On the evening of February 26, while walking back to his father’s house in the gated “Retreat at Twin Lakes” community in Florida, carrying only an iced tea and a bag of Skittles for his little brother, Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, 28. Zimmerman, the neighborhood’s self-appointed watchman (not registered with the Neighborhood Watch), called 911 to report that a black male in his neighborhood looked “suspicious” and that Zimmerman was in pursuit. The 911 dispatcher directed Zimmerman to back off, but Zimmerman ignored the instructions and continued to follow Martin in his vehicle. At some point, Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and began chasing Martin on foot. Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with Martin, testified to police that after Martin told her that he was being followed, she advised him to run; Martin replied that he was pulling up his hoodie and said, “I’m not going to run. I’m just going to walk fast.” Martin’s girlfriend then overheard a man asking Martin what he was doing in the area, to which Martin asked why the man was following him. After Martin’s girlfriend heard a scuffle, Martin’s line dropped. Within five minutes, Martin was dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Homicide or Self Defense?
According to Zimmerman, Martin (140 pounds) approached Zimmerman (240 pounds), punched him in the nose, knocked him to the ground, and slammed Zimmerman’s head onto the sidewalk, leading Zimmerman to use his concealed firearm to kill Martin. A police officer took the statement from Zimmerman as having shot in self-defense; the officer also noted in his report that Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head. In late March, a grainy video from Zimmerman’s walk into the police station was released, casting doubts on his story, as there were no visible signs of injury to Zimmerman’s face or head. On April 2, a high-definition video indicated that Zimmerman may have sustained an injury to his head, but that too is debatable. Critics of the Sanford PD have pointed out that a narcotics investigator, not a homicide detective, was the first to approach Zimmerman; he is said to have “peppered Zimmerman with questions . . . rather than allow Zimmerman to tell his story,” a technique often used in leading witnesses through their stories. The Sanford PD also tested Martin’s body for drugs/alcohol (none were reported to have been found), but Zimmerman was not tested even though at least one law enforcement official stated that he was slurring his words and may have been intoxicated. One witness, a local teacher, reported to ABC News that after telling a responding police officer that she had heard Martin screaming for help, the police officer corrected her and informed her that it was Zimmerman she had heard.
Evidence and Aftermath
Seven 911 calls made by neighbors before, during, and after the shooting have been released since Martin’s killing. One recording is of a man saying, “Hurry, please. . . There’s someone screaming outside. There’s a gunshot. Hurry up. . . There’s someone screaming. I just heard a gunshot.” Another neighbor said, “There were gunshots right outside my house. There’s someone screaming. I just heard a guy shot. Hurry up; they are right outside my house.” Tom Owen, a forensic voice identification expert and chair emeritus for the American Board of Recorded Evidence, ran a voice ID analysis and, in findings released on March 31, determined “with reasonable scientific certainty that [the cries overheard in the 911 audio were] not Zimmerman.” Owen is confident that the analysis would be admissible in court, contradicting Zimmerman’s claim that he had shot Martin in self-defense.
A criminal case is yet to be filed against Zimmerman, however. On March 13, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who has since taken a temporary leave of absence, stated that Zimmerman had not been arrested or charged with a crime because there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. Zimmerman seeks immunity from criminal charges under the state’s Stand Your Ground law which permits lethal force to be used preemptively if one “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another . . .” Since the law’s passage in 2005, justifiable homicides have tripled in Florida; in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) argued for a reexamination of the law, citing a halt of police investigations into cases wherein the Stand Your Ground law. On March 14, the police ended their investigation into Martin’s death and remanded the case to the state’s attorney’s office (the prosecutor, Norman Wolfinger has since resigned from handling the case). When the Sanford PD concluded its investigation, Martin’s parents and several other individuals started an online petition (via change.org) seeking the arrest of Zimmerman, and within seven days, the petition had gained nearly 900,000 signatures, making it the second most active petition in the website’s history. Along with the Martin family and hundreds of thousands of supporters, the NAACP rallied to pressure the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved in the investigation; the DOJ launched its official investigation on March 19. President Barack Obama also weighed in on Martin’s killing, calling it a tragedy that requires “soul searching.” He added, “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”
Support for Zimmerman
Zimmerman’s PR campaign kicked off on March 15 when his father, Robert Zimmerman, released a statement that his son had been wrongly accused of being a racist because Zimmerman, who is of mixed white-Hispanic race, had grown up in a racially diverse family. In defense of Martin’s being shot dead in the street, conservative radio, television, and bloggers began their character smear of him, circulating rumors of vandalism and records of Martin’s ten-day suspension from school after he was found in possession of an empty marijuana baggie. On March 28, Zimmerman’s father again appeared on television to remind viewers that Martin was the aggressor and that Zimmerman was only defending himself while receiving a beating from Martin. The following day, Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., appeared on CNN to claim that his brother’s medical records would substantiate his claim of having been the one who was attacked and promised that the evidence would confirm that Zimmerman’s nose was broken during the incident as he had claimed.
Justice for Martin
Communities numbering in the dozens, hundreds, and thousands continue to march and demand “Justice for Trayvon” as their impatience for Zimmerman’s arrest grows. At a two-hour rally in Florida on March 31, Rev. Al Sharpton told the crowd of thousands, “We live in the middle of an American paradox. We can put a black man in the White House but we cannot walk a black child through a gated neighborhood. . . We will use our marching feet, civil disobedience, and every weapon in our non-violent arsenal until justice is served.” Some high-profile personalities from the black community have overstepped boundaries in their calls for justice. Film director Spike Lee had to apologize after retweeting a Twitter message sharing what was purported to be Zimmerman’s home address (it was actually the address of an older couple in Florida). On March 24, members from the New Black Panther Party stoked the fires by offering a $10,000 bounty for anyone who could capture George Zimmerman (who has since gone into hiding). Nearly without exception, the marchers themselves have been peaceful, marching with signs, holding vigils, singing and chanting. As more time passes and Martin’s killer remains free without charges, the numbers in the streets grow, and the marchers vow to keep the pressure for Martin’s killer on as they promise, “No Justice? No Peace.”
Note from the writer: Visit http://thelcbridge.com/?p=2341 for a powerful hip-hop song/video tribute for Trayvon Martin.