Trayvon Martin: The killing of an American child

Trayvon Martin: The killing of an American child March 20, 2012

Frances Robles of the Miami Herald reports that the “U.S. Department of Justice, FBI and FDLE to probe Trayvon Martin killing“:

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI will investigate the killing of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer, the department announced late Monday.

The announcement coincided with a statement from Florida Gov. Rick Scott asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to offer “appropriate resources” in the case.

The federal and state agencies are intervening in what attorneys call a botched investigation into the killing of the Michael Krop Senior High School student, who was killed Feb. 26 in Sanford, a town of 55,000 just north of Orlando. Trayvon, 17, on suspension from school, was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house when he walked to a nearby a 7-Eleven store to buy candy and iced tea.

George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer with a long history of calling in everything from open garage doors to “suspicious characters,” called police to say he had spotted someone who looked drugged, was walking too slowly in the rain, and appeared to be looking at people’s houses. Zimmerman sounded alarmed because the stranger had his hand in his waistband and held something in his other hand.

The unarmed teen was carrying Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea.

Trayvon Martin was 17 and he didn’t do anything wrong.

Judd Legum provided a good roundup of Trayvon’s slaying yesterday, “What Everyone Should Know About Trayvon Martin (1995-2012).” From that article:

Trayvon Martin (1995-2012)

5. Martin weighed 140 pounds. Zimmerman weighs 250 pounds.

6. Martin’s English teacher described him as “as an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.”

… 10. According to neighbors, Zimmerman was “fixated on crime and focused on young, black males.”

11. Zimmerman “had been the subject of complaints by neighbors in his gated community for aggressive tactics”

12. A police officer “corrected” a key witness. “The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, said the witness. ABC News has spoken to the teacher and she confirmed that the officer corrected her when she said she heard the teenager shout for help.

13. Three witnesses say they heard a boy cry for help before a shot was fired. “Three witnesses contacted by The Miami Herald say they saw or heard the moments before and after the Miami Gardens teenager’s killing. All three said they heard the last howl for help from a despondent boy.”

The Field Negro and Where’s the Outrage? have been following this story closely. So has Ta-Nehisi Coates, who highlights the way local police seem determined to exonerate the shooter while casting suspicion on the victim. Coates also reports that Trayvon Martin was on the phone as Zimmerman began following him. The account of the friend he was talking to confirms that of eyewitnesses, while contradicting that of the shooter and the police defending him.

Rashad Robinson writes about the ColorOfChange campaign to seek “Justice for Trayvon Martin.” The letter from ColorOfChange offers more details on the incident, the investigation, and the background of the Sanford Police. Here is their petition urging the U.S. Justice Department to take over the investigation. The DOJ is “investigating” the incident, but as I understand it hasn’t yet taken charge of the case.

Chauncey DeVega cuts to the heart of the matter:

Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of being black, young, and “suspicious.” Like many other young black boys and grown men throughout United States history, he was shot dead for the crime of possessing an innocuous object (and likely daring to be insufficiently compliant to someone who imagined that they had the State’s permission to kill people of color without consequence or condemnation).

… Common sense renders a clear judgement here: if a black man shot and killed a white kid for holding a bag of Skittles he would already be under the jail; in this instance, the police are operating from a position where a young African American is presumed “guilty,” and his murderer is assumed innocent.

… White privilege … involves the luxury of not having to have a conversation with your kids about how to avoid being murdered by the cops because of your skin color. In many matters of life and death, white supremacy remains, in many ways, unchallenged. Black and brown folks, if they are responsible parents, cannot avoid such conversations with their children. The foot-dragging by the police in regards to the murder of Trayvon Martin reveals this ugly truth.

Grace at Are Women Human? begins a passionate, thoughtful post on the case by quoting from Audre Lord on the same subject DeVega mentions there:

Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You [white women] fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.

Lorde wrote that in 1980. The killing of Trayvon Martin reminds us that it is still horribly true 32 years later.

Grace’s Are Women Human? post discusses the appalling details of the lopsided investigation by the Sanford, Fla., police:

This was a kid. A child. With a family who loved and cared about him and still does. We talk endlessly about protecting children and family values when the truth is we don’t think many children are worthy of protection. Quite the opposite. We don’t value many families.

Look at this case and see how the basic decency that Trayvon and his family are owed as human beings has been trampled and spit on at so many points.

