young Black male” wearing a hoodie, walking in a gated community in Sanford.
Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home.
On the tapes Zimmerman is heard saying, “These assholes, they always get their way.”
Several minutes later Zimmerman and Martin got into a confrontation. On the tape a voice is heard pleading. A shot is heard, the pleading stops and Martin lay dead.
Florida law makes it easy to plead self-defense in a killing. The broad Stand Your Ground law allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation.
But how was Zimmerman threatened when he was the one armed and in pursuit?
There are several unanswered questions and evidence of local police not being thorough in investigating the case.
Martin’s parents were first told by police that Zimmerman had a “squeaky clean” record. Police based their assertion solely on what Zimmerman told them. But Zimmerman had been arrested in 2005 on charges of resisting arresting with violence and battery on a police officer. The charges were later dropped.
Zimmerman, a criminal justice major in college, often patrolled the streets in his car and made frequent calls to police.
The New York Times reports that in the last 14 months, Zimmerman had made 46 calls to the police, “reporting everything from alarms and disturbances to reckless driving and, most commonly, a ‘suspicious’ person.”
Local police said they do not have enough evidence to file an arrest against Zimmerman. They have turned the case over to the state attorney’s general office.
The U.S. Justice Department announced March 19 that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office will investigate the fatal shooting.
SANFORD, Fla. — The parents of a Black teenager fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer called on the FBI Friday to take over the investigation, saying they no longer trusted the local police department.
Meanwhile, the shooter's father is defending his son, saying he is not a racist and did not provoke the altercation that led to the shooting.
The parents of Trayvon Martin told an Orlando press conference they no longer trust the Sanford Police Department. Their 17-year-old son was fatally shot last month as he returned to a Sanford home during a visit from Miami.
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton accused Sanford police of botching the investigation and criticized them for not arresting 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who says he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Martin was not armed. They say the police department hasn't arrested Zimmerman because he is white and their son was Black.
"Do we really believe that if Trayvon Martin would have pulled the trigger, he would not be arrested?" said Benjamin Crump, their attorney. "This is obviously a cover-up, and we need a sweeping overhaul of the Sanford Police Department."
Sanford police Sgt. David Morgenstern said the department stands by its investigation but welcomes help from any outside agency. FBI agent David Couvertier said the agency has been in contact with Sanford police and is monitoring the case.
Meanwhile, Zimmerman's father delivered a letter to the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday saying the way his son is being depicted in the media is cruel and misleading. He also says his son has received death threats and moved out of his home. George Zimmerman is Hispanic and grew up in a multiracial family, the statement says.
"He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever ...," the letter says. "The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth."
No one disputes that Zimmerman shot Martin on the night of Feb. 26. Martin, who was visiting from Miami, was walking back to the home of his father's fiancée after going to the store to buy candy for his little brother and an iced tea for himself. It was raining, and Martin was walking with the hood of his jacket pulled over his head.
Zimmerman called 911 from his sports utility vehilcle, saying he had spotted a suspicious person walking in the multi-racial neighborhood. The 911 tape has not been released, but officials say the dispatcher told him to stay in his SUV and an officer would be there momentarily. But Zimmerman for unknown reasons got out. He and Martin fought, according to witnesses. At some point Zimmerman pulled a gun and shot Martin, who died at the scene. Zimmerman told Sanford police he acted in self-defense. He has not been arrested or charged.
Sanford investigators say they have turned over their evidence to prosecutors for them to decide whether Zimmerman should be charged.
The letter Zimmerman's father gave the Sentinel says George Zimmerman didn't get out of the SUV to confront Martin.
"At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event became public, and I hope that will be soon, everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media," the letter said. -- (AP)
For Rose Cooper, the story of 17-year-old Florida teen Trayvon Martin is a story of her own life. Cooper, a resident of Upper Chichester, lost her 33-year-old son Larry Douglas Carter to gun violence in 2010.
Carter was sitting outside near the William Penn Housing Development in Chester when he was killed. In March, James Armstrong was convicted in the death of Cooper’s son. When Cooper first heard the story of Martin, she cried.
