February 26th in Sanford, Florida, an unarmed 17-year-old headed home from a nearby 7-Eleven where he bought Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea. He was confronted and shot by 28-year-old Latino and self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. When Zimmerman saw the young black male walking down the street, he followed him in his car before making a non-emergency call to 911. He told the 911 dispatcher, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something…He’s just staring, looking at all the houses.” Being followed apparently drew the young male’s attention. After Zimmerman gave the dispatcher his location, then said, “Shit he’s running,” and allegedly took off after Martin on foot despite the dispatcher warning him not to do so. According to other 911 calls, Zimmerman wrestled the 6’3” teen to the ground, there were shouts for help, then a shot rang out. Sober, unarmed Trayvon Martin was dead.
911 was flooded with calls from witnesses who heard gunshots or saw the attack. One 911 caller described the situation with much confusion: “Why would this man just shoot him?” Public pressure on the city of Sanford led to the release of the 911 audio recordings, which we need to advise you can be quite disturbing to hear.
So what action has been taken to address Zimmerman’s vigilante attack? None. Zimmerman claims his actions were in self-defense and has not been charged of a crime. He was not tested for drugs or alcohol on the evening of the shooting. Just what criminal activity he suspected of the young man is a total mystery. The Nation likely said it best, “the assumption is that the natural state of black men is armed and dangerous” and furthermore it seems “The crime of killing a black person still is not greater than the crime of being black.”
Obviously often on-duty, police records show Zimmerman had called 911 a total of 46 times from January 1 to the day he shot Martin. Originally wanting to be a police officer himself, Zimmerman has a license to carry a gun in the state of Florida. In fact, police told Martin’s father that they hadn’t pressed charges because Zimmerman had a “squeaky clean” record. Self-defense laws are also backed up by broad “stand your ground” law in Florida which allows one to use deadly force against a threat without an attempt to back down, which in more stringent states is “a duty to retreat” before resorting to violence.
The Martin family attorney has written Attorney General Eric Holder. ABC reported an FBI spokesperson commented, “We are aware of the incident, we have been in contact with local authorities and are monitoring the matter.” If the Florida state attorney’s office fails to file charges against Zimmerman, federal authorities could file any number of charges, including that of hate crime. To add insult to injury, some argue that Zimmerman could not have been racially profiling members of his neighborhood because he himself is a minority. Even worse is a statement released by Zimmerman’s father mentioning that his son has many “black family members and friends.” Perhaps that was Martin’s offense, not being one of them.
Image Source: Mother Jones, courtesy of the Martin Family.