Everything about the events that led to Trayvon Martin's death, and the failure of the police to arrest his murderer screams racism. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that had the races been reversed--had a black man in a pickup truck followed a white boy in a hoodie on his way home from the store, and confronted him, and then shot him--the folks now trying to exonerate and excuse Zimmerman would be howling for that man's immediate arrest and ultimate execution. That they see the situation as one of "self-defense"--when by the evidence of the Zimmerman's own calls to the police before he shot Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman is the one who acted aggressively and provoked the situation--makes it clear that they are biased against the black youth and for the white man from the get-go.
If anyone should be covered by the "stand your ground" law it is Trayvon--because he was being harassed, menaced, and confronted by someone who put him in fear of his life (with good reason, as it turned out.) Whatever the unarmed and inexperienced Trayvon did, after Zimmerman began following him and threatening him, he did in self-defense. To claim that Zimmerman acted in self-defense--let along that he acted in accordance with the Florida law--is factually and legally wrong. If you confront someone who is not committing a violent crime--if you menace that innocent person, if you threaten or attempt to coerce or lay hold of that person, and that person defends himself/herself...then that person...not you...is acting in self-defense. To argue that Trayvon had no right to defend himself from the obvious (and ultimately proven) deadly force Zimmerman was prepared to use is to argue that black youths have no right to defend themselves so white men have a right to kill them for trying.
It is ridiculous to claim that Zimmerman isn't racist. Why did he target Trayvon Martin? Because (as he said on the 911 calls he made before the final attack) this was a black male in a hoodie. Walking black made Trayvon suspicious. Considering Trayvon suspicious because he was a black male makes Zimmerman racist. I believe that if Trayvon had run away (as his girlfriend suggested) Zimmerman would have shot him in the back. After all, aggressive law officers have shot black youths in the back (as in Austin, Texas recently, where the police chief's response to angry and frightened parents was that his officers had done nothing wrong and parents should tell their boys not ever to run.) Zimmerman has shown no remorse for killing an innocent teenager; he continues to insist that it wasn't his fault; he had to defend himself, that he is the victim.
The Sanford police department, as many have said, showed its own racial bias in the way this murder was handled. They dispatched an inexperienced officer who had never done a homicide investigation. He accepted Zimmerman's account without question--without checking with authorities to see if Zimmerman really was a member of an official Neighborhood Watch group, without testing Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol, without questioning why Zimmerman disobeyed the dispatcher's order to quit following the "suspicious" person, without questioning why Zimmerman was carrying a weapon (against policy for legitimate Neighborhood Watch members), without checking on Zimmerman's record (Zimmerman's record of assaulting a law officer and an incident of domestic violence should have been found immediately and should have been considered as a reason to doubt his account of what happened. So also, of course, should have been the fact that he continued to tail Trayvon after the police dispatcher told him not to. ) That Zimmerman first precipitated a confrontation and then claimed to have been in deadly peril is another obvious red flag: the person who starts a confrontation is rarely the innocent party. The Sanford police lied to the Martin family about Zimmerman's prior record of violence. The Sanford police tried to change a witness's report by lying about it (the witness said she heard Trayvon screaming for help; the police said that she heard Zimmer screaming for help.) The Sanford police played CYA for weeks, citing the Florida "stand your ground" law which is clearly not applicable in this situation (the only violent crime going on was Zimmerman killing Martin. Zimmerman was put "in peril"--even if you believe it was peril--only because he confronted an innocent citizen and tried to bully him.)
Like many other mothers of children who might, for any reason, attract attention as "undesirables", I have lived with the fear that our son--despite his white skin--might be the target of a bigot's attack or police violence. Although persons of color are at risk no matter how ordinary their behavior (like, well, walking home from a convenience store with a bag of candy), anyone at all "different" may be targeted by bigots. A few years ago, students at Anderson High School in Austin set upon and beat up a mentally handicapped student waiting for his bus ride home...in the parking lot of a convenience store across the street from our church...and no one intervened. (The store clerk said he was afraid of the teenagers who were beating up the other boy.) Autistic teens and grown men have been targeted in some jurisdictions; I was even warned by another mother that our son looked odd enough, walking from his apartment to the college campus, that police might pick him up. One time that I tried to talk to police (before he moved to the city) and suggest that they might seek some training in recognizing autism v. someone strung out on drugs or alcohol, the officer practically sneered at me and allowed that they didn't have time or patience to put up with "spoiled brats or pushy parents." If my kid did not act perfectly normal and wasn't able to answer questions as a law officer expected, then that was just too bad.
