**SEE UPDATES BELOW THE STORY
I’ve been reading about this story for days now, horrified and outraged that the killer was not even taken into custody for questioning. George Zimmerman claims he only shot this 17-year-old kid in self-defense. For some reason the Stand Your Ground law in Florida is being used to justify this killing, based solely on Zimmerman’s word. Police claim they don’t have enough evidence to prove otherwise. After hearing several 911 calls and an account of the phone call Trayvon was engaged in just before the incident, I believe there is plenty of just cause to question Zimmerman further. A young man who walked to the nearby Seven-Eleven during half-time of an NBA ballgame never made it home. Instead, he ended up face-down in the grass, with a fatal gunshot wound to his chest.
Young Trayvon Martin, who has never been in trouble with the law and by all accounts from friends, family members and teachers was a good kid, walked to the store for some Skittles for his little brother and an iced tea for himself. On his way back home, Zimmerman spots him and begins to tail him while in his car. At some point he decides to call 911 to report a suspicious character in the neighborhood. “This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something,” stated Zimmerman. We know that Martin had his hood on. Is this what made him suspicious to Zimmerman? The audio of the 911 call gives a hint of what may have motivated Zimmerman to believe that Trayvon was up to no good. A lot of people are saying this was a case of racism. Who knows at this point, but listen closely to what Zimmerman whispers at the 2:20-2:23 mark. I won’t say what I thought I heard. Please let me know what you think. Listen as the dispatcher advises Zimerman NOT TO PURSUE the suspect.
Trayvon was on the phone with a friend, who stated that he became alarmed because a man was watching and following him.
“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.”
“Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn’t answer the phone.”
Soon 911 dispatch receives a flood of frantic calls, reporting two men scuffling, screams for help, and a gunshot. Police arrive too late, finding Trayvon Martin dead on the ground only yards from his own back door. Zimmerman states that he shot in self-defense. Police accept his version of events, going so far as to correct a witness who stated that she heard the young boy calling for help. Police let her know that it was Zimmerman calling for help, though there is no possible way that they could know that. Before the facts about the victim or Zimmerman were known, police made assumptions about what they thought occurred, and acted accordingly. Too bad none of the assumed facts were accurate.
I would like to pause here and ask you to imagine your own child or yourself as a child in a similar scenario. The child spots a vehicle with an unknown man driving along slowly, observing him. The child feels uneasy, has an bad feeling that this person is stalking him. What would you want your child to do at this point? The child begins to walk faster, hoping it’s all in his head. But the car continues to follow him. The child decides to run the short distance to safety-to his home. The man exits his car and gives chase, perhaps with his weapon already drawn. Imagine it. The Stand Your Ground law would appear to be on the side of Trayvon Martin in this case, as clearly Zimmerman is the aggressor and the pursuer who had JUST BEEN ADVISED not to follow Martin. Consider also that Zimmerman was easily 100 pounds heavier, armed, and eager for a confrontation. As he had stated in his 911 call, “These asshole always get away.” He wasn’t going to let that happen again.
George Zimmerman took his role as captain of the Neighborhood Watch quite seriously. He reportedly helped to thwart other crimes and kept a close eye on everything. Some neighbors felt a bit unnerved by his zeal, but others appreciated that he was keeping an eye on things. The neighborhood watch manual stated:
‘It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers, and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles.
‘They should also be cautioned to alert police or deputies when encountering strange activity. Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous.”
At a neighborhood community watch meeting, Zimmerman spoke with police volunteer program coordinator Wendy Dorival, who offered guidelines on what to do when a suspicious person is observed:
“I said, ‘If it’s someone you don’t recognize, call us. We’ll figure it out,’ ” Dorival said. “‘Observe from a safe location.’ There’s even a slide about not being vigilante police. I don’t know how many more times I can repeat it.”
Events become chaotic after the point that Zimmerman exits his vehicle and gives chase. The young man bearing only Skittles, Arizona Tea and his cellphone must surely have been fearful and confused. When police arrived at the scene, Zimmerman had blood on the back of his head and on his face from an altercation with Trayvon. I try to imagine what happened: Trayvon was running away. Zimmerman caught up to him and attempted to detain him. Trayvon fought back, perhaps punching him or pushing him down.
A young boy out walking his dog observed part of the altercation. Austin McLendon stated that he heard screams, which ended as soon as a gun was fired. This poor 13-year-old witness wonders if he could have prevented the shooting and feels that Martin was a victim of a stereotype. He is haunted by the events of that day, and thinks that it could have easily been him:
911 calls capture the sounds of screaming and a gunshot. One of the callers, Mary Cutcher was first to witness the dead boy and Zimmerman:
“This was not self-defense,” Cutcher said. “We heard no fighting, no wrestling, no punching. We heard a boy crying. As soon as the shot went off, it stopped, which tells me it was the child crying. If it had been Zimmerman crying, it wouldn’t have stopped. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting.”
