1) Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old Miami student visiting Sanford, Fla., near Orlando, with his father when he was killed on Feb. 26. His father, who also lives in Miami, was visiting his girlfriend in Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated townhouse community.
2) Trayvon had made a short trip to a nearby 7-Eleven store to pick of a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea and was returning when he was stalked by George Zimmerman.
3) Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is of Peruvian descent, fatally shot unarmed Tayvon in chest.
4) Zimmerman was an unregistered neighborhood watch captain who was not supposed to carry a weapon while on patrol. Chris Tutko, director of Neighborhood Watch for the National Sheriffs’ Association, told the Orlando Sentinel that Zimmerman had broken a couple of cardinal rules. “If you see something suspicious, you report it, you step aside and you let law enforcement do their job,” Tutko said. “This guy went way beyond the call of duty. At the least, he’s overzealous.” Tutko also said volunteers should never carry lethal weapons. He said, “There’s no reason to carry a gun.”
5) Though Zimmerman acknowledged killing Trayvon, he was questioned and then released. Police did not follow basic guidelines of homicide investigations such as testing him for drugs and alcohol, though they performed the tests on Trayvon.
6) Trayvon was talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend shortly before his death and reported being followed by a strange man in a vehicle.
7) A police dispatcher specifically told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon, instructions he ignored. When Zimmerman confirmed he was following Trayvon, the dispatcher said, “OK, we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman continued anyway.
8) Benjamin Crump, the family’s lawyer, said that based on 911 tapes, Zimmerman harbored at least three stereotypes of Black males: “He said, No. 1, he looked suspicious. No. 2, he must be high. No. 3, he’s looking to break in someplace.”
9) Some said that Trayvon became a suspect because he wore a hooded sweatshirt, known as a “hoodie.” Some have even blamed Trayvon’s death on his clothing. On the March 23 edition of Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”, network contributor Geraldo Rivera said, “I am urging the parents of Black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” However, others, such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper, say they have frequently adorn hoodies and have never been viewed as suspected criminals. And no one dares suspect New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick or Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, both known for wearing hoodies, of being criminals. Some kooks posting on Fox News Network site were extremely crass. One wrote, “GOOD SHOT, ZIMMY. I’m just glad Zimmerman didn’t miss and hit an innocent bystander.”
10) Police say Zimmerman was not arrested because of Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, a measure that gives broad protection to any citizen acting in self-defense. However, Jeb Bush, who as governor of Florida signed the stand-your-ground bill into law, said the legislation does not cover the neighborhood watch captain who shot Trayvon Martin to death. “This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,” Bush said after an education panel discussion at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
11) At 9 years old, Trayvon saved his father’s life. In an interview with Roland Martin on “TV One”, the elder Martin said, “At the time, he was 9 years old. We had just came from the Little League football park. We fell asleep while the stove was on. A grease fire started. I went into the kitchen to try to put the grease fire out. The grease splattered all over my leg. My body went into shock and by me and him being in the house, I started calling out his name. He finally woke up and, at 9 years old, he pulled me from out of the kitchen, where the kitchen cabinets were on fire. He pulled me out of the kitchen onto the balcony. He actually went back into the house and got the cell phone and called 911.”
12) Trayvon’s parents still have nightmares about his death. His father, in an exclusive interview with NNPA publishers, said: “I can’t describe the feeling, I can’t describe what was going through my mind because I was actually staring at a photo of my pride and joy on the ground dead. I still see the photo now — his eyes weren’t closed all the way, his mouth wasn’t closed, it was the worst feeling of my life.” — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached via his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
After weeks of protests across the United States, a special prosecutor has decided to bring second-degree murder charges against neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charges Wednesday at a news conference.
The decision to charge and arrest Zimmerman, who is now in custody, was long overdue.
Corey was right to charge Zimmerman for the shooting death of the unarmed African-American teenager Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., near Orlando.
Zimmerman, 28, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, said the teenager attacked him and that he shot Martin as an act of self-defense.
But there is evidence that Zimmerman was the aggressor and that much of his and his supporters’ version of what happened on the night of the shooting is not credible.
