Four troubling facts in the Trayvon Martin case

Last week, the evolving case of the killing of Trayvon Martin, a teenager, by George Zimmerman reached a fever pitch. Outrage on the part of pro- Martin groups swirled in a mix of frustration, anger, and sadness over law enforcement’s decision not to bring Zimmerman to trial. Protests in Orlando and other cities and towns around the country proclaimed one thing: justice for Trayvon Martin. We know by now, based on facts shared by law enforcement, that there is enough evidence for Zimmerman to be charged with a crime.

Celebrities, religious leaders, and even the President have weighed in on the tragedy with mixed results. An example of this fever pitch outrage manifested in director Spike Lee retweeting on his Twitter account a false address of the Zimmerman family. It turns out that the addressed shared was not a family related to Martin’s shooter, but another family with the same name. Death threats and intimation tactics were employed by individuals against the family, which resulted in Spike Lee apologizing and settling with the family.

I have waited to weigh in on Trayvon Martin because of the tenor of the tragedy. There is, and rightfully so to some degree, a great deal of sensitivity surround this case. I’ve waited as long as I could for officials to release more evidence.  I didn’t want to blog on hearsay or speculation. Let me be clear here: It’s obvious that justice is needed for Trayvon Martin and his family, which calls for a trial.  However, there are deeper issues present than just a teenager being shot and his shooter not charged.

Here are four troubling facts in the Trayvon Martin case: 

Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law and relation to homicides. This law allows people who believe they’re in danger to respond with deadly force. More specially, the law allows:

residents and visitors may legally presume the threat of bodily harm or death from anyone who breaks into a residence or occupied vehicle and may use defensive force, including deadly force, against the intruder.

It’s concerning that with this law, since introduced in 2005, homicides have risen in Florida. Let’s just say that Zimmerman was threaten by Martin. Zimmerman was not justified in shooting Martin because Martin was not an intruder. In addition, the law states that a person may act in self-defense against someone who “doesn’t have a right” to be at specific location (e.g. trespassing on another’s property) but Martin wasn’t trespassing on Zimmerman’s property. Finally, the courts have established the concept of “justifiable force”. That is, in essence, you can’t use deadly force on someone who doesn’t have the ability to carry out deadly force. Martin had no weapons on him.

Rush to judgement: too many claim to “know” what happened.  The fact is, only two people witnessed what happened and unfortunately one of them is dead.  A number of people heard screams, a gunshot(s), and a scuffle. A number of bloggers and talking heads have claimed that they “know” Zimmerman is guilty or that Zimmerman is innocent.  How can anyone “know” that? It’s troubling that people have been speaking on this situation, for and against Zimmerman, without enough evidence. A trial is needed. Facts need to be introduced in a court of law and not in the court of public opinion. All we have now is information released by the police. We need more information.

People are allowed to carry a concealed weapon with little need. I know I’m going to draw fire for this one, so I rephrase it in a form of a question: Why are people allowed to carry a concealed weapon with little need? Yes, the Constitution allows people to bear arms (in a well-regulated militia), but why did Zimmerman need a concealed weapon permit? He has the right to have a gun, but the facts surrounding lax gun laws and murder are connected. States with liberal gun laws also have the highest rate of murder. While million of Americans are protecting themselves, tens of thousands are dying because of the lack of sensible gun laws. Even though the US rate of homicides is declining, the “Stand your Ground” states are seeing a rise in self-defense homicides. I’m not suggesting that we need to take people’s rights away, but sensible leadership is needed on this issue.

Racism, redefined, is on both sides and we don’t know how to talk about it. This is the elephant in the room. At first, news organizations reported that Zimmerman is “white”. Then, this was seen as a white on black crime. We learned later that Zimmerman’s mother is of Latin descent and his father is white. There have been mischaracterizations and smears against Martin and Zimmerman – mainly due to race. As others have cited, we must accept that racism, whether perceived or not, is still at work in our culture.  Clarence Page from the South Florida Sun Sentinel said it well when he asked:

How do you define “racist?” To some people, you have to be a cross-burning, hood-wearing Klansman to qualify. To others, any attempt to inject racial concerns into the public square is evidence of racism, judging by some of the mail I receive. Conservatives in particular complain that they can’t be candid about race with blacks or our white liberal allies without being guilt-tripped or accused of racism. I respect their complaint. We’ve all been invited to a “conversation” that turned into a one-way lecture. To avoid the guilt game, both sides have to relinquish some of their innocence. That’s not easy, especially when each side sees injustice in the other.

