Who Watches the Watchmen?
If you haven’t heard the story of what happened to Trayvon Martin, I would recommend you check it out immediately. For the quick version, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black kid from Miami, was staying with his father and his father’s girlfriend for a while in Orlando during All-Star weekend. During half time of the All Star Game, he left to go to the gas station to buy Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea for his younger brother. On the way back from the station, he was spotted by the (white) captain of the Neighborhood Watch, George Zimmerman, who promptly reported the teen to 911 dispatchers as “suspicious.” The police asserted that they would send a squad car to handle it and explicitly told Zimmerman to not do anything. What followed hasn’t yet been released to the public, but it ended with Trayvon Martin being shot and killed by Zimmerman, who has yet to be arrested (and who local authorities see no reason to arrest) because there is no evidence to contradict the claim that Zimmerman acted….out of self-defense.
Now I’m not a legal expert. I don’t claim to even be close to one (that’s D Jones’s territory), although I did stay in a Holiday Inn RESORT last week. And my hope is that some of you lawyer types will come school me on what constitutes reasonable justification for self-defense. But let’s put this through the lens of common sense and simply what seems to be right, after which I don’t think we’ll really need the legalese. Let’s start with the obvious. You have a guy who is the self-proclaimed captain of the Neighborhood Watch who for some reason carries a loaded gun with him to fulfill the main duty of the Neighborhood Watch….to call the police when “shady” stuff or characters come by. He declared that this young boy who was 17 years old, didn’t even have facial hair, weighed 140 lbs and was carrying snacks was somehow a threat to his neighborhood. I’m almost certain that he only thought so because Trayvon was Black.
After calling the police (more on them later) who then told him explicitly in 911 records to chill the hell out while they sent help something clearly happened. We don’t quite know what, but what we know is that Zimmerman had a bloody nose and claimed he shot Martin in self-defense. This raises three possibilities. Either Martin attacked Zimmerman while he was waiting, Zimmerman accosted him without waiting and was then attacked, or Zimmerman attacked Martin first and initiated a fight. Let’s eliminate the first possibility out of sheer ridiculousness. It’s most likely that Zimmerman either accosted Martin peacefully, after which he was attacked, or that Zimmerman approached Martin in a threatening way or assaulted him first. Or even that he approached Martin with his gun drawn, which caused HIM to think his life was in danger. Whatever happened here, a fight or conflict broke out (at least according to Zimmerman’s report) which left him with nothing but a bloody nose. Now I’m not sure what happened in a fight with a 140 lb unarmed kid that caused Zimmerman to reasonably think his life was in danger, but could a bloodied nose POSSIBLY be a justification for using deadly force? Let’s put ourselves in a similar position. Would any of us EVER be let off if we were in a fight with someone who broke our nose and then we shot and killed them? Highly unlikely. Regardless of the charges (if there ever are any), it’s clear that Zimmerman is the type of loose cannon guy who thinks he’s threatened by certain people and gets a gun and thinks he’s the goddamn Lone Ranger.
People are saying in Zimmerman’s defense that he was a “nice guy” and had a “squeaky clean” record with only one blemish, charges of resisting arrest and battery of a police officer. He also went to college. Those are actual reasons bandied about in defense of NOT arresting this guy. Let’s flip this around. If I, a guy a couple weeks away from a graduate degree with not even a speeding ticket on my record did the same thing, wouldn’t I be UNDER a jail somewhere right now? I just can’t believe this is happening and people are defending this guy with a straight face. People had been complaining to the police department about his crazy and aggressive Neighborhood Watch tactics for some time. He may not be a murderer, but at best he’s a guy who tracked and killed an unarmed BOY with no obvious threat to his life beyond the fact that the kid looked “suspicious.” If people like that aren’t at least tried in court, what kind of place do we live in?
This brings us to the shadiest part of the story. The Sanford police department investigated the case and allowed Zimmerman to go free. But there are already allegations that they broke protocol in investigation and there are allegations of witness leading and outright “correcting” or changing of witness accounts. These accounts originally supported that Martin called out for help but were changed to say that Zimmerman did and were used to paint the picture of Zimmerman’s helplessness. In the past year alone, the department and its employees have been involved in heavy-handed tactics and questionable arrests (barging in a person’s home and kicking down the door for running a stop sign), bribes during traffic stops, completely false accusations of attempted murder of police officers, an officer not being removed after 38 previous complaints, and ANOTHER case of not arresting a person after a violent crime with more than enough evidence to arrest him (in this case, the former police chief’s son). There are other things….it appears that Google is not a friend of the Sanford PD either. I’m not even sure if any of this is relevant, but something just doesn’t seem right.
Look, I know that the best and most likely conclusion is usually the easiest to make. So I don’t that this is some racist conspiracy or the work of a department bent on helping a white man and hurting a black family and neighborhood. Given what the police have said, there is a genuine reluctance to charge a man with a crime because they claim that there isn’t enough evidence to show that what he said isn’t true. It’s pretty convenient to Zimmerman that the only other witness to everything that happened is now dead. But also, what I do know is that there appear to be holes in the man’s story the size of Buicks and the willful disregard of what amounts to proportionate force (in this case shooting and killing an unarmed boy who hasn’t caused you serious injury and probably was not in a position to do so) by the police department. And I can’t help but wonder if Zimmerman is being given a benefit of a doubt not afforded to legions of Black men who have done far less and have much less evidence against them, but have been charged with more…simply on account of his “goodness’ and “whiteness.” Even when you give the stories as much credit as possible, the fact remains that:
a White self-proclaimed NW Captain in Florida (where racially motivated crimes are common) who thought his job (of calling the police) so dangerous that he carried a gun saw a small Black kid and for some reason thought him suspicious. Despite warnings from the police to sit tight he initiated conflict with the boy and despite no evidence of his life being in danger from the ensuing fight, shot and killed him. And he has NOT been arrested.
I don’t know much….but again that simply doesn’t seem right. And you simply can’t ignore the specter of race in this situation because so many similar situations have happened in the same place where race WAS an actual factor. Regardless, we have to do something to at least see justice moved in the right direction. I’m not sure what, but while we turn our eyes towards the injustices of dictators and warlords abroad, let’s not turn our backs on the injustices here. Trayvon deserves more than to be an interesting footnote in legal history. Have them actually prove that Zimmerman acted in self-defense….in the court of law. Give him the amount of scrutiny that we are used to being given to others. That’s the least that they can do. And I think that we can help make that happen.