By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black Florida teen who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, 28, in Florida last month. This case is somewhat outside the usual Frisky realm — women’s issues and news, pop culture, style, cute animals, dating tales, etc. — but it’s a story that has captured the nation’s attention, not to mention mine, and is tied closely to issues that effect all of us, from racism to gun control. Here is a summary of the case as it stands now, along with links to further reading.
Trayvon was with his father at his father’s girlfriend’s house in a gated community called the Retreat at Twin Lakes in the Sanford area of Orlando. They were there to watch the NBA All-Star game and Trayvon had run out to the convenience store during half-time to pick up a drink and a snack. He was on his way back to watch the rest of the game when he was spotted by Zimmerman, the self-appointed captain of his neighborhood watch, who called 911.
“We’ve had some break-ins in the neighborhood, and there’s this real suspicious guy,” Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, told the dispatcher. “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, but Zimmerman did anyway, gun in hand. Shortly thereafter, neighbors heard a gun shot and Martin was dead. Zimmerman told police that he acted in self-defense, despite the fact that Trayvon died with only Skittles and an iced tea in his possession. Zimmerman was never detained by police. Florida is one of more than 20 states with a “Stand Your Ground”-esque law, a measure backed by the National Rifle Association, which expands the rights of citizens to claim self-defense in killings.
African-American leaders like Al Sharpton and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed outrage at the handling of the case by the Sanford police department. After all, Zimmerman’s version of the events that night simply does not add up; how can he be acting in self-defense when the person who ended up dead didn’t even have a weapon? And how did he end up in a confrontation with the teenager anyway, given that the 911 dispatcher explicitly told him not to pursue Martin?
Last week, Zimmerman’s father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel saying that his son did not try to pursue or confront Martin, and that accusations that Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was black are false. “George is a Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends,” Robert Zimmerman wrote. “He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.”
Regardless of the elder Zimmerman’s assessment of his son, mounting evidence suggests George Zimmerman has not been truthful with police about what happened that night. The 911 calls, released last week, include one neighbor saying they heard a cry for help. Though Zimmerman claimed that was him, there is very good reason to believe that the person begging for their life was Martin. After not getting any help from police — and, at this point, believing, with good reason, that he and his family cannot trust them — Martin’s father Tracy worked with the cell phone company to find out if Trayvon had made any calls the night of his death; it turned out that he was on the phone with a girlfriend as he walked home. Tracy Martin tracked the unnamed girl down and she gave testimony that blows Zimmerman’s self-defense claim out of the water. She testified that she was on the line when Zimmerman confronted Martin.
“Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn’t answer the phone.”
Even now, with mounting pressure upon them, Zimmerman remains free; he has yet to be arrested. Sanford law enforcement officials have said that they do not have enough evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s account of the events, but that, frankly, is clearly a load of hogwash.In addition to being passed on to the state’s attorney, as of today, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have opened an investigation into the “facts and circumstances” surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death. Hopefully now his family will finally get the answers and justice they deserve.