These facts are running through this tragedy and civil and political leaders need to respond. I pray that we can continue addressing these concerns and not let emotions get the best of us or let our “rights” supersede justice.


Comments

  1. chris wright says

    Ok. Here is my unadulterated, unbiased, true, and unemotional take on the case.

    In 1991, Director John Singleton wrote and directed a very chilling and compelling movie titled, “boyz n the hood”. You might remember it. It’s main story line was youth violence in the hood and how most of America turned a blind eye to it. The statistics of gun violence across Black America was staggering, specifically with young men under the age of 18. In 2008 thru 2011, the city of Philadelphia averaged over a murder a day by gun violence, with over 80% being young black children under the age of 18. The number actually triggered upward year over year. I am sure that Washington D.C, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and other populous have similar statistics as well.

    Just recently, a young teen was shot in a drive-by in Troy, NY and it made the local news and there was a few post on Facebook regarding the incident. Nothing overwhelming though. And I’m confident that teens are senselessly murdered nightly, weekly, monthly and they don’t get a blip on the radar.

    Since I was born and raised in “the hood” in Philadelphia, I think that I am justified in having this opinion. Growing up in the city has made me desensitized to tragedy. But there is something more important that I have become desensitized to; stirring up race issues. Because I have lived in predominantly White settings for the last 20 years or more, I’m on the outside looking in. I see the black community many times from the same lens and angle that White America sees it. And while many Whites in America have taken up vigilance for the Trayvon Martin case, the most troubling emotions and reactions are taking place in the black community.

    Young Black men are dying nightly across America at the hand of other Young Black men, right in the face of the same protesters and protagonist that are screaming for Zimmerman’s head. Many have lost sons, brothers, nephews and neighbors to gun violence, yet, they have found a cause in the Trayvon case to stand up and scream bloody murder. Why? Because a crime was committed at the hands of another color. Because the accused may have made a few racial slurs and spoke of his victim in stereotypical terms. And they’ve dismissed the small fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic. Not Anglo, as many of “our” darts are tossed toward when “something goes bad”.

    Understand. I know racism. I was born in 1964. I’m a product of the environment. I was bused into school in white neighborhoods and have been part of the 2% minority student body. My White in-laws do not even speak to my family because I’m Black. So I feel that I know when it’s time to take up a cause. This is not one of those times. And yes, If you believe that you are fighting for justice, that’s one thing. But let’s not make this a racial thing. In the case of the Sanford Police Department, let’s just say that they are struggling for ways to deal with a cultural hip hop phenomenon. Much like the rest of America. Suburban white communities are slowly digesting urban hip hop culture & dress in their communities and it is not easy. Even affluent black communities in place like Atlanta and Charlotte look twice if they see young men in hoodies, baggy clothes, braids and bandanas. It’s not uncommon. Police departments ARE profiling. How can you not? That’s a story for a different day.

    Last remark. MSNBC journalist Toure went up one side and down the other on CNN talk show host Piers Morgan a few nights ago, for not properly interrogating Zimmerman’s brother. (It’s not Piers job to interrogate. It’s his job to search for facts & news. It’s Sanford Police’ job to interrogate), the debate was embarrassing. To me. Many people don’t know Toure. He started on the BET Network and has since ascended to an NBC Network. He said that the Trayvon Martin case was “one of the most important cases of our time”. He also compared this case to the murder and lynching of the 1955 murder of the teen Emmitt Till, upon which the movie “Mississippi Burning” was written about; which ignited a civil rights movement. This is not even close!!!! And Soledad O’Brien of CNN, most noted for Race documentaries and exposes, also decided to discuss racial justice in America due to this Trayvon Martin case. We have to stop. This is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater or the boy who cries wolf. When America has a real issue, who will listen?

  2. says

    Chris thank you for your in depth perspective. “This is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater or the boy who cries wolf. When America has a real issue, who will listen?” – Wow, very frank. The “hype” as you called in on Facebook, has brought this to our national conscience. I’m going to share your response with others.