Martin was returning to the home of his father’s fiancée from a convenience store when Zimmerman ignored specific direction from a 911 dispatcher and started following him. Zimmerman told police dispatchers that Martin looked suspicious. At some point the two got into a confrontation, and Zimmerman used his gun and shot Martin to death.
Zimmerman told detectives that Martin knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman’s father said that his son suffered a broken nose.
However a video taken about 40 minutes after the shooting showed Zimmerman arriving at the Sanford police station walking, assisted without difficulty, with no visible bandages or blood on his clothing.
The shooting sparked resentment toward the police department because no charges had been filed against Zimmerman and the police appeared to have been less than thorough in their investigation of the case.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down, and the local prosecutor disqualified himself from the case as Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey, the prosecutor for Jacksonville, to take over.
An arrest had been delayed because of Florida’s dangerous “stand your ground” law, which give people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat first in the face of danger.
Police cited the law as the reason for not charging Zimmerman. However even legislators and others who support the law said Zimmerman could not use it as a defense since he was the one who pursued an unarmed man.
The search for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin has now begun.
Most people are asking whether Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law should apply to George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain who killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin. That’s the wrong question. A better one is, given the circumstances: Did the law protect Trayvon when he physically confronted Zimmerman?
In a word, yes.
Looking at the 2005 law from a different perspective — through the eyes of 17-year-old Trayvon instead of Zimmerman’s — is critical because the debate over what happened on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., is being misframed.
Some facts are undisputed: Trayvon was walking home from a nearby 7-Eleven store, where he had purchased a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea, when he was spotted by Zimmerman, who was driving an SUV. Zimmerman dialed 911 and reported seeing a suspicious Black male in the gated townhouse community.
Though he had no proof, Zimmerman claimed that Trayvon appeared to be high on drugs. When Zimmerman confirmed that he was following Trayvon, the 911 operator specifically told him to stop following Trayvon and that police officers were on their way to the scene. Instead of following instructions, Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon.
What happened next is unclear because we are left only with Zimmerman’s version of events. We do know that shortly before he was shot to death, Trayvon had been talking on his cell phone with his girlfriend. She later told Trayvon’s family lawyer that he told her he was being followed by a strange white man. She urged him to run away from him.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Zimmerman told police he lost sight of Trayvon and got out of his SUV to follow him on foot. Zimmerman said he was returning to his vehicle when Trayvon allegedly approached him from the rear. The two exchanged words and began fighting. The neighborhood watch captain claimed Trayvon knocked him to the ground with a punch in the nose. Zimmerman said Trayvon climbed on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk.
Zimmerman told police that he began yelling for help, but two voice experts hired by the Sentinel concluded that the voice heard screaming for help on the 911 tapes was not that of the neighborhood watch captain. During the scuffle, Zimmerman pulled his 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun and fatally shot Trayvon once in the chest.
Police said that when they arrived, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had cuts on the back of his head.
Those details were leaked by police to the Orlando newspaper in hopes of bolstering Zimmerman’s case. However, even if everything Zimmerman said is true — which is doubtful — he was clearly the aggressor, not the victim. He was the one who pursued Trayvon against the advice of the 911 dispatcher. And with police officers en route, he decided to leave his SUV and hunt for Trayvon.
Even supporters of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law don’t believe Zimmerman should be allowed to hide behind the controversial legislation.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Ocala Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, told the Tampa Bay Times, “They got the goods on him [Zimmerman]. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid. He has no protection under my law.”
Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law when he was governor of Florida, agrees.
“This law does not apply to this particular circumstance,” he said. “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”
Florida statute 776.013(3), known as the Stand Your Ground law, says, in part:
(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.
Trayvon was clearly operating within those boundaries when he faced-off against Zimmerman. He was a guest in one of the townhouses and therefore had an undeniable reason to be in the neighborhood. He had no duty to retreat simply because Zimmerman was the aggressor. And Trayvon had every right to believe that the person who had been stalking him was intent on inflicting great bodily harm.
