Originally posted on July 21st on an older version of this blog
As I am sure we have all heard in one way or another within the last year, there has been a case in Florida which has garnered national attention: The State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. I wanted to write the last weekend about what I could, but researching the case took much longer than expected. That turned out to be good as a lot of interesting things have surfaced since the end of the trial.
I will do my best to remain impartial but as a Black man and a White man who knows the implication of this verdict, bias may slip into my logic. If you find it so, please bring it to my attention.
This will no doubt be the hardest post I have written so far as a man of logic and thought, and as a man who lives in a country where I am statistically more likely to be killed with no punishment for my destroyer
just because I look a certain way and the assumptions that come with that. But that is why I must write it. And so, here we go.
Martin was a college-bound 17 year-old teen
growing up in Florida.
Zimmerman is a 29 year-old former
neighborhood watch captain
For quick background information if you are not already familiar with the case, see this CNN Fast Facts page.
What we know
This case began with George Zimmerman calling his local Sanford police
one rainy night to report a suspicious person. In this call Zimmerman sounds like any concerned citizen. Based on the language used in the beginning he seems to believe the person is suspicious and only thinks they might
be black, as his vision is impaired due to the rain. Zimmerman notes, after having seen Martin, that he has something
in his hands and that he is in fact a black teenager.
He has often been quoted saying “”These assholes, they always get away”. This phrase could have multiple meanings, as break-ins had been happening often in the neighborhood. Many have believed the phrase to be racially motivated, which judging from a Zimmerman MySpace page
that has surfaced, could be very true. However, because of the meaning being hazy, it does not tell us anything about anything in the case.
During this call, Zimmerman notes Martin begins running away and decides to follow him. The police on the dispatch makes clear that he does not need to follow him. However, Zimmerman still follows the teen. When trying to decide on a place to meet the officers that are enroute, Zimmerman decides to have the police call him when they are in the area. His intent then was to follow Martin and then call the police and tell them where he was, which is based on the facts that we know he continued to follow Martin and did not obey instructions to not pursue the teen.
This is all we truly know about the beginning of that night and this entire case. Next in the story is the actual fight that lead to the loss of Martin’s life. After that, however, comes what got the story national attention. The fact that Zimmerman was not even arrested.
This part of the story is what is the most troubling for the entire scenario because it is essentially why the case is so ambiguous. Because of what we can only assume was lack of intelligence- and possibly racial profiling at the worst- the Sanford police department did not do a proper investigation of the crime scene and let Zimmerman go solely based on his telling of events, as the police chief acknowledged, which you can find in the CNN Fast Facts above.
What we don’t know
That phone call ended at 7:13PM. Martin was fatally shot at 7:17PM. Those four minutes of time are where we know almost nothing and are part of the reason Zimmerman was acquitted. Another large part of that acquittal was the lack of forensic evidence usually found in crime scenes that was missing here, for whatever reason.
We also don’t know how the confrontation started, and to an effect that is of little meaning. Zimmerman was acquitted for self-defense, which in Florida means he feared for his life and had the right to kill to defend it. However, something I have not heard discussed is what if Martin felt the same way during the altercation? Would that have given him the right to fight back, as he seemed to based on Zimmerman’s bruises?
The Evidence- or Lack Thereof
What we know
The one thing we know is Martin is dead after being followed by Zimmerman and a confrontation which lead to him being shot. Some other pieces of evidence have emerged throughout the case that are worth mention.
In Jeantel’s retelling of the night Martin was killed, he’d seemed fearful of the man following him around the subdivision and grew increasingly concerned that he was being followed, though he refused her suggestion that he run for safety. He momentarily thought he’d lost Zimmerman, she said, only to sigh, minutes later, “nigg[a] is still following me”
|Rachel Jeantel on Piers Morgan after the trial, I highly recommend watching this interview
Perhaps then this is the reason Martin began to run, as noted before. Not because of a crime he had committed and was running from, but because he feared Zimmerman. Not necessarily truth, but not refutable either.