“I did not cry for Trayvon,” Cooper said. “I cried for his parents, his family. As a parent no one wants to bury their child. When I found out about Martin it touched me to the core, because I know what the parents are going through right now, because I have been there and it’s a feeling that will never go away.
“I’m fortunate because justice came to me,” she added. “I’ve waited and prayed for the day that my son would get justice. I’m just hoping that day will also come for Martin’s parents. We have to let people know that we will continue to speak up and have rallies against violence if it means justice for our kids and loved ones.”
Cooper was just one of the 150 people that gathered at Memorial Park in Chester last Thursday, April 5 for the Trayvon Martin Rally.
The rally was held by The National Congress of Black Women Delco Chapter along with the Chester Chapter of the NAACP, Brothers of Concern, Inc, and members of the clergy and others organizations.
Martin, who was Black, was unarmed when he was fatally shot Feb. 26. The shooter was identified as George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white Hispanic community watch coordinator. As the investigation continues, Zimmerman remains free after claiming self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. The shooting has stirred heated debates throughout the country over racism, self-defense and legal injustice. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are probing the incident.
“There are a lot of Trayvon Martins in the city of Chester,” said Nicole Cogdell, a member of the Brothers of Concern. “Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t value our children while they are here. We’re not listening and teaching them enough. We have to take their hands and make sure their eating right, being properly educated, and teach them the difference between right and wrong.
“If we really want to honor Trayvon Martin and Franklin Carter, who is from Chester and his case is still unsolved, we as a community need to speak up,” Nicole added. “Withholding key information that can help solve a case should no longer be an option for us. Just like we want Martin’s parents to get justice, we need to get justice for all the people in Chester who cases are still unsolved.”
Before speaking to the crowd, Chester Mayor John Linder said he had been thinking about Martin and recognizes many people are speculating about the details in the case.
“There are a lot Trayvons in the city,” he said. “Regardless of prior events between Zimmerman and Martin it was a gun that made the difference in the boy’s life. As we look at Trayvon, let’s take a look at ourselves as a community, so that we can see what we can do collectively. We have to work together to get the guns off the street and we have to work together to make this city a safer place, especially for our children.”
Prosecutors outlined their murder case in court papers Thursday, April 12 against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
After weeks of media speculation and misinformation, prosecutors outlined a case that shows why the serious charge of second-degree murder is appropriate and necessary.
To prove second-degree murder, prosecutors must show that Zimmerman committed an “imminently dangerous” act that showed a “depraved lack of regard for human life.” The charge carries a mandatory sentence of 25 year in prison and a maximum of life.
Zimmerman is expected to plead not guilty.
In court papers, prosecutors said Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, profiled, followed and confronted Martin after police dispatchers told him to back off.
To show Zimmerman profiled Martin the affidavit said: “During a recorded call to a police dispatcher, Zimmerman ‘made reference to people he felt had committed and gotten away with break-ins in his neighborhood. Later while talking about Martin, he said “these a-----s, they always get away’ and also said “these f----g punks,”
The affidavit continued: “when the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him, Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin who was trying to rerun to his home.”
The prosecution outlined a strong case that appears to contradict Zimmerman’s claim that Martin attacked him after he had turned away and was returning to his vehicle.
In the affidavit, prosecutors also said that Martin’s mother identified cries for help heard in the background of a call to police as her son’s.
Forensic experts hired by the Orlando Sentinel said the cries for help were not the voice of Zimmerman.
Last Friday an extraordinary event took place when President Obama and Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all spoke out on the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin.
To varying degrees they all spoke on the death of Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed Black teenager who was shot to death last month by a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla., a suburb of Orlando.
The shooter, George Zimmerman, 28, claimed he shot Martin in self-defense, a questionable claim since Zimmerman pursued Martin with a 9mm. Martin was carrying an iced tea and a bag of Skittles.
Martin’s death has sparked a national outcry and the demand that Zimmerman be arrested and charged.
Yet the comments by Obama, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum last Friday on such an explosive case were remarkable.
Obama spoke in highly personal terms about how the shooting of Martin had affected him, saying that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
He cautioned that his comments would be limited because the Justice Department was investigating.