Regardless of how Zimmernan’s family tries to spin the facts, it was Trayvon Martin who had the clear right to stand his ground. Whatever he did to Zimmerman was totally justified. And Zimmerman had no right to kill a 17-year-old youth carrying only a bag of candy and iced tea. — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
The controversy surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin has put the disastrous “stand-your-ground” law under the spotlight.
The case of 17-year-old Martin, who was shot to death after an encounter with 28-year-old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., has sparked national interest in the law.
Police did not arrest Zimmerman after he told them he had been attacked by Martin, who was not armed, and shot him in self-defense. In not arresting Zimmerman police cited Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.
In 2005, Florida was the first state to pass a “stand-your-ground” law. Today it is among 21 states with such a law.
Pennsylvania has a similar law, known as the Castle Doctrine, which allows residents to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their homes or any public place.
“The significant difference in Pennsylvania law is that (the alleged aggressor) would have had to display a deadly weapon to justify a person using deadly force,” said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which provides training and support to the state’s 67 district attorneys.
Long said Zimmerman would have been charged under Pennsylvania law, according to an Associated Press article.
Some are skeptical that Zimmerman would have been arrested under Pennsylvania’s law.
“You have to define a deadly weapon, and the law doesn’t clearly do that,” said Thomas Baldino, professor of law and politics at Wilkes University. “So, the same could happen here if, for instance, the police determine that a baseball bat or a penknife is a deadly weapon, and they don’t make an arrest because of if.”
The “stand-your-ground” law and similar laws, including Pennsylvania’s recently expanded Castle Doctrine, are bad law because they encourage vigilantism.
Gun control activist John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, said the law in Florida and similar laws in other states encourage a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality.
“‘Stand your ground’ is an excuse to kill anyone you don’t like and not be held responsible,” he said. “It is horrific public policy. It is racist-based public policy.”
In 2005, when the Florida legislature proposed the law, several police chiefs in Florida wrote a letter to the legislature opposing it, said John F. Timoney, a former chief of police in Miami and Philadelphia.
“Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department is a daunting enough task. Laws like ‘stand your ground’ give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster,” wrote Timoney in a March 23 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.
Timoney points out that not only is the law dangerous, it is also unnecessary.
“Until 2005, in all 50 states, the law on the use of force for civilians was pretty simple. If you found yourself in a situation where you felt threatened but could safely retreat, you had the duty to do so. (A police officer does not have the duty to retreat; this is the distinction between a sworn police officer and the average citizen’s use of force.)”
Timoney argues that police are trained to de-escalate tense encounters with aggressive people, using deadly force as a last resort. “Citizens, on the other hand, may act from emotion and perceived threats. But ‘stand your ground’ gives citizens the right to use force in public if they feel threatened. As the law emphatically states, a citizen has ‘no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.’”
The “stand-your-ground” laws are dangerous laws that need to be rejected and repealed.
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the Justice Department will take appropriate action in the killing of Trayvon Martin if it finds evidence that a federal criminal civil rights crime has been committed.
The attorney general made the comments in an appearance before a civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Holder said the department will conduct a thorough and independent review of the evidence in the Martin matter. One of the department's top priorities, said Holder, is preventing and combating youth violence and victimization.
The Justice Department launched an investigation of the Martin killing three weeks ago.
"I know that many of you are greatly — and rightly — concerned about the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a young man whose future has been lost to the ages," Holder told the 14th annual convention of the National Action Network.
"If we find evidence of a potential federal criminal civil rights crime, we will take appropriate action," said the attorney general. "I also can make you another promise: that at every level of today's Justice Department — preventing and combating youth violence and victimization is, and will continue to be, a top priority."
The attorney general says that Justice Department officials including Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, and U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill from Florida have traveled to Sanford to meet with the Martin family, members of the community and local authorities.
He says representatives from the department's Community Relations Service are meeting with civil rights leaders, law enforcement officers and residents to address community tensions.
