MONDAY NIGHT UPDATE: “The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI will step in to investigate the killing of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin, the U.S. Department of Justice announced late Monday,” according to the Miami Herald.
911 Dispatcher: “Okay, are you following him?”
George Zimmerman: “Yeah.”
911 Dispatcher: “We don’t need you to do that.”
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.
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.”
SEE ALSO: Being American While Black
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 300,000 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?