“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” Obama said.
The comments by the president were remarkable because he has been careful not to speak on racial sensitive issues.
The Republican presidential candidates also remarked on the Martin killing.
Romney, the presumed front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said: “What happened to Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity.”
Santorum’s pointed remarks criticized the police handling of the case and rebuffed suggestions that Florida’s stand your ground law — which give citizens wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat — should be applied in this case.
“Well, stand your ground is not doing what this man did,” he said. ‘There’s a difference between stand your ground and doing what he did. It’s a horrible case. I mean it’s chilling to hear what happened, and of course the fact that law enforcement didn’t immediately go after and prosecute this case is another chilling example of horrible decisions made by people in the process.”
Gingrich said the district attorney had done “the right thing,” in empanelling a grand jury. But speaking of Zimmerman, he said it was “pretty clear that this is a guy who found a hobby that’s very dangerous.”
Both Santorum and Gingrich had played to racial politics earlier in the campaign by linking Obama and African Americans in general with increased food stamps usage.
But their comments reveal how the national outrage and grassroots protests over the Martin killing have shaken the nation’s political establishment.
The hope is that this case will not be racially or politically exploited.
Justice must be served.
Forty years ago this month, ten thousand African Americans thronged to Gary, Indiana, for the first National Black political convention. They gathered to develop a Black agenda, and to influence 1972 presidential politics. One of the things on the agenda was the development of an independent Black political party and to explore the notion of independent Black politics. To commemorate this anniversary, Ron Daniels convened a group of people on Capitol Hill to see the movie “Nation Time” and to listen to a group of people, some of whom had been at Gary, talk about what Gary means today.
One of the things that was exciting about the film was the energy and audacity of the Black folk who were gathered at Gary. There is a young Jesse Jackson leading the chant, “What time is it? It’s nation time.” There is a forceful Richard Hatcher, then mayor of Gary, explaining why the gathering was necessary. There is Imamu Baraka, calling for votes. There is Queen Mother Moore, speaking on the necessity for reparations. There is energy, audacity.
All weekend, there have been rallies in support for Trayvon Martin and his family, demands that George Zimmerman, the man who executed Trayvon, be arrested, and demands that Florida’s vigilante laws be reviewed. The Rev. Al Sharpton led some 30,000 people in a Florida rally, and the NAACP also plans a rally. As people rally to support Trayvon Martin and condemn Zimmerman, it is important to remember that this tragedy is one of several. Zimmerman, apparently, felt threatened by Skittles, iced tea, and a hoodie. How many other young Black men have been executed in similar circumstances?
This Trayvon Martin case may have a galvanizing effect on African-American people. Still, we have to ask what has happened to the audacity that was so clearly present in Gary four decades ago. Since then, too many of us have become satisfied and complacent. Too many are into “me” not “we.” Even as African Americans continue to be battered by our economy, too many are blaming themselves, not our economic structure, for the situation they find themselves in. And we have been too tolerant of those who freely bandy about racial slurs. George Zimmerman apparently thought he could get away with a public execution. And, truth be told, to date he has. There has been no investigation, no arrest. All he had to say was that he acted in self-defense, and he was off scot-free. No matter that the 911 operator told him not to pursue Trayvon. No matter that there is no evidence of self-defense. Trayvon Martin is dead, and George Zimmerman is free. Where is our audacity?
George Zimmerman seems to think there are no consequences to executing a young Black man on the public streets. He seems to think so because African-American audacity has just about disappeared. Facing an organized African-American community, Zimmerman might have thought twice between raising his gun and using it. Fearing an organized Black community, Zimmerman might have thought twice before uttering a racial slur. No doubt he has learned from the best. Rush Limbaugh pops off at the mouth any chance he gets, using racial and gender slurs and only recently suffering any consequences. Newt Gingrich calls President Obama a “food stamp president” and he is only mildly called on it. No wonder Zimmerman thought his effort was acceptable. Until now, he has had no evidence to the contrary.
It is easy to say, “Black people need to be more organized,” but it is difficult to do. Still, the Trayvon Martin case reminds us of the need for an organized African-American movement. And Gary reminds us that once there was audacity. We have to find that audacity again so that no racist on the loose ever again feels it acceptable to execute a child on the street. — (NNPA)
Julianne Malveaux is the president of Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C.
