Twenty-two days. Twenty-two days without anything resembling justice.
It’s been 22 days since a 17-year-old black teenager armed with a deadly pack of Skittles was shot for wearing a hoodie in the wrong gated neighborhood. That must feel like a lifetime of pain for the family of Trayvon Martin. It must also feel like a lifetime of freedom for the man who killed the boy.
After 22 days, the last few of which finally saw an engaged nation coalesce around the need for answers and action, the feds decided to step in and investigate Martin’s killing at the hands of a paranoid, overzealous neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman, according to the Miami Herald.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI said late Monday they will conduct an independent review. “The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident. With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids — the highest level of intent in criminal law. “Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws.”
The news is most certainly welcome, though one has to wonder whether this case just became a political football. That’s fine if the focus remains on Martin, Zimmerman and the circumstances of that Feb. 26 night. But if this becomes some kind of game whereby two sides argue the merits of whether President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department overstepped their bounds, then we’re all in for trouble. Let this remain a case. Let this remain an investigation. Let justice ring forth.
In more local news, WESH reported “State Attorney Norm Wolfinger announced Tuesday his decision that a grand jury will investigate the Trayvon Martin case. ‘I share in the desire of the family and the community to accurately collect and evaluate all the facts surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin,’ Wolfinger said in a news release. Seminole County Grand Jury which will be called to session on Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Wolfinger said he will use grand jury’s ‘investigative resources.’”
SEE ALSO: Being American While Black
The chilling death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is enough to make a cyborg weep.
The murder of an unarmed, black high-school student by a white neighborhood watch captain with a Paul Blart Complex isn’t just racially tinged at this point; the entire story has been enveloped by race. But whether you’re black, white, Hispanic, whatever, this is ultimately about a young man’s life taken. Gone in an instant. Parents left with a son. Infinite sadness has been lost in the justified shouting.
If you’re first hearing about this story, here are the details: The gated community of Retreat of Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida, had been experiencing some burglaries. A 28-year-old man named George Zimmerman volunteered to head up a neighborhood watch. On February 26, the 17-year-old Martin, who had been staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house, went out to 7-Eleven to get some Skittles and an iced tea. When he returned, Zimmerman thought him “suspicious,” called 911 and pursued the “suspect” in defiance of police orders. At some point there was a confrontation, loud wails could be heard, a gunshot, then silence. When police arrived, Martin was dead. Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense. He was questioned and released. He has not been arrested or charged.
911 Dispatcher: “Okay, are you following him?”
George Zimmerman: “Yeah.”
911 Dispatcher: “We don’t need you to do that.”
Police in Sanford have been notoriously slow to act in controversial cases. In 2010, they declined to arrest a lieutenant’s son who was caught on camera sucker-punching a homeless black man. In 2005, two security guards, one the son of a Sanford officer, killed a black man they claimed had been trying to run them over (they were ultimately acquitted). Chief Bill Lee in the aftermath lied about Zimmerman’s squeaky clean record — he had been arrested in 2005 for suspicion of battery on a law enforcement officer, though charges were dropped for unknown reasons.
On Saturday, Sanford police released the 911 tapes from Zimmerman himself and from neighbors who heard the gunshots. You can feel them in your bones. “There’s a real suspicious guy,” Zimmerman tells the dispatcher. “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around, looking about. … Now he’s coming towards me. He’s got his hand in his waistband. … Something’s wrong with him. He’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what he’s doing. … These assholes, they always get away.”
Zimmerman’s call begins shortly after 2:00 into this video:
On this call from a neighbor, you can clearly hear someone screaming for their life:
More than 400,000 people have signed a petition calling for the prosecution of Zimmerman. You can’t go a web page without seeing someone weigh in with their life experience as it relates to the case. New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow has written a must-read piece on “the burden of black boys.”
There are larger issues and themes here: Does a hoodie define criminality? What if Zimmerman were black and Martin white? How can a random dude be allowed to patrol a neighborhood with a gun and an itchy trigger finger? Why is a Rutgers student facing 10 years in prison for using a webcam when someone can kill another person in cold blood and be allowed to sit in his home without charge? But, again, whether you’re black, white, Hispanic, whatever, this is ultimately about a young man’s life taken.
Will justice for Martin eventually be served?
UPDATE: This ABC News exclusive about the 16-year-old girl who was on the phone with Martin as he was accosted by Zimmerman is must-read stuff.
“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.”
Eventually he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.
“Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn’t answer the phone.”
The line went dead. Besides screams heard on 911 calls that night as Martin and Zimmerman scuffled, those were the last words he said.
It really does not get more awful than this case.