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If you’ve watched the news, you have likely heard about the tragic and senseless killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida. But have you read or seen a thorough examination of the facts? You have probably had reports about the protests, about the racism of the police, or of the shooter Zimmerman.
You have seen Al Sharpton showing up and rallies occurring both in Sanford, Fl and as far away as New York City. There is anger, accusations, and there is the pain for a family who lost a son. What is lacking, though, is a clear voice calling for critical thinking regarding the event and the specifics of the case. The result could be a denial of justice as the protests hit a fever pitch.
The case is as follow; Trayvon Martin was walking back from the store when Zimmerman spotted him. Zimmerman called 911 and told the operator he saw someone suspicious in the neighborhood. A police car was dispatched. A physical confrontation ensued, causing more 911 calls, this time from neighbors. At some point Zimmerman shot Martin, who died at the scene. Zimmerman told the police he shot Martin in self-defense, and the police took a report, but did not arrest Zimmerman.
Because Martin is black, and Zimmerman white, the claim of racism began almost immediately, both aimed at the police and Zimmerman. But in the rush to declare a racial bias, within two hours of the incident, the snowballing of racially motivated protests, the true issues at hand has not been thoroughly examined by many in the African-American community.
Any time an innocent person is killed emotions will run high. This is true of the family members of the deceased, and very true for the African-American community whose history has had to deal with unjustified shootings in the country for decades. However, in the rush to shout racism, community leaders have done a disservice to the community, Martin’s family, and to the cause of justice. There are a number of issues here that are being conflated and ignored.
The first issue is that Zimmerman was not arrested, claiming self-defense. In the state of Florida exists the “Stand Your Ground” law. This law states that you can use deadly force if you believe that your life is in danger. African-Americans have dismissed the self-defence claim as a poor excuse because Martin was not armed, but this is the result of unfamiliarity with the law.
Under ‘Stand Your Ground’, you do not have to be physically attacked — you just have to believe that your life is in danger. If I’m walking home after a night on the town and someone stops me and demands my wallet, I can shoot them. If they turn out not to be armed, I’m not going to be arrested. In this case, Martin did not approach Zimmerman, but we do not know what occurred immediately before he was shot. Without witnesses accounts, Zimmerman’s word did not serve the police with grounds for arrest.
Which brings us to the second issue; The protesters are confusing the police with the district attorney. In the days that followed the shooting, the 911 call was released. Here are an outtake of Zimmerman’s words:
“This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something [...] These a**holes always get away.”
Zimmerman was told not to pursue Martin, but did so anyway. As a neighborhood watch member, Zimmerman was not supposed to be carrying a gun, and he was known to have made 41 911 calls at different times—usually about a black person he suspected of ill intent. The victim, on the other hand, did not have a weapon, had no record, and had every right to be in the neighborhood. All this adds up to suspicion of bias in the police. But that is the wrong assumption.
All the aforementioned info came out later, gathered so that the state’s attorney can determine to charge Zimmerman and for prosecution, and unrelated to the decision of the police at the time, not to make an arrest. The fault here lies with the leaders of the community. It is irresponsible for local leaders not to use this information to assuage fears and calm the community down.
The reason for its importance is that this tragic event has now moved from the legal into the political. Left to its own devices, there is little doubt that the state’s attorney would have charged Zimmerman. Just the fact that he was carrying a gun, violating the rules explained to him in the training provided by the police department to all neighborhood watch members, and instigated a confrontation after being told to not approach, virtually guaranteed it.
But now, the family, Al Sharpton, grievers and supporters and not least the news media, are bombarding both the police and attorney’s office with protests, accusations of racism, and demands.
The news focuses on the bias of the country’s police force, despite Zimmerman not being a police officer; on imagined racial slurs in the 911 call, so muffled that no human ear can discern what is being said; and the politics of African-Americans racing down to Florida to protest the killing of this one boy, but had nothing to say about the ten young black teens killed in Chicago just last week.
The focus is lost. This matters because there is one thing that police departments and prosecutors hate most: looking as though they caved to political pressure.
In other words, if the state’s attorney believes getting a successful prosecution is borderline, they might not charge Zimmerman, just to keep from appearing as though they are caving to the Sharpton’s of the world. No one expects the parents to keep silent — this is their child after all. However, protests that focus on race and race only have a habit of backfiring. Especially given the laws in Florida.
I had no doubt that Zimmerman would be charged but now, it’s up in the air. With the anger that is out there, and the tone of the rhetoric, the district attorney is sure that if charged, Zimmerman will get a change of venue. This always reduces the chances of a conviction. Throw in the political battle being waged and they might just not charge him after all.
There is enough compelling evidence to do so, and left alone, they would. But there is not enough to necessarily convict Zimmerman — no witnesses, and the state has to prove that Zimmerman shot Martin, knowing his life was not in danger. That is how the Stand Your Ground law reads and it is a high wall to climb in court.
Community outrage is fine. There should be a focus on what happened. But that focus needs to be based on the evidence, not the racial fears of the African-American community. Leaders ought to be speaking about the facts of the case, not what they conjured had happened. In the end, deserved justice may be denied by the very people crying out for it. Not because the time isn’t right, but because once again the racial chips on the shoulders of many African-Americans distract them from the real issues in this case.
Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/werthmedia/