Despite the fact that the police knew George Zimmerman went after a smaller, younger kid, who wasn’t doing anything wrong, despite the fact that they knew Zimmerman was armed and Trayvon was not. …

They ran a background check on Trayvon Martin, who was dead, but not on George Zimmerman, the man who killed him. They believed Zimmerman had a clean record – on his own assertion, apparently. Turns out he doesn’t. They ran alcohol/drug tests on Trayvon Martin (likely as a routine part of an autopsy), but not on Zimmerman, his murderer.

The police didn’t have the basic decency to do their job and investigate whether Trayvon Martin had a reason for being in the neighborhood, whether he had any friends or family in the neighborhood. Instead, they tagged him as a “John Doe.” His family thought he was missing. They had to call around and essentially do the work for the police of identifying their dead son.

Grace also refuses to allow the question of racism to be reduced to a matter of personal sentiment:

Look, I don’t give a shit how George Zimmerman or Bill Lee personally feel about black people or what their personal relationships with black people are like. I am not in the least interested in whether they’re “really racist” or not. I care what they did. I care about the cultural and institutional realities that made what they did (and are still doing, on the part of the Sanford PD) possible, and made them think – with very good precedent for thinking so – they could get away with it. And those – the actions and structural realities – have everything to do with racism, no matter what Zimmerman or the Sanford PD feel about black people.

… They can love all the black people they want – nothing changes the fact that this was, no question, racism at work. Racism isn’t just hate. It’s inequity. Privilege for some and contempt for others.

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  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Don’t waste your eyeballs on reading anything from Louie Calabro. The dick’s a freaking Holocaust denier to boot.

  • Anonymous

    Fuck off.

  • There’s a writeup about Rush Limbaugh (See “Mad Dog Limbaugh”) about him practically exploding in happiness because he got to trash a black criminal.

  • KarenH

    With all due respect to Rev. Jackson, who may or may not have said such a thing, I have been workimg night shift in the District of Columbia for more than 13 years now. Not only have I never been mugged or robbed or harmed, but when I have needed help, such as a flat tire at 11pm on a bitterly cold winter’s night (obviously not this winter), or when my car needed a jump start after leaving the dome light on all night by mistake, or when I locked my keys in my car, it has been black men who have stopped, pulled over and offered help. They have done so as BMW after Mercedes Benz after BMW piloted by white men drove by unconcerned (or furious that my car trouble has inconvenienced them to the point they had to change lanes). They have done so graciously, and kindly and refusing any sort of repayment beyond my profuse thanks.

    Are there criminals among the black population? Sure. But when I see a black man at night, I feel safe and reassured these days.

  • Matri

    Those are… squickishly poor choice of words there, IN.

  • For over a year, I walked to work straight through one of the “worst”* neighborhoods in Atlanta, and not one single time did I ever feel unsafe or threatened. My dad and stepdad (joy of all joys, I have two conservative, racist fathers) both act like Atlanta is just this vast wasteland of crime and poverty, and often make comments to the effect of they wouldn’t walk through downtown Atlanta without their gun. ^_^

    Conservatives like them think they’re the serious, realist people. But they’re too scared to leave the suburbs for any length of time to actually know what the fuck they’re talking about. I’ve spent all my adult life in urban Atlanta, and the facts on the ground are that I’d be way more scared of a dumbass middle-class white man with a gun and way too much eagerness to use it than any random black person I pass on the street.

    *And of course you know what “worst” is a dogwhistle for.

  •  To be fair, you can find the same stuff at comments threads. They’re pretty much unreadable if you have any kind of trigger at all. And these posts don’t just come out over racially-charged or otherwise controversial stories. You can be reading an article about a fundraiser for cancer research and the comments section will read like Stormfront.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you on that one, Triplanetary.  It’s kind of like people advocating for concealed carry on college campuses.  Seriously, what are they so afraid of?

    It’s bad enough that the LEOs here are conditioned to see everyone as a potential threat.*  We don’t need a large number of armed citizens in the same mindset.

    *I know an anecdote is not data but stories are fun.  My uncle was a cop.  He kept getting into trouble with his bosses because he didn’t treat everyone and everything as potentially dangerous but rather evaluated every situation to determine what the level of threat was.  Most of the time there wasn’t one. 

  • Rush Limbaugh IS squick. Your point? 

  • Anonymous

    Ugh.  Racist gun fetishists and their fantasies.  They make me roll my eyes at the best of times.  They are aware, aren’t they, that if they’re walking through a “bad” neighborhood and happen to run into some genuine bad boys, the chances are very good that said bad boys will have guns of their own?  Real criminals tend to put up more of a fight than scared teenagers.