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense after following the teenager in a Sanford, Fla. a gated community outside Orlando on Feb. 26. He said he was returning to his truck when Martin attacked him and that he shot the unarmed teen during the fight. He wasn't arrested partly because of Florida's "stand your ground" self-defense law.
The lack of an arrest has led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is Hispanic. Martin was Black. -- (AP)
SANFORD, Fla. — Federal and local prosecutors are launching parallel investigations into the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black teen by a neighborhood watch captain as outrage over the case grows.
A central Florida prosecutor's announcement Tuesday that a grand jury will consider evidence in the case came a day after Justice Department said it would probe the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The moves follow a day of protests calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, 28, who claims he shot Martin in self-defense during a confrontation last month in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.
Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood on a rainy evening and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles in his pocket. Police have described Zimmerman as white; his family says he is Hispanic and not racist.
"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," the Justice Department in an emailed statement.
The federal agency said it is sending its community relations service this week to Sanford to meet with authorities, community officials and civil rights leaders "to address tension in the community."
In a statement released Tuesday, Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger urged the public to be patient as the investigation unfolds. He said grand jurors will meet April 10.
An online petition urging local authorities to prosecute Zimmerman has drawn more than 500,000 signatures at website Change.org
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton is expected to join Sanford city leaders in a Tuesday evening town hall meeting to discuss with residents how the investigation is being handled. Earlier Monday, students held rallies on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, where prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine if charges should be filed.
Yet authorities may be hamstrung by a state law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force.
Prosecutors may not be able to charge Zimmerman because of changes to state law in 2005. Under the old law, people could use deadly force in self-defense only if they had tried to run away or otherwise avoid the danger.
Under the new law, there is no duty to retreat and it gives a Floridian the right "to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force," if he feels threatened.
"I don't think a man who exited his vehicle after the 911 dispatcher told him to stay inside the car can claim self-defense," Carl McPhail, a 28-year-old Barry University law school student, said at the Sanford rally.
The 70 protesters at the Sanford rally chanted "What if it was your son?" and held posters saying, "This is not a race issue." Many carried Skittles.
Martin's parents and other advocates have said the shooter would have been arrested had he been black.
"You would think that Sanford is still in the 1800s claiming that this man can call self-defense for shooting an unarmed boy," restaurant owner Linda Tillman said.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the case.
Late Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott directed the state Department of Law Enforcement to help local authorities in their investigation. The governor said in a memo to department Commissioner Gerald Bradley that the circumstances surrounding the death "have caused significant concern within the Sanford community and the state."
Prosecutors can have a hard time making a case if there is no one else around to contradict a person who claims self-defense, said David Hill, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando. So far, Sanford police have said there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claims.
Gun control advocates said the case is emblematic of permissive gun laws in Florida, which was among the first states to allow residents to carry concealed weapons. Florida was the first state to pass a "Stand Your Ground" law, which has been dubbed a "Shoot First" law by gun control advocates.
Currently, about half of all U.S. states have similar laws, said Brian Malte, legislative director of the Brady Campaign, which describes itself as the nation's largest organization dedicated to the prevention of gun violence.
"It's coming to dangerous fruition," Malte said. "There are more states like Florida."
The "Stand Your Ground" law's legislative sponsor, Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, said it wasn't written to give people the power to pursue and confront others. -- (AP)
When Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, spoke at the Children’s Defense Fund’s recent national conference, she shared some details about her son that reminded the audience both how special Trayvon was to his family and at the same time how much the happy, social high school student was like any mother’s child.
“He was very affectionate. He loved to hug and kiss us at 17,” she recalled. “He was still a loving teenager . . . He liked to go to the movies. He liked to go to the mall. He liked to dress nice. He had to smell good. He used to talk on the phone all the time with the girls . . . He was just a loving guy. He loved sports. He loved the outdoors. If he was in this room right now, he would be walking around talking to a lot of you right now.”
Trayvon’s February fatal shooting after he was targeted by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman for looking “no good” while walking home carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea angered and saddened millions of people. For Sybrina and Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, the personal devastation at losing their 17-year-old son that way was unimaginable. But his mother emphasized their family’s determination to do something positive with their loss.
