Trayvon Martin was killed by a single bullet fired by community watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford Florida almost a month ago. Sanford Police had not filed charges against Zimmerman. That is all that seems to be undisputed in a local shooting that has taken on national implications as it becomes heavily politicized.
To here Zimmerman tell it, he was doing his job as a volunteer by tailing a “suspicious person” walking through the rain in his neighborhood. He called 911, and trailed the suspicious person,before eventually getting out of his vehicle to confront him. There was a struggle, he pulled his gun, and shot one time in self defense. That is his story, and a story apparently taken at face value by Sanford, Florida police.
To listen to the 911 tapes of Zimmerman’s call, other 911 tapes after the confrontation and the description provided of Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him to within seconds of his death, there is another story that may be closer to the truth.
Zimmerman’s 911 calls on the day he shot Trayvon Martin were the 47th and 48th 911 calls Zimmerman made as a community watch volunteer in a period of 13 months. Depending upon the content of those calls, he may be revealed as an especially diligent and enthusiastic citizen bent upon protecting his neighborhood. Alternatively, the content of those calls may suggest he is a raging paranoid, and there may be be some evidence of both, or neither.
What we do know from the first 911 call placed that night by George Zimmerman is that he was following Trayvon Martin, and that he called the police to report the young man for little more than walking in the rain. We know that the 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman not to confront the Martin. We know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he ignored the dispatcher’s warning.
We then heard from Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him as he discovered Zimmerman following him from his vehicle. Martin thought he lost Zimmerman, only to be confronted. There was a scuffle, sounds interpreted by the young woman as Martin being pushed by Zimmerman, and the phone going dead. Martin himself died seconds later.
Other 911 calls were place, Sanford Police arrived, and the crime scene and all evidence appear to have disintegrated in a criminally botched investigation of the shooting that seems to have proactively assumed Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin was justified from the outset.
To be completely fair to the Sanford Police Department, precisely what they did at the scene of the shooting, and what they cataloged into evidence has not been fully disclosed. We do know that Sanford Police have been accused of “coaching” a witness to encourage their testimony to reflect the case for a legally-justified homicide under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the applicable portion of which 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.
Did Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin fit the legal criteria?
It seems doubtful.
There is a distinct difference in Zimmerman being in a place he has a right to be, and his pursuing, confronting, and ultimately killing Trayvon Martin in a place he legally had to be. It is not a just a little ironic that if Martin was armed and had instead killed Zimmerman, he would have had a much stronger case under this portion of the statute. It was Martin who was confronted in a place he legally had the right to be, not Zimmerman.
It is also doubtful that that a skinny kid that weighed 100 lbs less than his assailant was capable of generating the kind of offense where Zimmerman could “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself.” Zimmerman pursued Martin against the warning of the 911 dispatcher, and instigated the contact by leaving his vehicle.
Zimmerman claims he was attacked from behind after leaving his vehicle. This is inconsistent with the pursuit as described by Martin’s girlfriend, who made it clear that Martin was trying to evade Zimmerman, and Zimmerman was the aggressor before the call ended.
Zimmerman claimed–with apparent success with regards to the Sanford PD–that Martin had punched him in the face, and that he bore physical wounds consistent with that kind of assault. This could be entirely true, but even simple assault does not justify the use of lethal force if a reasonable person could not justify that they were in danger of “death or great bodily harm.” Unfortunately, the actual shooting had no direct eyewitnesses, other that George Zimmerman and the young man he killed.
It was therefore incumbent upon the Sanford Police to conduct a thorough investigation, including compiling forensic evidence that could provide clues as to the actual nature of the deadly conflict. Instead they stand accused of witness tampering, and of failing to test George Zimmerman for alcohol or drug use at the time.
The poltical left, spurred on by the same anti-gun groups that so conveniently ignored the 300 Mexicans murdered by guns provided by the Obama Administration’s Operation Fast and Furious, have attempted to portray the shooting as a case of a racist white man murdering an innocent black teen, and of portraying a seven year old law, widely copied and emulated across the country, as “controversial.”
There are only really two problems with the mischaracterizations.
The first is that George Zimmerman isn’t white, a fact made readily apparent in the pictures that reveal he is a heavyset Hispanic male. While that does not absolve him of being racist by any measure, it certainly undermines the media’s favorite angle of attack, that of a majority white using the law to unfairly disenfranchise a minority. This was a minority on minority shooting, which should tamp-down the media’s feeding frenzy.
The second is the mischaracterization of Stand your Ground” laws as being the key to Zimmerman avoiding prosecution for Martin’s death, and of this kind of law being “controversial” outside a very narrow subset of left wing anti-gun organizations.
While Florida’s version of the law is the nation’s first, it has been widely copied and implemented. The laws are a subset of the “Castle doctrine” of English common law that dates back prior to the founding of the United States. The legal theories behind “standing your ground” in the face of on an attack have a firm basis in U.S. Supreme Court tested cases Beard v. U.S. (1895), and Brown v. United States (1921), the latter of which gave cause for noted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to note, “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” 31 states have variations of the Castle doctrine or Stand Your Ground laws, and implementation of these laws is ascendent with several more states considering their implementation.
As for Zimmerman, nothing in the law itself shields him from prosecution.
“They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” said Peaden, a Crestview Republican who sponsored the deadly force law in 2005. “He has no protection under my law.”
Peaden and Baxley, R-Ocala, say their law is a self-defense act. It says law-abiding people have no duty to retreat from an attacker and can meet “force with force.” Nowhere does it say that a person has a right to confront another.
The 911 tapes strongly suggest Zimmerman overstepped his bounds, they say, when the Sanford neighborhood crime-watch captain said he was following Trayvon and appeared to ignore a police request to stay away.
“The guy lost his defense right then,” said Peaden. “When he said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.”
The shooting will be reviewed by a grand jury in the near future, and a civil rights case may be brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. If Zimmerman is unsuccessfully prosecuted in either case, the blame will likely fall upon the Sanford Police Department’s failures to investigate the case, despite the political football the shooting has rapidly become.