Friday, March 30, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Tragedy - Questions Need to be Answered


Miami-Dade teenager Trayvon Martin was fatally shot Feb. 26 by the head of a neighborhood watch group in the Orlando suburb of Sanford. Courtesy of Sybrina Fulton.
Photo of Trayvon Martin (Age 13-14) circa 2008.
Provided by Sybrina Martin to the Miami Herald.
What we do know is a 17-year old boy was walking home, and now he's dead...when you have questions like that, they need to be answered. - Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General
I first became aware of George Zimmerman's slaying of 17-year old Trayvon Martin in a March 17 column by Leonard Pitt.
It happened like this. He was visting his father watching hoops on television. At halftime, he left his dad's townhouse in a gated community and walked to a 7-Eleven for snacks. There was a light drizzle, and he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. On the way back, he drew the attention of George Zimmerman, captain of the Neighborhood Watch. Zimmerman, who is white, called police from his SUV and told them he was following a "suspicious" character. The dispatcher promised to send a prowl car and told Zimmerman to stay in his vehicle.
He didn't. When police arrived, they found him with a bloody nose and Martin face down on the grass not far from his father's door, a gunshot wound in his chest. Zimmerman said he shot the boy in self-defense. The police did not arrest him. . . .
. . . All of which raises a number of pressing questions:
How can you get out of your truck against police advice, instigate a fight, get your nose bloodied in said fight, shoot the person you were fighting with, and claim self defense? If anyone was defending himself, wasn't it Trayvon Martin?
Over the next several days, we were bombarded with images such as this one, calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman.

Or this one, courtesy of the New Black Panther Party:


Of course, the photo of both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin were from several years ago. Trayvon appears about 13 in the photo, and is described as weighing 140 pounds, emphasizing the image of a young child killed by a grown man with no provocation other than the color of his skin. Zimmerman, on the other hand, is presented using a booking photo from seven years ago (when he is 21 years old), and is described as weighing more than 240 pounds. In fact, Trayvon is described as six feet tall and 160 pounds in the police incident report, and George is, in reality, 5' 9" tall and between 170 and 180 pounds.

White supremacists countered the spin over the weekend with the following photo sourced from the Stormfront website, which received wide distribution thanks to Michelle Malkin:

Of course, one should always be careful when sourcing information from white supremacists, and the handy narrative encapsulated in this nice piece of propaganda quickly fell apart when it was revealed that the photo of Trayvon Martin, which was sourced from "his" facebook page was, in fact, a completely different Trayvon Martin who apparently lives in Georgia. The photo of George Zimmerman, on the other hand, is a recent photo and clearly shows that he weighs far less than he did when he was 21.

Beyond the spin, Trayvon Martin appears to be a perfectly normal, and normally troubled, teenager. A little bit of pot, occasional acts of vandalism, cutting class, and chatting with his buds on twitter using the handle @no_limit_nigga.

Trayvon Martin
Recent Photo of Trayvon Martin from his Twitter Profile

Trayvon's family, quite properly, reacted strongly to the new negative information about their slain son. Trayvon's supporters, which apparently includes everyone but a few deranged right-wing racists (Why is racism an exclusively right-wing phenomenon, I wonder?), also pointed out that Trayvon's past behavioral problems do not in any way, shape, or form justify his death.

Quite right. Regardless of what Trayvon may have done in the past and exactly what happened on the night of February 26, Trayvon Martin should not be dead. He was in a neighborhood he had every right to be in and apparently minding his own business when he was spotted by George Zimmerman. Trayvon's death is a tragedy, any way you slice it.

However, it appears Trayvon's death may, in fact, be a tragedy he precipitated. That perspective should not be lost in evaluating this case.

George Zimmerman called police at 7:09:34 PM on February 26 according to the Sanford Police 911 records to report a person he described as a "real suspicious guy" who was "up to no good...on drugs or something." At 1:38 in the call, George says "These assholes, they always get away," and appears to get out of his vehicle (you can hear what seems to be a car door opening, and the quality of the audio changes). At 2:07, he tells the dispatcher, "He's running," and you can hear the sound of wind as George apparently takes off after him and starts to sound slightly out of breath. At 2:28, the dispatcher asks Zimmerman, "Are you following him?" When Zimmerman replies in the affirmative, the dispatcher tells him, "OK, we don't need you to do that." Zimmerman responds, "OK", and by 2:40 (corresponding to 7:12:14 PM) in the call you can no longer hear the sound of wind and Zimmerman's breathing starts to return to normal. He then continues to talk to the dispatcher for another minute and a half. At 4:10, the call ends.