As I’ve talked to friends this past week, including a high-level, African-American business executive, there have been two initial responses, as they watched the Trayvon Martin tragedy unfold. The first was shock and outrage that such a high-potential, innocent young man could have been murdered in cold blood, in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. The second was: That could very easily have been me.
The most frightening aspect of the teenager’s murder is that it was entirely arbitrary, random and subjective. He just happened to have come from buying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea that evening. He just happened to have crossed paths with an apparently deranged man, who reached an entirely subjective conclusion that young Mr. Martin, an “A” and “B” high school student, simply had no right to be in that neighborhood at that time. It was simply the “luck of the draw” that his assailant, a man named George Zimmerman, whom the media has described as a “white Hispanic,” happened to be armed.
Much to my surprise, I, too, am coming down on the side of those who have said young Martin’s murder was not just about race. In the final analysis, it isn’t just about race, but it is, largely, about rampant handgun insanity. Or, maybe in honor of the New York Knicks’ point guard, we should call it “Gun-Sanity.”
What happened is about the absolute, free-wheeling, unchecked power of the National Rifle Association, and the inability and unwillingness of our elected officials to stand up to it.
On Friday, President Barack Obama, bowing to the growing media attention surrounding the murder of the young man, stepped forward in the White House Rose Garden and strengthened considerably a horribly weak statement on the subject that had been provided by his White House spokesman, Jay Carney, just two days earlier.
Some things the president said that morning made sense, such as when he pointed out: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” I can see that. It seemed a warm, natural and timely thing to say.
But, then again, there were parts of his statement that, unfortunately, came off like political gobbledygook, or “Newspeak,” from George Orwell’s “1984.” That was certainly the case when the President said, when pressed about whether race had played a role in the young man’s death, “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen — that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident.”
Here was my reaction to that: While the president was saying those things, the TV stations should have run a series of sub-titles and translations, at the bottom of the screen, under his image, that said: “I know very well how this happened and I know how the laws that permit it to happen get on the books, in the first place. I know that it is the gun lobby that pressures me and other elected officials to pass laws that encourage greater sales of handguns. I am also absolutely certain that, with their campaign contributions and their threats of political revenge on election day, there is virtually no opposition to ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws or expanded ‘Castle Doctrine’ legislation, when they come up for a vote."
In 2005, Florida became the first state to expand a citizen’s right to use deadly force for self-defense. It expanded the definition of the legal right to use weapons for such self-defense, beyond the home, to “any other place where he or she has a right to be.” Over the past six years, 23 other states have expanded their “Castle Doctrines” to remove the necessity that the shooter first take a step back and retreat, before firing.
In the Pennsylvania General Assembly, last year, for example, the vote to expand the “Castle Doctrine” and to make that gun law look very much like “Stand Your Ground,” was carried 45-5 in the Senate, and 164-37, in the House.
Perhaps, not coincidentally, the FBI has reported that Americans set a new all-time record for gun-purchase-related instant background checks, in 2011, at 16.4 million, a 14.2 percent increase over 2010, the year in which the previous record was set.
As proof of the correlation between gun sales and relaxed gun laws, the National Rifle Association said the record number of gun sales, last year, could be attributed to the fact that more people said they need guns for self defense. According to one NRA spokeswoman, the surge of gun sales is also related to the national economic downturn, “…prisoners are being furloughed; police officers are being laid off.”
As further evidence of the chilling relationship between “Stand Your Ground” laws and gun sales, it should be noted that states with “Stand Your Ground” showed dramatic year-to-year gun sales increases, as compared to states without it.
Those sales have brought the number of civilian-owned guns in the country up to 270 million, or approximately 88.8 firearms per 100 people. Those figures rank the U.S. at number one among the 179 countries in the world, as to the rate of gun ownership. By comparison, China has 4.9 guns per 100 people, Pakistan has 11.6; Iran has 7.3; Germany has 30.3; Angola has 17.3; and South Africa has 12.7.