  • Kevin Frieda

    Remember, “wanna be” cops that just could not “quite” make it..Usually there is an underlying problem.  Zimmerman is a NUT that at the least should be in a mental hospital. 

  • Apocalypse Review

    What always astonishes me is just how much that bogeyman, the ever-present criminal, features in the fantasizing of right-wing commenters on blogs or forums who insist that they need guns.

    It would just be a bit sad and pathetic if it weren’t for the fact that these security blankets shoot bullets.

  • JenL

    If I understand correctly, it’s not so much that the law is being misrepresented (you don’t have to run first, before you can claim self-defense) as that it’s being applied to the shooter’s allegations as if those allegations were credible.

    He *claims* that he got out of his truck, walked across the street to check a street sign, and was attacked on the way back to his truck.  If that happened, he would have the right to defend himself against his attacker.  He would be able to claim self-defense regardless of whether he first tried to run away, get to his truck, etc.

    But that story just isn’t credible.  It doesn’t fit with his 911 tape, where he says he’s following the kid and the dispatcher says “no, we don’t need that”.  It doesn’t make sense given that he’s the self-proclaimed neighborhood watch (and therefore ought to know street names).  And it doesn’t fit with the description given by Trayvon’s girlfriend, who says he was trying to shake off his pursuer. 

    News-folks who discuss the Stand Your Ground law as if it were realistically connected to what happened here are implicitly or explicitly buying into, and passing on, the idea that Zimmerman was Trayvon’s victim rather than the other way around.

  • JenL

    If I’m out taking a walk in my neighborhood and see someone who looks out of place, I have the “right” to walk up and ask questions. 

    Police Chief Lee seems to be overlooking, though, the fact that the person I’m talking to has the right to ignore me, respond with questions, or insult me for being such an oblivious idiot… 

    He also seems to be overlooking the fact that my willingness to walk up and ask questions suggests that I don’t really see the person as dangerous to me. 

  • JenL

    “Both kinds of situations” – 1)  the ones where crimes are reported and investigated (and both the crime and the sentence are mentioned in the news); and 2) the ones where it appears a neighborhood watch captain murdered a boy walking home from the convenience store, and the cops said “nothing to see here; move along”.

    I’d say they’re each getting about the amount of attention they deserve, but only because the internet picked up the slack for the news media, which originally failed to report the 2nd…

  • Tricksterson

    Anyone white? Well, as long as they’re middle to upper class anyway.

  • Tricksterson

    So who exactly are you defining as the “predator class”?  Zimmerman or Martin?  Because it seems unclear.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    That sound you just heard was the cogs in the societal clock slipping back a tooth.

  • David

    I’m a little baffled by this law. Clearly, Zimmerman has been shown to shoot unarmed black men for no reason. Hence, black men, who rightfully should be rather scared of this, appear to have a reason to just shoot him pre-emptively.

    Either the ‘I can shoot people who scare me’ standard applies, or it doesn’t. It’s a clearly insane law, but it is the law, and under it, literally any black man can just walk up and Zimmerman in the head, as he _clearly_ poses a threat to them. In fact, I, a white man, would be rather scared by Zimmerman’s clear lunacy.

    What really confuses me about this law is the castle doctrine is based on a basic premise: People who are confronted in their house can make the invaders either _obey the law_ (By leaving the house), surrender to the homeowner, or get shot. It’s predicated on trespassing law, on the idea that either the _lawbreaking_ stop, or lawbreaker can be killed.

    Self-Defense is based on a similar premise, that you can force people to stop committing assault (Which, remember, can just be threats) and battery. If they do not, you can kill them.

    Both those laws make sense, in a way. Someone is breaking the law in a way that is extremely dangerous to you, so you can kill them if they continue.

    But I cannot fucking comprehend how this is supposed to work on public property, with people who are not breaking the law. ‘Hey, you, person who’s strolling down the sidewalk! Stop breaking the law, or I’ll shoot!’ Someone who ‘scares’ you is _not_ in violation of the law, and has no legal requirement to stop, even assuming it’s possible.

  • Anonymous

    Friendly public reminder to everyone that Disquis has a function that allows you to flag comments as inappropriate.

  • Anonymous

    No seriously, what the fuck. I’ve flagged the comment above several times and I know that gets submitted to Fred for review.

  • blome

    fuck all you nigger loving socialist assholes