Once again, the eyes of the nation fall upon the “Sunshine State”, eagerly watching how Florida will handle another miscarriage of justice and swirling questions of racial inequality. Unfortunately, the latest implications of racial profiling and possible cover-ups by government officials arising from Florida go far beyond voting rights. This case deals with the death of a young black male at the hands of a white vigilante in a suburban neighborhood in Sanford, Florida. On 26 February 2012, George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood-watch captain, shot and killed an unarmed 17-year-old high school student, Trayvon Martin. Despite several concurring witness accounts relating the story of a confrontation in which a person crying for help goes silent after gun shots are fired, police officers declined to arrest Zimmerman. Zimmerman admitted to shooting Martin but claimed he did so in self-defense. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. says that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” essentially ties the hands of his department with respect to taking any action against Zimmerman. In the media fervor that has followed the demands for justice by the parents of Trayvon Martin along with growing public outrage, Chief Lee opted to turn the case over the Florida Office of the Attorney General in Seminole County. This case, however, bears frightening implications for the rest of the country. The apparent refusal of Florida law enforcement officials to bring George Zimmerman to justice evokes the type of racial bias and indifference to the murder of a young black male on display in the case of Emmet Till in the 1950s. Although the men who kidnapped and murdered Till were tried in open court, they were ultimately acquitted and subsequently protected by “double jeopardy” from being re-prosecuted when, after the trial, they brazenly admitted to brutally lynching Till. The State of Florida seems to be on track to set a deadly precedent under which other state legislatures can adopt similar laws that will not only make all black males instantly suspicious, but also provide for a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm when confronted by a black male. If the State of Florida fails to bring justice to this matter relatively soon, the United States Department of Justice must intervene. Notwithstanding, every parent of a teenage black male across the country should be on notice.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. cites a lack of evidence to suggest that George Zimmerman acted in anything other than self-defence in the killing of Trayvon Martin. So, what evidence is available? We know that Zimmerman was patrolling the Retreat at Twins Lakes, a gated townhome community in Sanford, Florida (which lies about twenty miles north of Orlando), when he spotted Trayvon Martin who was returning to the home of his father’s fiancée in the same community from a convenience store. We know the weather was rainy when the incident occurred. We know that Martin was wearing a hoodie. We know that Zimmerman called the Sanford Police Department to report Martin as exhibiting suspicious behavior. We know that the dispatcher handling Zimmerman’s 9-1-1 call advised Zimmerman that officers had been dispatched to his location and further told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin. Ignoring the dispatcher, Zimmerman, in TV-vigilante-like fashion, did pursue Martin. In the resulting confrontation and apparent physical altercation, Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest, extinguishing an otherwise promising young life. We know that Trayvon Martin was unarmed. We know that Sanford police declined to arrest George Zimmerman on the grounds that Zimmerman claimed the shooting was done in self-defense.
Now, what additional facts have surfaced in the three (3) weeks since the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin? On 16 March 2012, the Sanford Police Department released audio recordings from the various 9-1-1 calls received during the incident in question. The recordings confirm Zimmerman both admits to pursuing Martin and ignores the Sanford Police dispatcher telling him that such pursuit is unnecessary. Furthermore, the witnesses whom Chief Lee previously reported corroborated Zimmerman’s self-defense claim have come forward with slightly different accounts. While no one is absolutely certain which party to the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin cried out, the witnesses seem to all agree that someone cried for help during the confrontation but those cries ceased immediately after the shots were fired. In fact, one witness, Mary Cutcher, thought the voice calling for help was that of a child who had been “hurt” or, at least, “terrified”. Audio from one of the 9-1-1 recordings seems to confirm this account. If in fact, if you listen closely, a frightened voice seems to be shouting one word just before the fatal shot was fired, “Why?!?”
Unlike other states, Florida does not impose a “duty to retreat” before applying lethal force in self-defense. Under Florida law, a person may use lethal force in self-defense even outside of their home, when faced with a situation in which they reasonably fear severe bodily injury or death. The law prohibits a person from asserting a claim of self-defense in which that same person aggravates the situation or becomes the aggressor. The question remaining unanswered by the Sanford police becomes at what point was George Zimmerman placed in a situation in which he could reasonably assert that he feared for his life? Zimmerman admits to pursuing the young man. According to one witness, Zimmerman had Martin’s lifeless body pinned to the ground. And what of Martin’s right to fight back? Apparently, according to the Sanford Police Department, Martin, a teenage black male, did not have the right to defend himself against an older white man chasing him in the rain, through his father’s neighborhood.
At this point, Americans everywhere should be asking if this year is indeed 2012 or 1955. In 1955, another young black male, 14-year-old Emmet Till, was murdered in cold blood by white men administering their own brand of vigilante justice. Though arrested and tried, Till’s murders were not convicted, even after they described in grizzly detail how they lynched and mutilated young Emmet Till on 28 August 1955. The American social order was admittedly much different in 1955. Jim Crow Law reigned supreme, and though not actually illegal, the events that lead to Till’s murder were socially unacceptable. Local law enforcement saw no reason to question or arrest the men who killed Emmet Till, because the prevailing thought was that little black boy deserved to be taught a lesson. Without national outcry, there would not have even been a trial in the Emmet Till case, and neither the judge nor the attorneys on either side took the case particularly seriously. Nonetheless, in the wake of Till’s horrifying murder, African Americans across the country realized that what happened to Emmet Till could have easily happened to their own sons, and the national Civil Rights movement picked up steam. The chilling accounts of the final moments in the life of young Trayvon Martin should incite the same reaction among African Americans today; moreover, every American should be appalled by a case in which an unarmed child is gunned down. No matter your political affiliation, race, religion or creed, you probably agree that Trayvon Martin did not need to die. That more than anything should inspire our nation to come together to see that justice is done in this case.
Amir Clayton Powell is an author, advocate, entrepreneur, father, husband, servant of God, and warrior. By the by, he also happens to be the Publisher of The Old School Journal™ (TOSJ) as well as the Founder & Chairman of A C Powell & Co. LLC. Find A C on Twitter: @AClaytonPowell. Follow TOSJ on Facebook & Twitter.
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