Her testimony also revealed that she was on the phone with Martin just before the altercation. With appropriate evidence and analysis, we would have Martin’s phone and studied it to see if it could tell us anything about what happened and perhaps if Zimmerman attacked Martin first, which was her belief based on the abrupt end of the phone conversation which left Martin dead 1 minute later. This would be important because the jury believes Martin started the altercation, which was evident in juror B-37’s CNN interviews
and is the reason Zimmerman walks a free man.
Another testimony that was useful was that of Dennis Root, a public safety consultant who was an expert witness who testified that Martin was in better physical shape than that of Zimmerman. However, as pointed out in Yvette Carnel’s article about Root
as a witness,
On the night of the murder, Trayvon Martin weighed 158 lbs and George Zimmerman weighed around 185 lbs, according to Wikipedia. Given that, it’s a stretch to believe that Zimmerman feared for his life at the hands of lighter and younger Trayvon Martin. And when one considers that Trayvon Martin had marijuana, a known depressant, in his system, Zimmerman’s story becomes even more unbelievable.
The point I wanted to make here is that Martin was lighter. If Martin was lighter than Zimmerman and not restricting his hands (which we can assume to be the case if Martin was banging Zimmerman’s head against concrete as Zimmerman has claimed) then what was stopping him from throwing Martin off and, if he feared for his life, running? Perhaps he thought Martin had a gun. If that was the case the why did Zimmerman follow him? There seems to be some flaw in logic that Zimmerman has had when retelling the events.
There is some evidence however, that seems to support Zimmerman’s account that Martin was on top of him, as forensic analyst Vincent Di Miao noted
. Di Miao also noted that there were inconsistencies in the forensic evidence, which could be the reason his account contradicts that of witnesses for the state. Something else that could be of note in the fact that his expert testimony is contradictory is that he was being paid a hefty amount to testify, as noted in the article.
What we don’t know
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about this entire case, especially to look at it from an empirical and logical standpoint, is the entire lack of forensics and mishandling of what could have been powerful evidence, as noted by Larry Koblinisky, a respected forensic scientist, in his MSNBC interview
about the case.
Part of that evidence is the scream for help in the video. Despite the fact that 2 forensic scientists have identified the person screaming as Martin
, I have not heard mention of that being used in the case, only that both sides can find friends of Zimmerman and Martin with no scientific evidence that say it is either Martin or Zimmerman. However, with those testimonies, and this evidence, I would believe that that disqualifies Zimmerman’s self-defense theory, but I am not an expert on Florida’s laws to know for sure.
One point that I found particularly interesting and saddening then was that of Juror B-37 when she mentions in her interview that they mostly believed it was Zimmerman, despite not having any evidence to go on outside of personal opinion and the scientific evidence to the contrary.
Based on the phone call with Jeantel as well as the forensics that are available as well as other evidence above, this is what I believe happened that night.
- Zimmerman was legitimately concerned about his neighborhood and called the non-emergency line of his local police to report what he believed to be suspicious activity.
- During that call, he noticed that the person he saw was Black, which ignited prior racial tensions in him as evident in his MySpace profile, and then decided to pursue the teen.
- Martin confronted Zimmerman after not being able to evade him- asking him what his problem was but not attacking him.
- At this time, if Zimmerman had been afraid for his life, psychology would suggest he would pull his weapon on Martin, attack Martin, or return questioning to waste time for the arrival of police. The same could be said of Martin, except for the latter as he did not know the police were in route. However, if Martin initiated the attack, why would his phone have fallen out of his hand? This leads me to believe Zimmerman attacked Martin out of either fear or anger, but Zimmerman initiated the conflict.
- Martin begins to get the best of Zimmerman and Zimmerman then takes out his gun. Martin begins to scream for help when he sees the gun and gets off of Zimmerman. Zimmerman shoots and kills Martin. How long Martin stays alive here is debatable and could lead to numerous truths.
- The police, because of a racial profile of Martin based on Zimmerman’s story and Stand Your Ground, let Zimmerman go and do a poor job of investigating the crime (the former because of Stand Your Ground, the latter because of the profile). You can see my former post about the lack of logic in racial profiling that leads to these sort of tragedies.
