A troubling month-old incident in Florida is only now gaining national attention.
On February 26th, a 17-year-old African-American boy named Trayvon Martin was shot in the Sanford, Florida gated community where his father lived. He was returning to his father’s house from a nearby convenience store, where he bought a pack of Skittles for his little brother and a can of Arizona Iced Tea. Upon his return, the volunteer neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, saw Martin and thought he looked suspicious.
Zimmerman, who has a history of calling 911 to report suspicious persons (usually black) in his neighborhood, claimed that Trayvon looked like he was “up to no good” or was “on drugs or something,” and that “these a–holes, they always get away.”
When the dispatcher asked if he was following the suspicious person, Zimmerman said yes. The dispatcher explained that “we don’t need you to do that,” but Zimmerman followed him anyway. Trayvon noticed the follower and began to walk faster, but Zimmerman still pursued. A physical confrontation ended with Zimmerman fatally shooting the unarmed boy in the chest. The police did not conduct a full investigation and accepted Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which permits lethal force in self-defense on the basis of perceived danger, even absent any attempt to retreat.
The self-defense claim is absurd in this instance. At the moment Zimmerman armed himself to actively pursue Martin, he forfeited any legitimate self-defense argument. Even former Florida Senator Durell Peaden, one of the co-authors of the “stand your ground” law, agrees that Zimmerman’s actions are not protected under the law.
The racial component is hard to ignore. Both Trayvon’s death and the lack of investigation afterward seem indicative of racial profiling, discrimination and prejudice. The police force has been accused of trying to protect Zimmerman: in violation of homicide investigation procedure, no drug or alcohol tests were conducted, and reports allege Zimmerman sounded intoxicated on the 911 call. As Phillip DeFranco put it on YouTube: “I think if you change the story to ‘he killed a white kid’ or, God forbid, a white blonde girl, it [would be] reported everywhere. This guy [would] die in jail. But a 17-year-old unarmed black kid? [Instead, it’s] ‘Yeah, you were probably defending yourself.'”
The 911 tapes from the incident have also been released. You can listen and hear for yourself how Zimmerman’s claims that he was acting in self defense are dubious at best. As a warning, though, some of the audio on the tapes is very graphic.