On Feb. 26, a black teenager named Trayvon Martin was walking through a gated community in Sanford, Florida, when 28-year-old neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman called the police to report him as a suspicious person. Zimmerman confronted Martin, despite being directed by police to stop following the teenager.
This morning, in a story about Florida college students protesting the fact that Zimmerman has still not been arrested, the Orlando Sentinel reported what happened next:
Zimmerman then stepped out of his SUV, while still on the phone with police, and followed the teenager on foot. The phone call ended, but the two somehow came face to face on a sidewalk; there was a fight, and [17-year-old] Trayvon wound up dead on the ground, a single gunshot to the chest. When police arrived, they found Zimmerman standing near him, blood coming from injuries to his nose and the back of his head, according to a police report. The back of his shirt also was wet and had grass clippings on it. A 911 caller described the fight as two people wrestling. A 13-year-old boy who witnessed part of the fight said he saw Zimmerman on the ground and heard someone calling for help. Zimmerman told police that was him. Lawyers for Trayvon’s family say it was the high school junior.
What has many people outraged is not only the volunteer crime fighter’s deadly actions, but also the Florida law that has thus far given him legal cover.
In 2005, Florida passed “one of the nation’s strongest so-called ‘stand your ground’ self-defense laws,” according to CBS News. The law allows a person to use 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.”
Martin didn’t have to actually pose a threat to Zimmerman. Zimmerman just had to feel threatened by the teenager who had gone out to buy some Skittles and an ice tea, according to news reports.
At a press conference on Friday, the victim’s father, Tracy Martin, said Zimmerman could not have acted in self defense. “What was [Trayvon] gonna do, attack him with a bag of Skittles?” he asked. This morning on The Today Show, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Zimmerman was “reacting to” the color of her son’s skin. “He committed no crime. My son wasn’t doing anything but walking on the sidewalk, and I just don’t understand why this situation got out of control,’’ she said.
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Austin McLendon “hasn’t been the same” since he heard the altercation that led to Martin’s death, The Huffington Post reported. McLendon “was standing less than 20 yards away from Martin when he was shot,” but “didn’t see much that night.” His mother told The Huffington Post that her son is upset about reports that said “a 13-year-old witness has claimed Zimmerman, and not Martin, was screaming for help” when both she and her son “are adamant that the teen could not see who was screaming.”
Trayvon’s parents have organized a petition at Change.org asking Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney to investigate Tayvon’s “murder” and to prosecute Zimmerman for it. The petition describes their son as a hero, who, at nine years old, pulled his father from a burning kitchen. The grieving parents have also asked the FBI to investigate, ABC News reported.
Two other rallies are planned for this week, the Orlando Sentinel reported, and both the FBI and the U.S. Justice department have gotten involved, even as the Sanford police chief continues to defend his department’s investigation.
Zimmerman targeted ”young black men who appeared to be outsiders,” The Miami Herald reported. He also “called police 46 times since Jan. 1, 2011 to report disturbances, break-ins, windows left open and other incidents” and was known to be strict, according to one teenager.
In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, however, Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, said his son is not a racist, but is Hispanic and grew up in a multi-racial family. “He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever …,” the letter reportedly said. “The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth.”
At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been following the case closely, and his colleague James Fallows commended him for his efforts, noting though that the story isn’t just a “black story” about race relations. “It’s about self-government, rule of law, equality before the law, accountability of power, and every other value that we contend is integral to the American ideal.” Thus one might wonder why, if Think Progress is correct, Fox News has only broadcast one story about the case, while CNN has broadcast 41 and MSNBC has broadcast 13. A site search of Trayvon Martin’s name at National Review also came up empty, as did one at The Weekly Standard. Don’t conservatives care about these issues?
What Do you think?
Is the Trayvon Martin case about more than racial profiling?