The background story of the death of Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin was a 17-year old black teenager who was visiting his father, stepmother, and little brother in Sanford, Florida. One night, he left the townhouse in the gated community where they lived to walk to the nearby 7-11 to pick up some Skittles and Arizona Ice Tea. It was raining out, and he was wearing a hoodie. A normal kid, making a normal convenience store run at night to pick up a few things. Nothing unusual about that, right? In a just world, there shouldn’t be, but in our world, there was. Trayvon Martin is dead, and his killer is walking around free, almost a month later.
Like many people, I didn’t hear of the case when it first happened. It wasn’t until the 911 tapes were released that the case started gaining traction in the media. The story unfolded gradually, and with each new piece of information, the story became more and more disturbing – not to mention enraging, heartbreaking, and depressing. It also became very complex and layered, so I’m going to try to break it down as best as I can.
As I said above, the basic story is that on February 26, Trayvon Martin went to the local 7-11 to grab some snacks. It was nighttime and raining, and Trayvon was wearing a hoodie. The self-appointed captain of the (gated) neighborhood watch, George Zimmerman, spotted him, called 911, and followed Trayvon. Zimmerman was carrying a 9mm handgun. There was a scuffle, and Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon. Zimmerman claimed it was self-defense; the police claimed they couldn’t prove differently, and that was that.
The release of the 911 tapes changed everything
Well, not exactly. For weeks, the Sanford police refused to release the 911 tapes, saying the case was still under investigation. They received pressure from the media and the family to release the tapes, and they finally did. In the aforementioned link, Zimmerman can be heard saying that he saw someone suspicious walking around, just looking around, his hand in his waistband. Zimmerman said he thought the suspect was black, in his late teens, and was acting as if he was on drugs or something. He said the suspect was looking at him and then started running. Zimmerman added, “These assholes always get away with it.” He continued to talk to the dispatcher, and it’s clear that he’s moving. The dispatcher asked if he was following the suspect. Zimmerman said yes, and the dispatcher said he didn’t need to do that.
Here we have the first lie of Zimmerman. Before the tapes were released, his father claimed that Zimmerman never pursued Trayvon, yet, on the tape Zimmerman told the dispatcher he was following Trayvon, and the dispatcher told him he didn’t need to do that. Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon, anyway.
There are eight 911 tapes in all, seven of them are in this HuffPo link. The first audio is the one of George Zimmerman calling 911. The second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh are of other people calling in after Trayvon was killed. The last (seventh) has the witness clearly explaining what she saw, including one person saying help, help and the other guy shooting him (paraphrasing). She sobbed as she continued talking about what she saw and heard, and she stated more than once that the person screaming help and the person doing the shooting were two different people.
The tape I want to focus on right now, however, is the third one. I must say that while all the tapes are upsetting, the third tape is excruciating and heartbreaking to listen to because you can actually hear someone in the background screaming for help before you hear a gunshot. Then the screaming stops. Zimmerman said that it was him yelling for help, something the police corroborate, but Trayvon’s family said it’s Trayvon. The witness in the last audio seemed pretty sure that the one screaming help and the one doing the shooting were two different people, as well. And, as I listened to the audio, I was pretty sure it was Trayvon and not Zimmerman. The voice did not sound like Zimmerman’s, and the timing of the screaming and the shot don’t make sense if it’s Zimmerman yelling for help and not Trayvon. So, that would be lie number two. It was Trayvon screaming for help, not Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman’s story continues to unravel, and a little background on him
One of the reasons Zimmerman was not arrested the night he killed Trayvon was because he told the detectives he did not have a record, that he was “squeaky clean”. The police told this to the family, who later found out that Zimmerman had been charged in 2005 with resisting arrest with violence and battery on a police officer. Zimmerman was allowed to plead guilty to simple assault, thus, erasing his record and allowing him to have a concealed gun permit. So, a lie? Maybe not exactly, but he wasn’t squeaky-clean, either. You know who didn’t have a record at all? Trayvon.
Residents of Retreat at Twin Lakes (the community) had been missing some grilles and bikes. A few residents thought strangers were casing their townhouses as well. Zimmerman, a 28-year old man criminal justice student, volunteered to head the neighborhood watch when no one else spoke up. He would go house to house, warning everyone to be on the lookout for suspicious people, and he specifically mentioned young black men.
From January 1, 2011 until now, Zimmerman called police 46 times, complaining of suspicious behavior, windows left open, etc. 9 of those times, he saw someone or something suspicious. He did catch one thief, and an arrest was made. However, he seemed to be preoccupied with black men, and he made several references to his neighbors about seeing suspicious black men in the neighborhood. One neighbor, Ibrahim Rashada, said that while Zimmerman was pretty cool and helpful, all the talk about ‘suspicious black men’ kept him (Rashada) from walking around the neighborhood.
I fit the stereotype he emailed around, [Rashada said]. “Listen, you even hear me say it: ‘A black guy did this. A black guy did that.’ So I thought, ‘Let me sit in the house. I don’t want anyone chasing me.’
Racism is not predicated on the shooter’s race, but on the victim’s
Zimmerman’s father has insisted that his son is not racist, that he can’t be because he’s Latino and part of a multiracial family. Why the black neighbors love Zimmerman! That proves it, right?
No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that Zimmerman is half-Latino or that he has friends and family who are black. What matters is how he viewed any black man he didn’t know and how he applied that viewpoint to Trayvon Martin the night he killed Trayvon. In his 911 call, he said he saw a man walking around, looking suspicious. He identified the suspect as black in response to the dispatcher asking the ethnicity of the suspect (edited for clarity). He said the suspect must be on drugs or something. And, when Trayvon took off, Zimmerman followed him despite the dispatcher saying he didn’t need to do that.
Black teenager. Walking around in a hoodie. Looking for his father’s townhouse. That’s all it takes to be suspicious in Zimmerman’s eyes, to become one of “these assholes”. That’s all it takes for Zimmerman to chase down an unarmed teenage black boy and kill him, despite the boy screaming for help. In other words, Zimmerman had a certain way he looked at young black men he didn’t know, and he made Trayvon Martin fit his stereotype.
I will have more on the racial aspects of this case in another post and much more besides, but I just want to end this post by asking you to sign the petition to have George Zimmerman prosecuted. As Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton said in an interview with ABC, she is just looking for an arrest. She added, “Let a judge and jury decide the rest.”
It’s the least we can do for Trayvon*.