As I've mentioned before, I've been threatened with deadly force...a man called up one night and said he was planning to come over and kill me and my husband (me first, so my husband would suffer more); he said he was armed. We knew he was a (sometimes violent) schizophrenic. At that time, the tiny town in which we lived had no police, and the county sheriff said all his deputies were out on other calls. If we had a gun, we were advised, we should be sure to wait until the attacker was inside before shooting him (that was the law at the time.) Individuals skipping their meds periodically went off the rails and took potshots at someone's house (someone we know was injured as a result.) We spent the rest of that night on alert, as you can imagine. I've had other, less credible, threats (people online are quite willing, in the midst of a pile-on, to make them...these I pretty much dismiss unless I know the person lives nearby.) We are prepared to defend ourselves if someone carries through a threat or breaks down the door, and (after that night) I am sure I would nail the attacker if the attacker didn't get me first.
But that's a very different thing than deciding to follow someone who is not committing a crime, not threatening anyone, starting a confrontation, and then shooting the innocent person. We don't shoot someone for coming down the drive uninvited...or even up onto the porch because they want to convince us their church is the only right one or got lost. We don't shoot someone who comes onto our land uninvited (though I would like to have located the person who cut the gap-gate and took a dump on our land, if only to make him dig a hole, bury his waste and mend the gap gate! Lazy inconsiderate scumsucker.)
Whatever Trayvon Martin did or did not do before his murder--whether years or months or days before, or just in the immediate situation--the fact remains that Zimmerman was wrong to consider him suspicious, wrong to follow him, wrong to keep following him, wrong to confront him. Zimmerman has no right to claim "self-defense." Trayvon Martin would have had such a right, if he'd lived to make it.
The (white, male, Republican) Florida legislator who introduced the "stand your ground" legislation claims there's nothing wrong with that law and he's sure it's saved "thousands" of lives. I'd like to see documentation of that, but since the Florida police (at least in Sanford, but I'll bet that's not unique) are so willing to leave claims of self-defense uninvestigated, where can the data come from? I know that in my own state innocent persons have been killed in situations that make the claim "it was self-defense" just about as ridiculous. Proponents of the law count those deaths as "lives saved"; I count them as murders unprosecuted. (The paper boy shot by a nervous homeowner, the person lost and asking directions shot by a nervous homeowner...) If I had shot every uninvited person who showed up on my doorstep, there's be a pile of corpses with my name on them--and yet none of them were committing a crime or threatening my life. Annoying me, yes. Interrupting my day or evening, yes. Startling me sometimes, yes...but not deserving of being shot dead on suspicion.
In my view, every violent killing should be investigated to ensure that a claim of self-defense or interrupting a violent crime is justified--as it is, the law makes it easy for murderers to claim self-defense and get off without any question--as long as they're the right color. All such laws should include recognition that paranoid and racist bigots exist, and will assume their right to continue to harass anyone they distrust on the basis of color, religion, name (e.g. Hispanic), or way of walking (spasticity, "tics", etc.) That such harassment will create in the victims of it a responsive fear that that responsive and legitimate fear means some of them will attempt to defend themselves--and the bigots will use deadly force where it is not warranted. Police departments need clear, unequivocal guidance of the investigation they must (not may...must) follow in order to ascertain the truth since it is clear that some, at least, will not do so on their own.
In the larger scale of things, any sign of dishonesty in the law enforcement process--from the police right through to the prosecuting attorney--should be grounds for a deeper investigation. I disagree strongly with the Supreme Court decision that prosecutors are completely free of any liability for their dishonesty...we have the case here in my county of Ken Anderson, a prosecutor who deliberately withheld information he knew would clear the accused, and who then deliberately refused for years to do the DNA test that also proved the man's innocence. (I will double-barrel bet you a metric ton of doughnuts that this is not the only case Ken Anderson lied about. This is a man who ran for office as a Democrat and then--as soon as the election was over, declared that he was now a Republican. "Fooled you suckers!") It is a crime for citizens to lie to the police or under oath...and the law should require those who are tasked with upholding the law to abide by the same rules. It should be just as illegal for police or prosecutors to lie and they should be held criminally accountable. (Yes, they have a difficult job. That does not excuse dishonesty, especially not dishonesty that puts innocent people in jail for twenty years and stigmatizes their families.) Our legal process has this large rotten core: the supposedly "good guys" are allowed to lie and cheat; evidence can be and is withheld from the accused and from juries, evidence can be faked by dishonest law officers. How can juries possibly be expected to make sound decisions when they aren't given the facts?
Recent research has shown that when people have a firearm in hand--even a toy one--they are much more likely to think another person also has a firearm. Just seeing a firearm, having one in the same room, but not in hand, does not have the same effect of heightened alarm. It's hypothesized that since holding an object activates the brain circuits involved in using that object, holding a firearm activates those circuits as well (more research is needed, certainly, but the preliminary results suggest without proving this as a cause of the frequent "mistakes" when the shooter thinks the target has a gun and does not. The shooter is already biased to see anything the target carries or reaches for as another firearm.
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