Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trayvon Martin case is gray, not black and white

By now the entire nation is watching the unfolding drama of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Fl. The basic facts of the case are undisputed. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, who is black, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watch captain, on the night of February 26. Beyond those basic facts, however, the case becomes far more muddled.

Much of the country is up in arms over the allegation that Zimmerman shot and killed Martin simply because the black teenager was walking through his neighborhood. Zimmerman has not been charged in the case because he claims that the shooting was in self-defense.

In the months before the shooting, there had been several burglaries in the neighborhood where Zimmerman lived. A neighbor, Frank Taaffe, told NBC Miami that there had been eight break-ins within 15 months, mostly committed by young black males. The crime rate set the stage for the shooting.

On the night in question, relatives say that Martin, wearing a hoodie, was walking back to the home of his father’s fiancée from a local 7-Eleven after purchasing a can of iced tea and Skittles. The fiancée lives in Zimmerman’s gated community, which is racially mixed.

Martin’s girlfriend was on the phone with him just before the altercation according to CNN. The girl says that Martin told her that someone was following him and that he was trying to get away. She says that she heard someone ask Martin what he was doing and heard Martin ask why he was being followed. At that point, the phone went dead. She did not hear a gunshot.

At the same time that Martin was talking to his girlfriend, George Zimmerman, who had seen Martin while going to the grocery store, was talking to a 911 dispatcher. A transcript of Zimmerman’s 911 call is available on In the call, Zimmerman states his belief that Martin was “on drugs” and that he “looks like he’s up to no good.” He says, “These a—holes, they always get away.” Seconds later, he says that Martin is running away.

In a controversial part of the call, the dispatcher asks, “Are you following him?” When Zimmerman answers in the affirmative, the dispatcher says, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman answers, “Okay.” The call ends with the dispatcher agreeing to send police to meet Zimmerman.

What happened next is a matter of dispute. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman, who wore a red jacket that night, told police that he had stopped following Martin and was returning to his car when Martin approached him from behind. He claims that Martin asked him if he had a problem. When Zimmerman said no, Martin allegedly said, “You do now” and punched him in the nose, knocking him to the ground. At that point, Zimmerman says that Martin pinned him and began beating him while he was still on the ground. Zimmerman reports that he yelled for help. The Sentinel reports that when police arrived a few minutes later, summoned by Zimmerman’s original call, that they found that Zimmerman had a bloody nose, a swollen lip, and injuries to the back of his head.

Zimmerman’s cries for help prompted several other residents to call the police according to CNN. Two women, Mary Cutcher and Selma Lamilla, report that they heard “whining, someone in distress, and then the gunshot” through an open window. When the women ran outside they saw Zimmerman standing over Martin. They asked Zimmerman three times what was going on before he responded by telling them to call the police.

Fox Orlando reports that another witness, identified only as John, said that Martin had been on top of Zimmerman. He said that “the guy on the bottom who had a red sweater (Zimmerman) on was yelling to me: 'help, help….’” He went upstairs to call 911 and then looked out again and saw that “the guy who was on top (Martin) beating up the other guy was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.”

Further complicating the story are revelations that Trayvon Martin had a somewhat troubled past. NBC Miami reported that Martin had been suspended from school on three separate occasions. In one incident, Martin had been sighted “"hiding and being suspicious" in an unauthorized area of his school.

Last October, a school investigator saw surveillance video of Martin writing “WTF” (“what the f—k”) on a door inside the school. The next day, police searched Martin’s backpack for the graffiti marker and also found a screwdriver described as a “burglary tool” and 12 pieces of jewelry that included silver wedding bands and diamond earrings. According to the NBC report, Martin denied that the jewelry was his and said that it belonged to a friend who he declined to name. It is not known whether the jewelry was stolen. Four months after this, just a few days before the shooting, he was suspended again for possession of a marijuana pipe and an empty baggie with traces of marijuana in it.

The Daily Caller also recently published a record of Trayvon Martin’s tweets from his Twitter account, @NO_LIMIT_NIGGA, a reference to a gangsta rap song. Absent from the remaining record after the account was deleted are tweets that a blogger at Wagist claims imply that Martin “swung on a bus driver.” Wagist also presents a Facebook message where a friend contacted Martin with “business to talk” because he needed a “plant.” Even if Martin were a drug dealer or gang member, it would not mean that Zimmerman was right to kill him. It would, however, introduce significant doubt into the mainstream media’s version of events.

For his part, Zimmerman has a record as well.  Reuters reports that he was arrested in 2005 and charged with resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.  His fiancée also filed a restraining order against him citing domestic violence around the same time.  This is apparently where his now famous mug shot came from.

The State of Florida’s so-called “stand-your-ground” law has also come in for much criticism. In reality, the law merely means that a person has no duty to retreat from an attack before defending himself. reports that 23 other states have similar laws. The concept of stand-your-ground, also called the Castle Doctrine because it is normally applied within the home, is longstanding in U.S. law. The Supreme Court upheld the concept as far back as 1895 in Beard v. United States.

In any case, stand-your-ground would not apply in the Trayvon Martin shooting. If Zimmerman had continued following Martin after the 911 call ended and shot him in cold blood, as the media and Martin’s family and supporters allege, then it would not be a defense because the law does not give citizens the right to chase down and shoot suspects. Likewise, Florida law specifically excludes the justification of self-defense by someone who “initially provokes the use of force against himself.” If Zimmerman picked a fight with Martin and then shot him, he cannot claim self-defense. On the other hand, if Martin attacked Zimmerman and held him down, not only was Zimmerman not required by the law to retreat, he did not have that option.

The story has inspired protests in Atlanta and around the country on behalf of Martin to demand Zimmerman’s arrest. A black activist group has even offered a reward for Zimmerman’s capture. Spike Lee tweeted what he incorrectly though was Zimmerman’s address, possibly endangering the lives of an elderly couple. Rather than calling for cooler heads, President Obama sympathized with Martin’s parents.

Although more information is being released every day in the case, it is evident that the Trayvon Martin killing is not the simple case of violent racism that the prevailing media narrative tells. The pattern has been repeated several times in recent years. Pundits claimed that Troy Davis, a convicted cop-killer executed in Georgia last year, was an innocent man while ignoring facts that didn’t fit their story. Before that, the left-wing media was ready to convict the entire Tea Party in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Before that, the target was the entire Duke University lacrosse team for rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping before it came to light that Mike Nifong, the prosecuting D.A., withheld DNA evidence and misled a judge. In that case the North Carolina attorney general said that there was no credible evidence that an attack had even occurred.

The current rush to judge George Zimmerman is not helpful to anyone. In the end, the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman may very well turn out to be very different from how it has been presented in the media thus far. If the evidence indicates that Zimmerman is lying, then he will be arrested and charged. If not, then his electronic lynching in the media will have ruined his reputation and endangered his life.

Originally published on

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