The vigilante shooting of Trayvon Martin, an African-American 17 year-old-male visiting his father in a gated community in Florida, armed only with skittles and an iced tea, is a tragedy and an outrage. The fact that George Zimmerman — a 28-year old unregistered community watch member, who followed Martin from his SUV and was armed with an automatic weapon, and had a criminal record and a penchant for reporting young black men as “suspicious” — claimed self-defense is ridiculous. And the fact that law enforcement accepted Zimmerman’s tale and has allowed him to walk free is a miscarriage of justice and a threat to public safety. But nothing is as chilling, painful and heart-wrenching as hearing what sounds like Martin’s cry for help in the background of a 911 call (at around 1:30 in the video. The transcript is here.)
This case highlights so much of what is wrong with our society — racism, an obsession with gun rights, vigilante justice, self-defense laws. Adam Weinstein does an excellent job covering these issues in depth in his article “The Trayvon Martin Killing, Explained” at Mother Jones. And Think Progress has a less detailed roundup of the important and dramatic facts surrounding the shooting.
The (relatively) good news is that the FBI and Department of Justice have announced they will look into the case.
This wasn’t the first time Zimmerman reported a suspicious-looking person to the police. Records show that he called the police 46 times since 2001. In response to protests and public outcry over their handling of the case, the police released six 911 calls made by Zimmerman; in four of the calls, he describes a suspicious-looking person — and in all four of them, that person happens to be a young black male. The link between arousing suspicion and being black is not lost on a thirteen-year old black male teenager, who witnessed the shooting.
UPDATE: ABC has a new story about the 16-year old young woman who spoke to Trayvon Martin via cell phone minutes before he was killed. The account contradicts Zimmerman’s already doubtful claim that Martin attacked him when Zimmerman got out of his SVU to see what street he was on:
“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.”