The exceptionally high rate of gun ownership in the U.S., has, not surprisingly, produced an average of 15,930 homicides, each year, from 2006 to 2010. The U.S. gun-related homicide rate at 10.3 per 100,000 population is substantially higher than the 6.3 in France, the 2.9 in Italy, the 1.6 in Germany, the .46 in England, the .24 in Singapore, and the .07 in Japan.
Can you spell "Wild, Wild West?"
It’s clear that the NRA, with 4 million card-carrying, gun-toting members who go to the polls, without fail, to vote for politicians who support their weapons-related agendas, and which donated more than $18 million to members of Congress over the past two decades (82 percent to Republicans) is a feared political force.
It appears, now, for example, that, with public support for gun controls having dropped, according to the Gallup polls, from 78 percent in 1990, to 44 percent, today, President Obama seems to have lost the will to speak the “truth” to the power of the NRA.
But, there’s a strong case that the solution to this problem extends beyond the lack of political will of the Executive, Legislative or Judicial branches of government. If we want to recognize the whole truth, we have to face up to the fact that the power to prevent future Trayvon Martin incidents resides within each of us.
If we want the prospect of future random killings to stop, Black folks are simply going to have to rekindle the flame that led us to “selective patronage” campaigns, strategic civil disobedience, targeted corporate boycotting and demonstrations. It’s my strong belief that someone other than us is going to have to feel discomfort and pain, before anything different will take place. We haven’t seen much of that in a long, long time. Over the past several weeks, we’ve heard, instead, lots of rhetoric, but not much in the way of action designed to make the private sector or high-ranking elected officials squirm. After all, this IS a presidential election year.
Here’s a warning: If Mr. Zimmerman, the so-called “white Hispanic,” is allowed to get away with what he so clearly did, with the blessing of “Stand Your Ground” and its supporters, we should not be surprised to see the Trayvon Martin incident replicated.
Talk is cheap. It’s time for action beyond things like the media-friendly “hoodie marches.” It’s also time, now, for our reasonable white and Hispanic friends to join in. They should know that they are not immune, either, to “Stand Your Ground” and its deadly implications.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
“Can we all get along?” Those famous words from Rodney King still apply to America today. It is 2012 and race-based hate haunts us daily. There is always something sensational to remind us that we have yet to overcome this evil.
The latest big indication that it still lives is the incident from Sanford, Fla. A child of God, a son and brother only 17 years in age was struck in the chest by a bullet. The bullet did not come from a gang member, robber or thug. It came from a “volunteer neighborhood watchman” — whatever that is.
Like the Watergate incident which took down a U.S. president, it wasn’t the initial act that causes us to scream. It was the cover up. What the authorities of Sanford did or did not do subsequent to the shooting is deplorable and leans toward racism.
First, they showed no regard for the family of Trayvon. Here is a corpse of a teenager with his cell phone in his pocket. They made no attempt to locate his family which could have been done in minutes via the cell phone. It wasn’t until his father called police that they informed the family. Secondly, they took the shooter’s word on what happened. Whenever a police officer shoots an individual his weapon is taken for testing; he is given a blood alcohol and drug test and then he is assigned to desk duty until a thorough investigation is completed. Sanford police took his weapon but did nothing else. In fact, they performed a drug test on Trayvon for some reason.
There are a lot of things that don’t add up. Why was this watchman following Trayvon who was walking directly home from a convenience store? The watchman’s 911 call sounds like someone drunk yet they never test him. He weighs more than 100 pounds over Trayvon’s weight yet he says Trayvon was beating him up. The police ignore the claims of Trayvon’s girlfriend who says he called her claiming a person was following him. They need to do a run on the shooter’s weapon to see if it has been used in other shootings. Why haven’t they begun a grand jury investigation? Why isn’t there an autopsy done on Trayvon? That might show the entry of the bullet and if he was shot lying on the ground as opposed to attacking the watchman.
This is a pure tragedy — but there is more to it than the great loss suffered by the Martin family. It is the reminder that Black, young men are at risk whenever they intermingle in the same environment as police officers or guards. Emmett Till, Rodney King and now Trayvon Martin are just a few reminders that if you are a parent of a Black male, you have much to fear.