  3. says

    The press continues to show a picture of a 13 year old young boy. He was actually 17.

    The phone call was distorted by the police. They left out some of the wording by Zimmerman.

    Wow, the press and associates played this up big. Very sad,in our world of ‘news’ this is what sells?

  4. Marcus Gochett says

    Alan Chris,

    I read your article and the reply by Chris Wright and I had to give a response because I believe that, while the article is on point and expresses sensible concerns Mr. Wright’s response does an injustice to the article, black people, the Trayvon Martin case, and the state of race relations in America in general.
    Mr. Wright brings up the issue of violence in the black community and the failure to speak up about it within our community. I would say that all too often we do speak up against the crime but the issue in this regard is a failure of both local media to report it adequately and law enforcement to investigate and prosecute fully. I would suggest that Mr. Wright’s should be more properly directed to those groups.
    You go on to suggest that this case has been an attempt to “stir up race issues” stating that the fact that Zimmerman was Hispanic not Anglo. Let me point out briefly before i go on to my main point here that Zimmerman is a Anglo-Hispanic and I would mention further that his father (White -Anglo) has been mentioned prevalently in the media coverage surrounding this issue being a retired Magistrate (more on that later) while his mother has not been mentioned at all except as a substantiation of his Hispanic heritage. However the original point I wanted to make is the thrust of the whole protest has been directed towards the failure of law enforcement to follow normal procedure (investigate, confiscate the weapon, controlled substance testing etc.). This is intimately tied to the marginalization of black people and our lives or death in this instance. The Zimmerman supporters and to a degree the media’s attempt to deflect the race issue by referring to his Hispanic ethnicity is wholly intended to distract from the failure of law enforcement to do their job.
    Mr. Wright says that he knows racism, and sites being bussed, grew up in the hood, etc. as his credentials. I would say that anyone that truly knows what racism is would not need, or even feel the need to state his credentials and I am offended that you dismiss the fact that the accused may have said racial slurs and used “stereotypical” terms. It is that same apathy and dismissiveness that gives the footing that racism needs to stand on and/or hide behind. It’s a shame that your time in the “predominantly white setting” for the past 20 years has completely eradicated your sense of what it means to be black in America, I am glad for you that you do not see the ugly side of racism, although you say your in-laws don’t talk to you family your tone suggests that you don’t care about that or it isn’t a problem for you. I also am sad for your loss of identity. I am a black man I work for a great company with a predominately white peerage, and they are mostly conservative, however we all have respect for each other as a person and a human a model which I find to be sorely lacking in our society today.
    Lastly, although I won’t comment on you remark on Toure, except to say that, Zimmerman’s brother had not relevant news or facts to present as he was not a witness to the killing nor was he even in contact with his brother until significantly later. I would call both things what they likely were, attempts to get viewership. I will make one note though “Mississippi Burning” was not about Emmett Till as you suggest, it was actually about three civil rights workers, which happened in 1964 (The year you were born I believe), and there are similarities between the two if you look at the actions and response of local law enforcement. If you are looking for information on Emmett Till or the civil rights movement in general i would suggest the PBS documentary “eyes on the prize”
    Finally I would reply to your statement about “yelling fire” in response to speaking out against racial injustice in America I will say unequivocally that there is a fire in America, were that not the case you would not see other nations joining in on this protest, which I state again in not directed primarily at Zimmerman but at a system (law enforcement at the local level) which all too often turns a blind eye when it comes to justice and due-process in the black community; in the 45 days since Trayvon was killed there have, nationally, been at least 15 cases where innocent black lives have been lost to law enforcement related officials.

  5. Joe Gaerttner says

    Your analysis is pretty good except for your complete fail on the issue of your reading of the Second Amendment. Read a little more Samuel Adams and other Anti-Federalists (and likely most Federalists as well would have agreed) and perhaps you will understand why Americans have the right to bear arms to protect their natural (God given) rights. And please, spare us, We the law-abiding People, the grammatical lesson on the comma within the sentence or the slippery slope of gun grabbers who love to say, geez, doesn’t the Second Amendment give us the right to carry ANY weapon? The Second Amendment protects us from tyranny, period.

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