Thursday, March 22, 2012

The failure to charge Trayvon Martin's killer shows racism is still endemic in the Southern states of the US

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17 year old black boy, was shot dead by George Zimmerman, a latino member of an informal neighbourhood watch group in Florida earlier this month. Police and prosecutors in Florida have so far claimed there is insufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman with any crime.

Zimmerman phoned 911 to tell the police that he thought Martin was acting suspiciously (Martin had bought a drink and some sweets from a shop and was walking home). He says he followed Martin in his truck, got out of it when he couldn’t see where Martin had gone – and that Martin then jumped him from behind as he walked back to his truck and was punching him, leading Zimmerman to fear for his life, at which point he shot Martin twice in self-defence.

This story seems unlikely given that Zimmerman was an armed man, while Martin was an unarmed boy. The fact that Martin was 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds, while Zimmerman is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds may make things marginally less clear cut.

Three witnesses – people who lived on the street Martin was killed on – say they heard what sounded like a boy crying in fear for help and begging for his life, followed by two shots.

While Zimmerman’s story sounds far fetched, some say a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law passed by the State of Florida would mean that if his story was true he could be argued to have been acting within the law.

The relevant section of the law reads A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.’

However, looked at from Martin’s likely point of view, even if Zimmerman’s story was true, Martin might be the one who had the right to defend himself with any means he thought necessary if he thought his life was in danger – which he reasonably could when approached by a man who had been following him and who was armed with a gun.

The current and former members of the Florida state legislature who drafted the law say that Zimmerman can’t use it as a defence whether his version of events is true or not as he was told by the 911 operator that he did not need to follow Martin as police officers were on their way.

What is completely unacceptable about this case is that Florida police and prosecutors have so far refused to bring any charges against Zimmerman. Their claim that there’s insufficient evidence even to bring charges seems far fetched given the three witnesses who heard the events combined with phone call recordings of Zimmerman’s 911 call and Martin’s phone call to his girlfriend.

Zimmerman’s 911 call is on youtube here – at 1 minute 39 seconds he tells the operator ‘They always get away’. At one minute 52 seconds he can be heard saying “fucking coons”.

 It is inconceivable that if the dead boy was white or latino and the killer was black that the police would not have arrested and charged them by now. Unless Zimmerman is charged the message sent to Americans – and to the rest of the world – will be that the Southern states of the US have not really changed since the segregation and lynchings of black people by the Klu Klux Klan in the past – that twenty-first century America is still a country of white supremacists in which black people can be killed without consequences. If that message is sent, expect a big fall in tourism to Florida and the rest of the US.

George Zimmerman’s father Robert has claimed in interviews that there had been repeated burglaries by black youths in the neighbourhood – but he also claimed before the 911 recording was released that Zimmerman had never followed or confronted Martin at any point – something contradicted by his son’s own account to the 911 operator ; and even if there were these burglaries there was no justification for killing Trayvon, though Zimmerman also said in the 911 call that Martin was putting his hand to his waist-band and was holding something (this turned out to be a can of iced tea and a packet of skittles (sweets)).

Even if Zimmerman did believe Martin was a burglar ‘casing’ houses, as he suggested in the call, this would still mean Zimmerman is a dangerous man, prone to suspecting people based on little or nothing and to follow them armed with a gun which he is very willing to use.

For a comprehensive summary of the facts of the case and links to the various mainstream media in Florida and the US reporting them, see this link.

To sign the Martin family’s petition to the Florida police and legal authorities demanding that Zimmerman be charged and tried for Martin’s death click this link

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