She and her friend say they heard the sounds from a few steps away, where they were inside beside an open window. Seconds later, they dashed out to find a boy face down on the ground and a man standing over him, a foot on each side of the body on the ground, with his hands pinning the shooting victim down.
“I asked him, ‘What’s happening here? What’s going on?’ ” said Cutcher’s friend, Selma Mora Lamilla. “The third time, I was indignant, and he said, ‘just call the police.’ Then I saw him with his hands over his head in the universal sign of: ‘Oh man, I messed up.’ ”
The women, who were the first on the scene, said they saw Zimmerman pacing back and forth.
“I know what I heard. I heard a cry and a shot,” Mora said. “If there was a fight, it did not happen here where the boy was shot. I would have heard it, as this all happened right outside my open window.”
Several witnesses stated that they believed that it was a young person calling for help, though it is alleged that an officer attempted to correct a witness who stated this, saying instead that it was Zimmerman who was calling for help. Police accepted Zimmerman’s version of events and did not take him into custody for questioning. Neither was he tested for drugs or alcohol, as is customary in cases of homicide. Even after public outcry and review of the 911 tapes, which at least brings up several inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s story, police failed to take further action. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee says that there is not enough evidence to detain Zimmerman:
“In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense,” Lee said. “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him.” “We are taking a beating over this,” said Lee, who defends the investigation. “This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too.”
One might wonder what Trayvon would have done differently. Should he have recognized that he was a suspicious-looking character that shouldn’t be out walking the streets? Should he have NOT been spooked by a stranger tailing him in a car, then chasing him on foot? Should he have allowed this stranger to detain him without any reason whatsoever? I have always taught my kids to run, scream, call for help if a stranger accosts or touches them. Fight back, I would say. Now I wonder what the hell I should tell them.
The Sanford Police Department has a record of questionable practices, which makes this case even more interesting and disturbing. Trayvon Martin’s father stated that the police told him that Zimmerman was a criminal-justice major with a “squeaky clean” record, though public records reveal that he had assaulted a police officer in the past. Charges were later dropped. Records also reveal that Zimmerman had made at least 46 calls to 911 in the past year. Many fear that this is a case of racism, though Zimmerman’s father states that he is Hispanic, and therefore incapable of being racist. Public outcry and media attention has finally prompted state agencies, the FBI and the Justice Department to open investigations into the case. Trayvon’s family wants the case investigated impartially and for a judge and jury to decide the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman.
Calls to 911 were recently released, which illustrate the chaos and fear of witnesses to the events. Audio of 911 calls:
The Stand Your Ground laws in Florida complicates this case, though I fail to see that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor in this case:
The “Stand Your Ground” law’s legislative sponsor, Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, said it wasn’t written to give people the power to pursue and confront others.
“That’s not what this legislation does,” said Baxley. “Unfortunately, every time there is an unfortunate incident involving a firearm, they think it’s about this law, and it’s not.”
Other officials seem to agree that Zimmerman should not be shielded from prosecution by this law.
***Edited to add the pertinent portion of Florida Statutes regarding self-defense under the “Stand Your Ground” extension of the Castle Doctrine:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
*****(Imagine that the roles were reversed and Zimmerman was somehow killed in this sequence of events. Would Trayvon Martin’s declaration of self-defense been so readily accepted? Um, I kinda doubt it.)*****
Petitions may not help a lot as far as prosecution of Zimmerman, but it can help raise awareness and keep the spotlight on the injustice of this horrible tragedy. Visit Change.org if you would like to add your name to list of people who feel that there should be more done to investigate the murder of a young man who did not deserve such a violent, early death at the hands of a vigilante.
*****UPDATED, 4/12/2012: George Zimmerman has finally been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. It is a shame that it took this long, but at least FINALLY the cogs of justice are turning. A summary of the charges in the affadavit filed by state attorney Angela Corey outlining the justification for probable cause in the arrest of Zimmerman may be found here. As of now Zimmerman has been denied bond and will remain in jail. He may feel safer there, as his lawyers have stated that he doesn’t feel he can even go to the store without fear of attack. They also report that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a statement unverified by a professional. I am quite sure that he is feeling a certain amount of fear and distress, though this cannot be a defense of his actions. This tragic and senseless act of violence could have been avoided if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and waited for the authorities. Then he would still be free to patrol his neighborhood and young Trayvon Martin would still be alive.