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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