Why are investigators ignoring Trayvon Martin's side of the story?
Martin was the 17-year-old black teen who was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, a suburb of Orlando, Fla. Zimmerman, who is a white Hispanic, claims the shooting was self-defense; three weeks later, he hasn't been arrested or charged with any crime.
The case was already gaining national attention, but interest exploded following the release of the 911 tapes on March 16. Terrified neighbors called in reports of someone screaming for help and gunshots. In one of the tapes, bloodcurdling screams can be heard in the background followed by what sounds like a gunshot. Lawyers for Martin's family say the screams are Martin's and that the tapes are evidence of a "murder." They say Zimmerman should be arrested immediately and are calling on the FBI to begin an investigation. The Rev. Al Sharpton plans to visit the grief-stricken family this week.
At the heart of this case is Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Passed in 2005, the law allows people to use deadly force to protect themselves if they believe they're in imminent danger. When Zimmerman told police it was self-defense, that was good enough for them. But what if Martin were trying to stand his ground against a threatening stranger? Why did police automatically assume that Martin was the aggressor?
Here's what we know: On Feb. 26, Martin was watching the NBA All-Star game while he and his father were visiting his father's fiancée, who lived in a gated townhouse community. During halftime, Martin went to a 7-Eleven to buy snacks. While walking back, Martin caught the attention of Zimmerman, who was in an SUV. From the 911 tapes, we learn that Zimmerman called to report "a really suspicious guy" who looked like "he was up to no good." What exactly was this really suspicious guy doing? "… He's just walking around looking about."
911 dispatcher: Are you following him?
911 dispatcher: OK, we don't need you to do that.
Moments later, Zimmerman told police, he got out his car and he and Martin fought before he shot the teen once in the chest. When he was killed, Martin had $22, Skittles and a can of iced tea in his pockets. Zimmerman, 28, carried a concealed weapon permit and a 9mm handgun. Who was in the most imminent danger here?
Imagine this story from Martin's point of view. What if he were afraid of this man who had been following him? What if he were trying to defend himself from this person who had confronted him? Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr., who investigated the case, told the Orlando Sentinel this wasn't about race, but what if the situation were reversed — if Martin had shot and killed Zimmerman? Would Martin have been able to claim self-defense? Would he be walking around free?
In that Orlando Sentinel interview, Lee expressed his frustration that the case has gained so much attention.
"The hysteria, the media circus, it's just crazy," he said. "It's the craziest damn thing I've ever seen, and it's sad. It's sad for the city of Sanford, the police department, because I know in my heart we did a good job."
Sad for the city of Sanford? The police department? What about the Martin family? The fact that Lee doesn't even consider their pain, their sadness, tells you all you need to know about how he feels.
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow details how Martin's parents found out about their son. His unidentified body was brought to the medical examiner's office and tagged as a John Doe. In the eyes of the system, Martin was just another dead black teenager.
The Stand Your Ground law says that potential crime victims have the right to stick up for themselves. Who is going to stick up for Trayvon Martin?
Genetta M. Adams is a regular contributor to The Root.