On March 20, ABC news reported that Trayvon was on the phone with his girlfriend minutes before he was shot, and told her that a strange guy was following him. The photo of the call log accompanying the story showed an incoming call from a number we can assume to be Trayvon's at 7:12 PM. This call has been touted by the Martin family's attorney as the "smoking gun" that will convict George Zimmerman, but I'm not convinced. The audio of George Zimmerman's 911 call suggests that he followed the dispatcher's advice and had stopped chasing Trayvon about the time Trayvon called his girlfriend. Nothing in the accounts of the call between Trayvon and his girlfriend contradicts George Zimmerman's account of the incident.

George Zimmerman claims he was walking back to his truck when Trayvon confronted, then attacked, him. This claim has been largely panned by those protesting Trayvon's death. After all, we know George Zimmerman initially chased Trayvon, who was running away. However, George Zimmerman's account is not inconsistent with the facts as they're known at this point, and can actually be supported with a reasonable speculation about what actually happened.

The following aerial of the neighborhood where Trayvon was killed shows key locations in the narrative:

In his 911 call, George Zimmerman initially says he is near the clubhouse. When Trayvon runs, he tells the dispatcher he's running toward the back entrance to the neighborhood. The most likely path for the ensuing pursuit, given where Trayvon was ultimately shot, would have been along the sidewalk between the two rows of townhouses. George says he lost sight of the teen, and seems to stop running. It's reasonable to assume Trayvon had turned the corner at the south end of the townhouses. That means that to get back to where his confrontation with George Zimmerman took place, he would have had to walked back past the townhouse where he was reportedly staying. Which more reasonably explains how that could have happened; Trayvon was angry at having been chased (which fits George Zimmerman's account) or Trayvon was scared (which fits the popular narrative)?

Since news reports of a witness who supported George Zimmerman's account that he was attacked and was, to put it plainly, getting his butt kicked, the media has been spinning like crazy to regain control of the narrative (anger is good for ratings, I suppose). Yesterday (March 29), we learned that video from Sanford Police surveillance cameras doesn't support Zimmerman's claim that he was injured (I thought the outrage was that he wasn't arrested? Oh, nevermind...) Today, new "witnesses" come forward to contradict Zimmerman's claim of self defense.

Human memory is a fickle thing, as our brain processes information to fit our pre-existing biases, and even modifies memories to help our self-esteem. As more time passes, eye witnesses (incredibly unreliable to begin with) become less reliable as they incorporate what they read and hear into their memory of what actually happened.

Fortunately, we live in a nation of laws, and George Zimmerman will most likely have his day in court (at this point, the only vindication he can hope for is full disclosure of the facts at trial). What someone may or may not have seen in a grainy surveillance video that only partially shows George Zimmerman's face, or what someone may have heard or thought they heard through a closed window as they hid in their closet and called 911, ultimately won't matter. What will matter is the physical evidence collected by the Sanford Police department, which includes treating George Zimmerman for injuries he claims to have received from Trayvon Martin.

I expect that a trial, when it comes, will answer some of the questions I have, such as:

1. The closest 7-Eleven to where Trayvon was shot is more than two miles away, yet the family claims he simply stepped out to grab a snack and was on his way home. Really? He walked more than four miles in the rain to get a Tea and Skittles during halftime of an NBA game?
2. How could his family not have known about his being killed until the next day, when he was shot 100 feet from the back door of the townhouse where he was reportedly staying? They didn't notice something was going on? Were there any adults at the house with him? If not, how could they know why he left the house?
3. Was George Zimmerman's suspicion justified? Was Trayvon, in fact, on drugs, which would explain why Zimmerman viewed him as suspicious?
Eventually, I'm sure, these and other questions will be answered. By that time, however, I doubt if anyone will be paying attention.
I don't know if Zimmerman is justified in claiming self-defense. Like Pam Bondi, the Florida Attorney General, I do know that a young man is dead who shouldn't be, and his family deserves answers.

I also feel that the media's performance in this case has been deplorable, and that there is no possible justification for the way this story has been spun to generate outrage.


  1. White bigot with gun fetish seeks and finds black kid with different taste in clothes. White bigot kills black kid. Cause: neighborhood watch leadership failure.

  2. James - The "white bigot" assumption is a big one. Trayvon's death is a tragedy. The incompetence of the media in trying to spin this story is a travesty. Instead of reporting the facts, most mainstream media outlets are grasping at anything that might undermine George Zimmerman's account. The latest attempt is the story that two unidentified forensic voice experts claim the voice screaming for help on the tape is not George Zimmerman. This, without comparative analysis on Trayvon Martin's voice. The media needs to stop trying this case, period.