Sunday, March 18, 2012

old fashioned southern murder

Everyone has to be aware of the recent murder in Florida that local authorities are dragging their feet on. The killer has identified himself but has not been arrested or charged. The 911 tapes have been released and can be heard here. In the background you can hear someone begging for their life and then two gunshots, and the screaming stops.

Here's what we know: A neighborhood watch leader, George Zimmerman, called police and said he was watching a suspicious black kid in a hoodie with something in his hands. According to Zimmerman's account as he talked to the dispatcher, the boy, Trayvon Martin, looked at him and then began to run. Zimmerman chased after him, despite the police telling him "we don't need you to do that." Though Zimmerman could not know it at the time, we know now that Martin, 17 years old, had an iced tea and a bag of skittles, and was returning to his father's house in the local gated community. Zimmerman, a grown man 100 pounds heavier than Martin, was armed. He chased Martin and some sort of fight ensued. Multiple witnesses heard screaming that was cut off by two gunshots. When police arrived Martin was dead on the ground and Zimmerman had a couple of cuts. Zimmerman told police he shot the boy in self defense.

Obviously, since we're on the outside looking in, we don't have to speak in the measured tones of an ongoing investigation. This is an obvious cold-blooded murder. Yet local police have claimed, “We don’t have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense at this point.” Let's unpack that a bit. An armed man pursues an unarmed boy without cause and in the ensuing scuffle, the boy ends up dead. Let's be clear: it does not matter what happened in the course of that fight. We can imagine a scenario, for example, in which Martin somehow got Zimmerman's gun and it was Zimmerman's screams heard on the tape, before recovering the gun at the last second and shooting Martin. Even that worst case scenario, however, merely describes Martin acting in self-defense! When an armed man chases down an unarmed boy for no reason, there can be no coherent concept of self-defense in the ensuing fight. By any normal standard of justice, it's not just unlikely that Zimmerman was acting in self-defense, the 911 tapes show it was literally impossible.

But it turns out Florida's self defense law is absurdly vague. You can kill someone if you have a "reasonable" fear for your life or safety. By that standard, black people might as well just start shooting cops on sight and claim self-defense!

Let's also be clear about something else: the local authorities are racist. Let's imagine the reverse scenario. A black teen, armed, chases the leader of the neigborhood watch, gets into a fight, and ends up shooting him. Three weeks later he still has not been charged because the police don't believe they have any compelling evidence that it wasn't self-defense. That would never happen.

So let's not pretend that the Sanford police chief, who doesn't believe he has evidence to dispute the self-defense claim, is a decent guy just doing his job. Let's not pretend that a moral person could take such a view. Let's not pretend that we need to know him and see how nice a family man is before we judge him. Let's not pretend there isn't a whole lot of history behind this.

Tragic things happen all the time. People get killed all the time. People get away with murder all the time. But the burden of being black is that you can't have confidence that justice will be done, even when the killer is known. Don't bother commenting if you disagree, because I won't be able to be civil.


  1. I very much agree my friend. And its literally as simple as this. Had the boy been white. None of the following incidents would have ensued. Mr. Zimmerman wouldn't have been suspicious of a white kid walking down his street with a Glock in each hand. Just the fact that the boy was black, obviously immediately placed him in the category in Zimmerman's mind as a person who couldn't possibly belong in their community, and was therefore a threat.
    It's outright prejudice, and also not surprising, a prejudice that is shared by local law enforcement. We have technology for voice recognition, should be a simple, 15 minute test to compare Mr. Zimmerman's voice to the cries for help on the 911 call. A simple and easy solution, for law enforcement that WANTS this to solved truthfully.


  2. I think you're right Harv. Me walking around at night there is much safer than you doing the same thing. The 911 tapes are so damning! And I thought about the same thing with the tapes. The screaming in the background can be heard fairly clearly even with the raw tape. With the way they can amplify and clarify certain parts of the audio, surely it can be established with relative certainty who was screaming.

    I agree with you. It defies belief to think that the local authorities are doing all they can to solve this case.