I have four Black daughters. Not one day has ever occurred that I feared for their safety from police. I also have two sons, the babies, and there have been many times that my wife and I would seriously worry about their future and safety. The fear was justified. One of my sons was beaten by D.C. police officer and falsely charged. It took $20,000+ to get the false charges thrown out. The other son was given a false citation and harassed by a University of Maryland police officer which we also had to get thrown out. Their best friend escorted a white female student back to her dorm after a campus nightclub closed. The Prince Georges, Md., police department declared this to be disturbing the peace (interracial walking after hours). For this they stayed in a jail cell from Friday night to Monday afternoon. His family had to also pay big bucks to get it thrown out. Just about every Black family I know with a son has similar horror stories.
My wife and I are lucky. Our sons are grown now and have survived with their lives and no trumped up criminal record. There are too many of us who cannot say that. It is an American shame and, somehow, we have got to end this institutional illness. Perhaps we can develop a protocol for all correctional administrators to adhere to. A check list that can be used as a requirement for all police officers, guards etc. That will promote fair and impartial treatment for all regardless of race and/or ethnicity.
The time to end stereotypes and prejudgment is long overdue. Perhaps we should no longer hope for it but sincerely demand it. Something stinks in Sanford and we must expunge it from our society. May God bless the Martin family, and may justice prevail in Sanford. All individuals who have failed should pay for their transgressions. May this become an example of what happens whenever fair and impartial treatment is not applied to each and every citizen.
I’m glad to hear the Justice Department is looking into the killing of Trayvon Martin. After all, if they can investigate the killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, they can do it in Florida.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the 17-year-old’s death and its outrageously suspicious circumstances. It’s a story with tragically familiar scenes, especially to those of us who have raised young Black males: A young white man follows a “suspicious-looking” Black teenager, confronts him, and kills him in “self-defense.”
What adds an extra edge and national relevance to this tragic episode is the Florida law under which the shooter claims self-defense. The “Stand Your Ground” law, promoted by the National Rifle Association and signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005, allows anyone, anywhere, to use deadly force against another person if they believe their safety or life is in danger. It’s the job of the state to prove the act was not justified.
The law’s impact was dramatic. The St. Petersburg Times found that five years after the law went into effect, claims of justifiable homicides in Florida more than tripled, from just over 30 to more than 100 in 2010. The Stand-Your-Ground defense was used in 93 cases involving 65 deaths during that period, and in almost every one of them it worked.
Jeb Bush called it a “good, commonsense anti-crime” bill, prosecutors, gun control advocates and other critics called it a “shoot first law” and, more bluntly, a “license to kill and go free.”
Born in controversy, the law is living down the low expectations of its critics. Yet more than a dozen other states followed suit. The Trayvon Martin case offers an excellent illustration of why they all should reconsider that move.
Amid the national furor over the racially charged case, a grand jury has been scheduled to hear evidence in April. But from what we know, the shooter, George Zimmerman, makes a poor fit even for the state’s notoriously lenient self-defense law.
According to police, Trayvon Martin was walking back from a local convenience store to a house that he and his father were visiting in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. At about the same time, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, called 911 from his SUV to report the youth looked “real suspicious,” according to a 911 call released by police.
What was so “suspicious?” Zimmerman only says Martin is wearing a hooded sweatshirt, “looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something” and “He’s checking me out” and “he’s definitely messed up.”
And, oh, yes, after the dispatcher asked what race the youth appeared to be, Zimmerman said young Trayvon “looks Black.” How much did race have to do with Zimmerman’s suspicions? That’s just one of many questions that cries out for an answer, which is why we have courts.
A bigger problem for Zimmerman’s case: When the emergency dispatcher asks, “Are you following him?” Zimmerman responds, “Yeah.” The dispatcher discourages him with, “OK, we don’t need you to do that.” But within minutes, other 911 calls to police report the two are fighting and one was “yelling ‘Help.’” Screams for help can be heard in the background in at least one call, along with the sound of gunfire.