“We have decided to turn the hurt and the pain into power,” she said. “Trust me. It hurts. It hurts. But what we need to do is we need to get the message out to you, and that’s why it’s important for us to speak out. And that’s why it’s important for us to talk to you now, so that there is not another statistic like Trayvon Martin.”
Trayvon’s parents and Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney, spoke at CDF’s National and Racial Healing Town Hall. They joined other parents who also have lost children to violence and decided to turn their pain into positive action. The Martins and Attorney Crump spoke about their commitment to justice for Trayvon in order to make sure his death was not in vain—and why justice for Trayvon matters not just for the Martins’ child, but for all of our children.
Trayvon’s father shared a story about how Trayvon had helped save his life during a fire in the family’s kitchen when he was just 8 years old. Of course, there was nothing Tracy Martin could do in return the night his son was chased down by Zimmerman out on patrol with his gun. As he told the story he was overwhelmed with grief, but he was also determined to keep striving towards something positive, no matter how difficult it seemed.
“We never envision as parents burying your children,” he said. “But in doing so and seeing how communities have come together and stand united in the fight for justice with us, it teaches us a very strong lesson. And I think that lesson is stand up for what you believe in, and when you stand up for what you believe in, others will stand with you . . . We could have easily just opted out to rant, rave, and just had the nation in an uproar, but we chose to do what we felt was right for our son, and that was to keep his legacy going, not let his name be in vain, not let his death be in vain. And I think that was very important . . . You just have to take that loss, take that negative, and turn it into a positive.”
Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney, put the Martins’ crusade in a larger context. He said earlier that day a reporter had called him because that date would have been Emmett Till’s 71st birthday, and the reporter was interested in the connections between Trayvon’s death and Emmett’s brutal 1955 murder at age 14. It was something Crump had been thinking about.
“I’ve been talking a lot as a legal representative about Emmett Till’s death almost 60 years ago and Trayvon Martin, and how far have we come in America in reference to equal justice,” he said. “Can everybody in America get equal justice? . . . [Supreme Court Justice] Thurgood Marshall said that the basis of the American Constitution is this: A baby born to [a Black mother] in a state like Mississippi has the same exact rights as a baby born to the wealthiest, most educated, articulate White woman . . . just by merely drawing its first breath in America. Now, Justice Marshall said, I know that isn’t true yet, but I challenge anybody for saying that’s not a goal worth fighting for, and I challenge anybody to say that is not what makes America the greatest country in the world. And getting justice for Trayvon Martin, equal justice — the Martins don’t want anything but equal justice, simple justice — getting that justice, we help America live up to its creed.”
Crump concluded, “We were doing an interview right before we came here with a reporter from France, and the reporter asked, ‘Can’t Blacks and minorities in America get justice? Can they get justice?’ And this is what the world is asking, and I said to her, ‘Yes, we can. I believe in my heart we can get justice, but we have to work for it.’”
Those of us who stood with and supported the Martins as they struggled to turn their own pain into power are willing to do that work. The goal of equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity for every child in America may not have been realized yet, but it’s still the goal we have to meet in order for America to finally live up to its promise. Let’s all make sure that happens in Trayvon’s case. — (NNPA)
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was arrested and charged with second-degree murder Wednesday after months of mounting tensions and protests across the country.
George Zimmerman, 28, could get up to life in prison if convicted in the slaying of the unarmed Black teenager.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey announced the charges but would not discuss how she arrived at them or disclose other details of her investigation, saying: "That's why we try cases in court."
Second-degree murder is typically brought in cases when there is a fight or other confrontation that results in death and but does involve a premeditated plan to kill.
Corey would not disclose Zimmerman's whereabouts for his safety but said that he will be in court within 24 hours.
Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, has asserted since the Feb. 26 killing in Sanford that he shot in self-defense after the teenager attacked him. Martin's family argued Zimmerman was the aggressor.
The shooting brought demands from Black leaders for his arrest and set off a furious nationwide debate over race and self-defense that reached all the way to the White House.
