Controversial death revives issue of race, but don’t jump to judgements of suspect
Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 20:04
I waited as long as I possibly could to write this piece, because it seems almost every minute we hear some new piece of information about the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. On Feb. 26 in the gated community of The Retreat At Twin Lakes in Sanford, Martin was shot and killed by the sole neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.
Unless you have no television, no access to newspapers or the Internet, or absolutely no social media network contacts, you have heard many things about this sad case. Seventeen-year-old Martin leaves his house to head to a local 7-Eleven just before 7 p.m. to buy some Skittles and a tea. Shortly after 7 p.m., Zimmerman calls the Sanford police department number to report that Martin is looking suspicious.
The tapes that were released by the police department let us hear the dispatcher asking Zimmerman to not follow Martin, as well as contain some of the most damning evidence against Zimmerman that this “self defense” shooting may have actually been murder. Phrases like “this guy looks like he is up to no good” and “these assholes always get away,” lead many of us to believe that Zimmerman was stereotyping Martin from the beginning.
At about 2 minutes, 20 seconds into the Zimmerman call to police, you can hear that he has left his vehicle and started to follow Martin.
If you listen closely, you can hear Zimmerman utter a derogatory, racist comment even though the actual transcript says it was unintelligible, and there is question over whether the word he used was racist or a few other words.
Many people called 9-1-1 in the time around the shooting to tell police that two men were fighting. In one call you can hear cries for help and the gunshot that took Martin’s life. Out of the seven calls that have been released in this case, no one went outside to answer the calls for help. One caller even said she didn’t want to be any kind of witness. Zimmerman went on to tell police that it was his cries that went unanswered, but there is very little to back his story up.
According to Zimmerman, after returning to his car, as police dispatchers instructed, Martin approached and asked why he was following him. That’s when the pair allegedly started scuffling and the facts about the case become unclear.
Zimmerman has said Martin started beating his head against the ground so he fought back and shot the teen. According to the funeral director who prepared the body of the slain teen, Martin had not been in a fight. Police reports say that Zimmerman was treated and released by paramedics at the scene before being taken downtown for questioning. Martin was transported to the morgue, where he was tagged as John Doe.
It was the next day when Martin’s father contacted missing persons before he knew his son had been killed. Zimmerman was released from jail because the district attorney said there was insufficient evidence, despite the lead investigator’s recommendation to arrest the 28-year-old. Zimmerman was not tested for drugs or alcohol; Martin was.
In the days that have followed this tragic event, conversations in Sanford, as well as Martin’s Miami neighborhood, have become heated. The outcry over the tapes and the fact that Zimmerman wasn’t arrested after what appears to many as a racially-motivated killing have the nation refocusing on race relations.
Zimmerman, who is a bi-racial man (Peruvian mother and white father; identified as Hispanic on legal documents), has been portrayed in the media as someone who hates African Americans. Neighbors inside the gated community said he had approached them warning they should be on the lookout for young black men who didn’t seen to belong.
Previously arrested for assault, Zimmerman had a gun license and had recently completed some criminal justice courses at the local community college. He was an insurance underwriter. Martin has been portrayed as a wonderful young man who did OK in school and always had a positive outlook. He was well-liked by school administration and had a girlfriend.
However, it didn’t take long for other views of both to come to light. Photographs shown of Zimmerman wearing a suit and Martin wearing his pants low showing two middle fingers have tried to give us all doubt. Maybe Zimmerman was attacked.
Allegations that Martin was in Sanford because he had been suspended from school for drugs and even that he had some paraphernalia on him the night he died has sought to change the public vision of the victim, as if to make it his fault that he was shot.
There have been numerous rallies and calls to action by Martin’s family and friends. There have been high school walk-outs in support of the Martins. There have been marches to let people know that wearing a hoodie, as Martin was that night, doesn’t make people a “hood.” There have been calls to change the “Stand Your Ground” law that Zimmerman seems to be invoking to remain free. There have been shouts to relieve the police chief that let Zimmerman go.
But most loudly we have heard the rally cry that there is still a racial problem in America in 2012. Zimmerman assumed that a young black man walking through a gated community on a rainy night wearing a hooded jacket has to be a thief, and this exemplifies the problem.
Geraldo Rivera said that what Martin wore alone is what got him killed, although Rivera apologized. I don’t think that’s right. Zimmerman didn’t kill Martin because he had on a hoodie — it seems to me it was simply because it was a black kid in a seemingly good neighborhood.