Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Terrifying Execution of Trayvon Martin—The Emmett Till Case for a New Century

Trayvon Martin was a slender kid who looked younger than his 17 years.  On February 26 he was shot to death walking home on a rainy night from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida, an Orlando suburb.  At the time he was armed with a can of tea and a bag of Skittles.   The man who shot him to death at short as he screamed for help was a 28 year old virtually self-appointed guardian of the comfortable middle class gated sub-division where the boy was visiting with his father.  After a cursory investigation local police released George Zimmerman at the scene and announced that they had no reason to charge him.


Did I mention that Trayvon, a happy kid and good student who had never been in trouble with the law, was Black and  Zimmerman, always described as the volunteer captain of a citizen’s watchof course was White?


The case generated local headlines, and then went national as days passed and it became apparent, that no action would be taken against Zimmerman.  Over the past weeks it has gone viral in the blog-o-sphere and on the social network forums of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.


Details of what happened that night have slowly emerged.  And it looks more and more like Zimmerman simply executed the boy while local police tried to stifle or ignore eyewitness testimony.  


We now know that Zimmerman spotted Trayvon walking through the neighborhood and called 911 to report a “suspicious person”  walking in the rain and “looking around… he’s on drugs or something.”  He told the dispatcher the pedestrian was acting in a threatening manner. “These a--holes always get away.”  


Zimmerman was in his SUV and actively following Trayvon.  The dispatcher explicitly told the caller, “You don’t have to do that.”  Zimmerman ignored the advice.


At some point Zimmerman got out of his car and began to pursue Trayvon on foot.  The frightened by tried to run for home.  As Zimmerman closed in Trayvon began screaming for help.  Several 911 calls from neighbors, released by police only when the victim’s family threatened to sue, catch the boy’s screams for help before a single gunshot silences him.


Eye witnesses who tried to tell police what happened were ignored on the scene and police refused for days to do follow-up interviews with them.  One woman said that when she told an officer that the boy was crying for help, she was interrupted and told that no, it was Zimmerman who called for help.  The 911 tapes confirm that it was indeed Trayvon.


Seminole County authorities only reluctantly open an investigation of the shooting under intense pressure.  Even Florida Governor Rick Scott, a pro-gun law and order Republican was forced to ask his state Justice Department to intercede.


But many believe that no matter what the evidence, Zimmerman will not be charged in Florida because of the state’s Self Defense LawIn 2005 he state of Florida enacted one of the nation’s strongest so-called “stand your ground” laws. A person in Florida is justified in using deadly force against another 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.”


Supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun lobbies the law does not require a reasonable attempt to retreat from danger.  In fact it encourages aggressive use of force.  And the only standard is the highly subjective belief of the shooter that he was in danger.  That danger does not even have to be evident to witnesses as long as the shooter maintains he felt that.


It is a hairy-chested wet dream of heroic fantasy law.  No one doubts that in Florida before a jury that will carefully screen out most if not all Blacks a sharp defense attorney appealing to those sentiments will portray Trayvon as the menacing black male society has been trained to fear.  His can of tea will probably be described as a weapon.  Black boy.  White hero.  Zimmerman would walk.


Yesterday under pressure the United States Justice Department opened up its own investigation of the case to determine if it falls under Federal Hate Crime statutes.  They will also look into the shoddy investigation of local authorities.


Look for a long investigation.  Even if it comes to trial, cases like this are difficult.  But Federal prosecution may be the only avenue for justice for Trayvon’s family.


Outrage about the shooting only grows.  It needs to be sustained.  This is the Emmett Till case of our time.  Till was the 13 year old Black Chicago boy brutally lynched in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman.  The case became a national cause celeb and eventually helped largely end lynching in the South.  Perhaps Trayvon’s death can help stop new lynching by hand gun legalized in statues like Florida’s.


But it is cold comfort.  Till’s known murders and many of their suspected accomplices were never punished for their crime and lived out their lives unmolested.


1 comment:

  1. I am told by a lawyer, who is a member of NRA, that the self defense law in this case is no defense.

    Zimmerman had been told by the police dispatcher, which is on tape, to not pursue. He pursued and exited his car.

    Since the first of the year there were multiple calls by Zimmerman to 911 over suspicious people that came to naught.

    I have to wonder what relationship Zimmerman has to officials of the town