Corey said the decision to bring charges was based on the facts and the law, declaring: "We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition."
One of the biggest hurdles to Zimmerman's arrest over the past month was Florida's "stand your ground" law, which gives people wide leeway to use deadly force without having to retreat in the face of danger. The lack of an arrest had sparked outrage and rallies for justice in the Orlando suburb and across the country.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman's lawyers announced they were withdrawing from the case because they hadn't heard from him since Sunday and didn't know where he was. They portrayed his mental state as fragile.
"He is largely alone. You might even say he is emotionally crippled by virtue of the pressure of this case," said one of the lawyers, Hal Uhrig.
The case has drawn the interest of the highest levels of the Obama administration, with the Justice Department's civil rights division opening its own investigation.
Tensions have risen in recent days in Sanford. Someone shot up an unoccupied police car Tuesday as it sat outside the neighborhood where Martin was killed. And a demonstration by college students closed the town's police station Monday.
Six weeks ago, Martin was returning to the home of his father's fiancee from a convenience store when Zimmerman started following him. Zimmerman told police dispatchers he looked suspicious. At some point, the two got into a fight and Zimmerman used his gun.
Zimmerman told police Martin attacked him after he had given up chasing the teenager and was returning to his truck. He told detectives that Martin knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk. Zimmerman's father said that Martin threatened to kill his son and that Zimmerman suffered a broken nose.
A video taken about 40 minutes after the shooting as Zimmerman arrived at the Sanford police station showed him walking unassisted without difficulty. There were no plainly visible bandages or blood on his clothing, but Zimmerman may have had a small wound on the back of his head.
The shooting ignited resentment toward the police department, and Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down to let passions cool.
Civil rights groups and others have held rallies around the country, saying the shooting was unjustified. Many of the protesters wore the same type of hooded sweat shirt that Martin had on that day, suggesting his appearance and race had something to do with his killing.
President Barack Obama injected himself into the debate, urging Americans to "do some soul-searching." ''If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said March 23.
The local prosecutor disqualified himself from the case, and Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey, the prosecutor for Jacksonville, to take it over. -- (AP)
The shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla. has dominated national news lately, with African Americans more than twice as likely as whites to follow the story very closely, according to a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
The study, conducted March 22–25, found that 70 percent of African Americans followed the story very closely, compared to 30 percent of whites. Women were more likely to closely follow events surrounding Martin’s death than men, 40 percent to 29 percent. There was also a political divide, with 50 percent of Democrats saying they followed the story very closely, compared to 31 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of independents.
Older respondents followed the story more closely than younger people. The study found that 40 percent of those 65 and older followed the story very closely, trailed by the 50–64 age group (37 percent), 30–49 (33 percent) and 18–29 (26 percent).
When pollsters approached the issue another way by asking respondents to rank their top stories, there was also a sharp racial divide. Fifty-two percent of Blacks ranked the Trayvon Martin story as their top pick, followed by the presidential elections at 13 percent. Whites were almost evenly divided, with 20 percent ranking the death of Trayvon Martin as No.1, edging out the presidential election at 19 percent. Among whites, the economy was a close third at 17 percent. The economy was a distant third among African Americans, with only a 7 percent ranking.
The wide gulf between the views of whites and Blacks on race is nothing new. The two communities hold distinctly different views toward law enforcement officials. While whites tend the view cops as protective allies, many African Americans, especially males, live in fear of being mistreated by police officers.
A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent of whites expressed a great deal of confidence in local police treating Blacks and whites equally. However, only 14 percent of African Americans shared that view. At the other end of the spectrum, 34 percent of Blacks expressed very little confidence in police treating Blacks and whites equally, a view shared by 9 percent of whites.
Interestingly, the national news media did not provide widespread coverage of the Feb. 26 Trayvon Martin shooting until a month later. In the meantime, the Black press and social media kept the story alive. Release of the 911 tapes and the public outcry that followed forced national media organizations to take notice.
A 2010 Pew study found that African Americans are highly critical of news coverage of their community.
