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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Yes, It's About Race...and Stupidity

On Sunday, February 26, seventeen year-old Trayvon Martin was killed, ostensibly for being young and male, and possibly because he was black. 

Racism is the easy answer in this case, but it wasn't just racism that killed Trayvon, it was a combustible mix of over-zealousness and systemic failure that killed Trayvon Martin. We shouldn't diminish the role racism may have played here, but we do our society a disservice if we ignore the entire realm of possibilities in this case.

Zimmerman has been allowed to walk because of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law which allows the use of deadly force when a person feels their life is in danger. Prima fascia, the law is sound, but if it simply gives Florida police the authority to close a case without any investigation because they agree on the facts as provided by the survivor, the citizens of Florida need to be concerned about the kind of State they live in.

Here are the facts:
  • The shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman was a Neighborhood Watch volunteer with a carry permit
  • Zimmerman was not tested for drugs or alcohol (as is common in most homicide cases) and after questioning (by a narcotics detective, not a homicide detective) Zimmerman was allowed to leave police headquarters wearing the clothes he wore during the shooting -- thus eliminating the opportunity for any future examination for evidence of Zimmerman's clothes
  • Zimmerman outweighed Martin by approximately 80 pounds
  • The Sanford police dispatcher specifically told Zimmerman that it was not necessary for him to follow Martin
  • Zimmerman called Sanford, FL, police 46 times in 15 months to report suspicious persons or activities
  • Zimmerman applied for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office academy in 2008. The reason he was not accepted has not been made public
  • In 2005, Zimmerman was arrested for battery on a police officer after interfering in the arrest a friend of Zimmerman's for serving alcohol to a minor. Zimmerman entered a pre-trial intervention program and the arrest was subsequently expunged from his record
  • A month later, Zimmerman was charged for domestic violence, but after an injunction against both parties that arrest was also expunged. The female involved in the dispute has refused to comment on the case
  • In 2004, Zimmerman called police as he followed a man he claimed had spit at him during a traffic incident
  • In 2003, Zimmerman chased a 24-year-old man he witnessed shoplifting a television from a store in Lake Mary, FL, until police arrived on scene
  • Trayvon Martin was carrying a bag of candy, a can of iced tea, and a cell phone
  • Zimmerman was said to have had a bloody nose and some cuts on the back of his head, but did not require any medical attention. I have a hard time agreeing that a fist fight or struggle is cause for the use of deadly force. If so, then we must all be required to carry firearms. 
  • If Martin was not physically attacking Zimmerman why didn't Zimmerman simply walk away,  eliminating any threat to Zimmerman Martin may have posed?
  • According to a friend of Trayvon who was speaking to him on the phone at the time, Martin was concerned because he was being followed by Zimmerman and he did not know why
There is no denying that in many areas of the country, young black men are considered suspicious, even if they are only eating Skittles while talking to a girl on their cell phone. There are fools and miscreants everywhere who will judge people on the color of their skin and no amount of governmental intereference is going to change that. Race baiters and dividers only serve to deepen the divide, but in this case concern over the obvious racial overtones is not only called for, it's necessary. My concern is not Zimmerman's racism, but rather the Sanford Police Department's. An individual who is a racist is a scourge on society, an institution that is racist is a threat to society's very existence. Is it possible that the Sanford Police Department closed the case so rapidly because they agreed with Zimmerman's assessment that Trayvon Martin was a threat simply because he was wearing a hoodie and walking down a street Zimmerman felt he shouldn't be on? Would they have reacted similarly if Trayvon was white? The actions of the Sanford Police Department make these questions necessary.

But, racism is only one part of the equation. It should be noted that Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime, and any objective statements by me are suppositions and generalizations, but there are some troubling facts and questions that Sanford authorities were apparently willing to overlook.

Here are the questions:
  • Why did the Homeowner's Association allow Zimmerman to carry a concealed weapon while on "patrol?"
  • Was Zimmerman a frustrated police officer, obsessed with law enforcement, who felt entitled to take the law into his own hands?
  • Was he actually physically threatened by a teenager who weighed 80 pounds less than he did and who was only carrying food and a cell phone?
  • If he was only verbally threatened why is deadly force an acceptable outcome?
  • If Zimmerman felt his life was in danger and there was indeed a physical altercation, why did Zimmerman exhibit no marks or injuries?
  • Why did Zimmerman ignore the dispatcher's admonishment that "we don't need you to do that" in reference to Zimmerman following Martin?
  • Who was yelling "Help Me!" in the background of various 911 calls? Zimmerman claims it was him and Martin's family claims it was Trayvon.  
  • Why were Sanford Police so quick to accept Zimmerman's accounting of an incident that resulted in the death of another person, without even the facade of a proper investigation?
  • Does Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law make it possible to kill someone without fear of prosecution as long as you have a story that is acceptable to local police?
If the Sanford Police were left to answer these questions, we'd would never have gotten the chance to find the answers. Apparently, after the national outcry, the Seminole County D.A.'s office is going to convene a Grand Jury next month to take a look at the case. Hopefully, Mr. Zimmerman doesn't encounter any suspicious kids in the meantime.

This entire story is an outrage, and every one of us, regardless of where we stand on issues of politics, should be raising our voices in support of Trayvon Martin. I for one don't want our country to become a place where kids can get shot for walking down the street by anyone, for any reason, and the "authorities" don't put the effort in to understand if the shooting was in fact justified. Maybe Trayvon Martin was endangering the life of George Zimmerman, but I am unwilling to accept that conclusion without proper investigation.

Whether Zimmerman exclaimed "f****** punks" or "f****** coons" is irrelevant. A 17-year-old kid is dead and as far as the local authorities were concerned, his death was justified even though no detailed investigation took place. The Sanford Police should not be allowed to be judge and jury. No police officer -- or neighborhood vigilante -- should ever be allowed to be judge and jury.

Racism or not, stupidity or not, over-zealousness or not, a 28-year-old man acting as a neighborhood vigilante shot and killed a 17-year-old simply because he felt the 17-year-old seemed suspicious. Regardless on your views of liberty and freedom, this cannot be acceptable in any society.

Trayvon Martin was killed because of a volatile mixture of legislative indifference possibly mixed in with racial stupidity and the deadly ambitions of a local citizen. His killing was given the OK as a result of police malfeasance.

This cannot stand.

Additional sources for information contained in this story: Boston Herald, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times

1 comment:

The Old School Journal™ said...

Very well reasoned and stated article. Thank you for sharing.