- The lack of an indictment leads to national outcry and, after the case, the lack of a conviction.
However, the system has spoken. Innocent until proven guilty; and the proof was not given in this case. Now we must do all we can to learn from our past to better our future and to right the wrongs of yesterdays.
Outside of the case itself, I believe there are some implications and other topics around the case that need to be discussed as well.
Implications of it All
This case has ignited a much needed discussion in America: race. There has been a lot of thought I have seen from numerous places as I have come to college and been introduced to a new variety of people and viewpoints where people are mislead to believe we are a post-racial society or that discrimination is no longer a problem in this nation. However, this case and the tens, if not hundreds, like it that have emerged or re-emerged are sound examples to the contrary, as is the study I posted earlier about how often murderer’s conviction rates tend to rely on their race.
A sentiment that often stems from victims of this discrimination- or any oppression, really- is a desire to leave. As much as I understand that, we can’t. We have to stay and we have to educate others- most who so badly want to understand- why things like this are so important and why we must learn from them. Only through that learning can we find understanding. If we leave, ignorance spreads and all the work against injustice has been for naught, and that in and of itself is an injustice.
Yes, I know no country is perfect and every society has its baggage. I’m not wearing rose colored glasses. But I am wearing tears – and not just my own. I’m wearing my mother’s tears. My community’s tears. My allies’ tears. And the worst thing of all is that there is nothing new about this. We’ve been crying these tears for many lifetimes, for many generations. Here, in my sadness and pain, it would be easy to blame you, to say that you are the problem. But that would also be a lie. I am part of the problem. And I am also part of the solution.
As she acknowledges, we are all a part of these struggles- for both the good and bad, the better and the worse. In that responsibility, we have to understand that no place is without struggles and these- ours- are truly some worth fighting against.
A major part of the race discussion has been that Zimmerman is not White, but Hispanic. This is actually ignorance to the fact that you can qualify as both in America (White Hispanic). However, if he was only Hispanic, I believe the Zimmerman case would have still garnered national attention. The problem initially was not that Zimmerman was racist, but the police. They did not investigate the murder effectively because of Martin’s race. That ‘benefit of the doubt’ given to Zimmerman because he has White heritage and because Martin was Black are the main racial issues at play here and those racial profiles are on display at a highly institutional level. As Cynthia Tucker noted in her MSNBC post
Though Zimmerman racially profiled and followed a young black man who was minding his own business, six white women believed that Zimmerman acted in self-defense — or, at least, that the prosecution didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. That wouldn’t be as quite as painful if black defendants were given the same benefit of those doubts.
That is the struggle we are fighting against: perception. After all these years the color of skin still matters more than the content of the character and that can not continue if America ever expects to recover from this tragedy and prevent so many more.
This is also the reason the case matters so much in light of black on black crime in the country. As Jelani Cobb stated in a New Yorker blog post
O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but it’s simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago, who are working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in that city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun-control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.
The last part of his statement is really the strength of the statement. There is much work in black communities to tide the rise of black-on-black crime; those just don’t get as much media attention, for whatever reason (I have many theories, not for this blog). The reason a “White” person killing a “Black” gets more apparent attention and outrage is because in that case, justice is less, much less, likely to be served.
It all comes back to education. Cultural divides and assumption in this country have gone rampant, only made worse by the ignorance spread so quickly through social media and consumed as true. That ignorance must be dealt with before it becomes our downfall. In the era of technology we have the tools to understand one another and we must use them. If the jury had more knowledge on race relations and certain phrases used in mostly black communities, their gaze would have been more discerning in more instances in this case. The same could be true of those who do not understand that assuming Zimmerman is racist because he is White is just as bad as him assuming something about Martin’s danger level because he was Black- if that was the case. We need to learn to educate ourselves, especially as a people who chose to allow other citizens- despite their education levels- to judge us, so that these things truly can be dealt with appropriately and not quickly. Justice does not come in a morning. It comes through many nights. Through many tears. And through many triumphs.
This is Where I Stand.