Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Suspect Was Black and Looked Suspicious

Trayvon Martin was 17. On February 26, he walked to the store and then headed back home with his Skittles and a can of ice tea. George Zimmerman, captain of the neighborhood watch,(an unofficial group as it was not properly registered), followed Martin, declaring to the 911 operator, "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something."

Zimmerman never said what there was about Trayvon Martin that made him deem Trayvon to look suspicious. The operator told Zimmerman that there was no need for him to continue to follow Martin as law enforcement was being dispatched to check out the suspicious looking person. 

We know that Trayvon was aware of Zimmerman following him because he told a female friend with whom e was chatting on the phone that there was a guy following him. At some point, Zimmerman and Martin interacted. Trayvon Martin, 6' 4" tall and 140 pounds, died from a gunshot wound inflicted by Zimmerman,who said that he killed Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman outweighed Trayvon by at least 80 pounds and Trayvon Martin was unarmed. 

The investigating police officer said that Zimmerman had a bloody nose. Zimmerman was treated at the scene but said that he didn't need to go to a hospital. Zimmerman was allowed to go home. So far, there has been no arrest.

I don't know that Zimmerman is guilty of murder but neither do I know that he is not. Local law enforcement did not treat the site of Trayvon's death as a crime scene and didn't conduct the usual forensic tests that help determine if a crime has taken place. The Sanford police chief said that Zimmerman had the right to defend himself under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. The section upon which Zimmerman's claim of self-defense apparently relies is subsection (3):
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.
As many Americans clamor for Zimmerman's arrest, an effort to paint Trayvon as a juvenile delinquent has arisen among Zimmerman's supporters. No matter what offenses are attributed to Trayvon Martin, none of them are relevant to the events that resulted in his death. This type of character assassination of the victim reminds me of the efforts often made to discredit rape victims by insisting that it was the victim's clothing or behavior that made her a target of the rapist. It doesn't matter what Trayvon wore or his school suspensions. It wouldn't matter if he was a gangsta selling pot. The issue is did Zimmerman have a reasonable fear for his life that justified his taking of Trayvon's life?

To answer that question, a jury needs to examine evidence of all of the events of that evening. Was Zimmerman justified in following Trayvon? Who initiated the confrontation? What about Trayvon's state of mind? He realized that he was being followed, he told his girlfriend that there was someone following him. Would it be reasonable for Trayvon to fear for his own safety? Did he not have a right to defend himself based on a reasonable fear that the stranger who approached him meant to do him bodily harm? Would there have been any type of altercation if Zimmerman had not continued to follow Trayvon after the 911 operator expressly advised him not to do so?

Are we to accept that Florida's Stand Your Ground law only applied to Zimmerman, that only he was allowed to act based on a reasonable fear of imminent death or bodily harm? Martin was approached by a stranger who was following him and that stranger had a gun. Isn't it reasonable that Martin would defend himself and try to take the gun? If this did indeed occur, then it was Martin who was threatened and who was fighting for his life. Martin didn't bring the gun to the fight. Seems plausible that Trayvon Martin was perfectly justified in attempting to disarm Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was not a law enforcement officer. Martin had no reason to follow any command that Zimmerman gave him. According to Zimmerman's own account, he must have drawn his gun at some point, otherwise how did Martin know that he had a gun and attempt to take it? It is a valid argument that Martin was the one with a reasonable fear that his life was in danger and any damage that he did to Zimmerman was in self-defense.

I cannot declare Zimmerman guilty or not guilty, that is a task for a jury. However, I do know that it is unacceptable that black men are viewed as suspicious and a threat simply for walking through a neighborhood wearing a hoodie. Black parents should not have to warn their children not to wear certain clothing and to be careful when walking on a public street not to frighten white people with their very presence. When I was a child, my mother taught us rules. We knew not to try and sit down at the lunch counter at Woolworths or Roses. We knew better than to look a white person directly in the eye and to always step aside if a white person wanted to use the sidewalk even if it meant stepping into the rain filled gutter next to the curb. Any black person over the age of 50 who grew up in the south is likely to have had similar experiences. 

President Obama said that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. Newt Gingrich, raised in the south, went stupid and declared that the President's observation was racist. Gingrich is a fool who intentionally pretends to have forgotten the past. If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon. What frightens and angers me is that to people like George Zimmerman, my son would also look suspicious and deserving of killing. I have no doubt that was the point of the president's observation.


Miss Ginger Grant said...

I have absolutely no confidence in the State of Florida to ensure that there will be a fair trial and true justice. Call me jaded, but Florida does not have much of a track record in my mind in seeing people like Zimmerman brought to justice. Brings to mind the movie "My Cousin Vinnie", only in this case, it's not funny.

Jono said...

Mr. Zimmerman may have thought that bag of Skittles was a gun. After all, some people, mostly black males, can magically turn any inanimate object in their hand into a gun.

Martin Flores said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Big Mark 243 said...

In a bit of irony, it could be that the 'stand your ground' 'law' as it were, could have applied... in Trayvon's behalf... as far as 'knowing the rules', there is a reason that '8 Mile' was used by Eminem for the title of his movie... the mid 80's were one that the 'sundown rules' were still applicable in the inner ring suburbs of Detroit... my Mom had to tell me what to and not to do when we were in certain areas...

mrs.missalaineus said...

trayvon could of been any of the 130 students i see every day, could of been any of the kids i have ever taught, could of been any of the kids i will teach in the future. he is all of us.


Lisa :-] said...

We don't know--and probably never will know--exactly what happened that night between Trayvon and Zimmerman. Only the two of them were present, and one of them is dead...so the story will always be more weighted toward the viewpoint of the "survivor."

But I DO know that if the races were reversed--if the shooter was black and the dead man was white--the shooter would have been clapped in jail so fast our heads would spin. And no one would have tried to paint a dead white boy as having somehow invited or deserved being shot by a black man.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Tragic event caused by an overzealous neighborhood watch so full of himself that he was judge, jury, and executioner.

Nance said...

The relationship between Zimmerman and the police department--that's where my mind keeps going. Has Zimmerman been a useful informant in the past? Has he been an undercover operative for the department? What on earth explains the seemingly protective role law enforcement seems to have taken toward Zimmerman?

I've appreciated Rev. Al Sharpton's work to keep this case in the spotlight.

alphawoman said...

This story makes my stomach turn over. I think if Martin had been white he would not have been followed. Period.