Was Zimmerman’s life threatened by a kid whom he greatly outweighed? The only items found in the teen’s possession, according to reports, were the bag of Skittles and the AriZona iced tea he picked up at the store. Self-defense? Investigators need to ask, who was defending who against whom?
The Seminole-Brevard state attorney’s office is proceeding with its investigation and Gov. Rick Scott has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to join the probe. Better tardy than never. They just needed a little national encouragement.
But this case is bigger than Martin and Zimmerman. The “Stand Your Ground” law itself needs to be investigated, beginning with how much it may cause police and prosecutors to take their foot off the gas pedal on their road to justice.
1) Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old Miami student visiting Sanford, Fla., near Orlando, with his father when he was killed on Feb. 26. His father, who also lives in Miami, was visiting his girlfriend in Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated townhouse community.
2) Trayvon had made a short trip to a nearby 7-Eleven store to pick of a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea and was returning when he was stalked by George Zimmerman.
3) Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is of Peruvian descent, fatally shot unarmed Tayvon in chest.
4) Zimmerman was an unregistered neighborhood watch captain who was not supposed to carry a weapon while on patrol. Chris Tutko, director of Neighborhood Watch for the National Sheriffs’ Association, told the Orlando Sentinel that Zimmerman had broken a couple of cardinal rules. “If you see something suspicious, you report it, you step aside and you let law enforcement do their job,” Tutko said. “This guy went way beyond the call of duty. At the least, he’s overzealous.” Tutko also said volunteers should never carry lethal weapons. He said, “There’s no reason to carry a gun.”
5) Though Zimmerman acknowledged killing Trayvon, he was questioned and then released. Police did not follow basic guidelines of homicide investigations such as testing him for drugs and alcohol, though they performed the tests on Trayvon.
6) Trayvon was talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend shortly before his death and reported being followed by a strange man in a vehicle.
7) A police dispatcher specifically told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon, instructions he ignored. When Zimmerman confirmed he was following Trayvon, the dispatcher said, “OK, we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman continued anyway.
8) Benjamin Crump, the family’s lawyer, said that based on 911 tapes, Zimmerman harbored at least three stereotypes of Black males: “He said, No. 1, he looked suspicious. No. 2, he must be high. No. 3, he’s looking to break in someplace.”
9) Some said that Trayvon became a suspect because he wore a hooded sweatshirt, known as a “hoodie.” Some have even blamed Trayvon’s death on his clothing. On the March 23 edition of Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”, network contributor Geraldo Rivera said, “I am urging the parents of Black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” However, others, such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper, say they have frequently adorn hoodies and have never been viewed as suspected criminals. And no one dares suspect New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick or Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, both known for wearing hoodies, of being criminals. Some kooks posting on Fox News Network site were extremely crass. One wrote, “GOOD SHOT, ZIMMY. I’m just glad Zimmerman didn’t miss and hit an innocent bystander.”
10) Police say Zimmerman was not arrested because of Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, a measure that gives broad protection to any citizen acting in self-defense. However, Jeb Bush, who as governor of Florida signed the stand-your-ground bill into law, said the legislation does not cover the neighborhood watch captain who shot Trayvon Martin to death. “This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,” Bush said after an education panel discussion at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
11) At 9 years old, Trayvon saved his father’s life. In an interview with Roland Martin on “TV One”, the elder Martin said, “At the time, he was 9 years old. We had just came from the Little League football park. We fell asleep while the stove was on. A grease fire started. I went into the kitchen to try to put the grease fire out. The grease splattered all over my leg. My body went into shock and by me and him being in the house, I started calling out his name. He finally woke up and, at 9 years old, he pulled me from out of the kitchen, where the kitchen cabinets were on fire. He pulled me out of the kitchen onto the balcony. He actually went back into the house and got the cell phone and called 911.”
12) Trayvon’s parents still have nightmares about his death. His father, in an exclusive interview with NNPA publishers, said: “I can’t describe the feeling, I can’t describe what was going through my mind because I was actually staring at a photo of my pride and joy on the ground dead. I still see the photo now — his eyes weren’t closed all the way, his mouth wasn’t closed, it was the worst feeling of my life.” — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached via his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.