March 23, 2012
Skittles, Neighborhood Watch and the Death of a Child
It's been almost a month since 17-year old Trayvon Martin was gunned down by self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Despite Zimmerman admitting to following, confronting, and killing Trayvon, he has yet to be arrested or charged with any crime.
At the crime scene, Sanford police botched their questioning of Zimmerman, refused to take the full statements of witnesses, and pressured neighbors to side with the shooter's claim of self-defense. As it turns out, Sanford's police department has a history of failing to hold perpetrators accountable for violent acts against Black victims, and the police misconduct in Trayvon's case exemplifies the department's systemic mishandling of such investigations. And now, the State Attorney's office has rubber-stamped the Sanford police's non-investigation, claiming that there is not enough evidence to support even a manslaughter conviction.
Trayvon's family and hundreds of thousands of people around the country demanded justice. It took some time but earlier this week the Department of Justice began an independent investigation into the Sanford police department's unwillingness to protect Trayvon's civil rights.
Walking home from the store shouldn't cost you your life, but when Black youth are routinely assumed to be violent criminals, being randomly killed is a constant danger. Before Zimmerman decided to get out of his parked car gun in tow to pursue Trayvon on foot that night, he called the police to identify Trayvon as a "suspicious person" apparently because he was wearing a hoodie and walking too slowly in the rain for Zimmerman's liking. Despite being instructed not to follow Trayvon, Zimmerman proceeded to confront and fatally shoot the boy in the chest within a matter of minutes. Zimmerman went from being a Neighborhood Watch volunteer to a vigilante in a nanosecond.
The case has been compromised from the beginning. When Sanford police arrived on the scene, Zimmerman was first approached by a narcotics detective not a homicide investigator who "peppered him with questions" rather than allowing him to tell his story without prompting. Another officer "corrected" a witness giving a statement that she'd heard Trayvon cry for help before he was shot, telling her she had heard Zimmerman instead.
And beyond the questions of professional competence or even the police's disregard for the facts, Florida's notorious "Shoot First" law takes a shooter's self-defense claim at face value incentivizing law enforcement not to make arrests in shooting deaths that would lead to murder charges in other states. These 'Stand Your Ground' laws need to be changed.
Sanford has a history of not prosecuting when the victim is Black. In 2010, the white son of a Sanford police lieutenant was let go by police after assaulting a homeless Black man outside a downtown bar. And, in 2005, a Black teenager was killed by two white security guards, one the son of a Sanford Police officer. The pair was arrested and charged, but a judge later cited lack of evidence and dismissed both cases.
Emotions are running raw in Sanford and all around the nation. How are you feeling about the Trayvon Martin case at this point in time?