“Nearly six-in-ten (58 percent) said that coverage of Blacks was too negative. Just half as many (29 percent) said the coverage was either fair (28 percent) or too positive (1 percent),” the report said. “By contrast, nearly half (48 percent) of whites said that coverage of Blacks was generally fair. Just 31 percent of whites thought that news coverage of Blacks was too negative.” In addition, 51 percent of Blacks said race relations received too little media coverage while only 24 percent of whites agreed with that opinion.
Undergirding all of those statistics are different perceptions about the existence of racial discrimination.
For example, 43 percent of Blacks said there is a lot of discrimination against African Americans, compared with 13 percent of whites. In the survey, whites were more likely to say Latinos were discriminated against more than Blacks (21 percent vs. 13 percent).
Eighty-one percent of African Americans said “our country needs to continue making changes to give Blacks equal rights with whites.” Only 36 percent of whites agreed. A majority of whites — 54 percent — said “our country has made the changes it needed to give Blacks equal rights with whites.”
Many pointed to the election of President Barack Obama as a watershed moment for race relations in the U.S.
A Gallup Poll conducted the day after Obama was elected president in November 2008 showed that 70 percent of Americans believed race relations would improve as a result of his victory. Today, however, 48 percent of African Americans and 31 percent of whites believe race relations have improved under the president.
In addition, the glow from Obama’s election has faded over the past three years.
In 2009, 71 percent of Blacks thought the election of Obama was one of the most important advances for African Americans in the past 100 years; today that percentage has declined to 65 percent, a drop of 6 percent. Among whites, there was nearly a 20 percent decline, falling from 56 percent in 2009 to 37 percent today.
Although there should be universal outrage against a 28-year-old man shooting to death an unarmed 17-year-old, interest in the case, like so many other things in America, is heavily influenced by race. — (NNPA)
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
One year after the killing of Trayvon Martin, community members gathered at Drexel University in West Philadelphia to raise awareness about the controversial Stand Your Ground laws and the affects they are having on African Americans.
“It was a wonderful event and one of the things that they really seemed to do was to create a call to action,” said Jacqueline Rios, a coordinator of Drexel’s Africana studies department who facilitated the event.
“One of the things that my job allows me to do is to put forth events that we know the community would really benefit from,” Rios said.
One of the things Rios said she is passionate about are the laws now ratified in several states across the United States and have been popularized by the Trayvon Martin case.
“There are just so many victims of these laws that we got an amazing moderator to discuss them,” Rios said.
Panelists consisted of Rakeem Miller, educator, Anthony Montiero, professor, and Gabriel Bryant, educator and activist.
“We all left that room with a greater since of purpose and we were hoping that the event would be about a call to action,” Rios said. The panelists discussed the history of the Stand Your Ground laws and how different states are using them in a way which they believe have serious consequences.
It was the hope of the organizers that awareness would bring subsequent actions to challenge current laws.
“After the event, networkers and guests were networking in response to the call put forth by the panelists and a lot of momentum was built and I hope we hope to be an integral part of keeping that momentum going,” Rios said.
Rios hopes to challenge the laws nationally as well.
“We just want people to be aware of the victims that Stand Your Ground has taken.”
One of the panelists, Gabriel Bryant, described the purpose of the event as to provide more information to the community about the Stand Your Ground law as it relates to those around the country who he says are targeted by such laws.
Bryant said that the Stand Your Ground laws originally arose from “Castle Laws,” which traditionally meant that a man’s home was his castle and that he could defend it by whatever means necessary and was not required to retreat.
Over time these laws begin to cover public places as well.
“It kinds of conveys a shoot first mentality. It kinds of widens and increase the number of homicides across the country,” Bryant said.
The event was moderated by Shesheena Brey.
The objective of the forum was not only show the role the Stand Your Ground laws have on the Trayvon Martin case but to bring awareness about several other victims of this law throughout the country.
“More importantly we discussed how we can be prepared for these kinds of things and we are teaching how we can prevent these kinds of things from happening again,” Brey said.
“People are using Stand Your Ground to cover up murder, to cover up homicides,” she said.