The FBI & Department of Justice to look into Trayvon Martin’s death

Trigger Warning

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.”

Pic via.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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Join the Conversation

  • lalareina

    I have a best friend who has a 13 year old brother who looks so much like Trayvon. Sweetest kid in the world, an A student. So this is just really really sticking with me. A now there are acount Trayvon was on the phone with his girlfriend (who has been hospitalized for the trauma) telling her he was afraid because some guy was following him. She was urging him to run and then the phone went dead…

  • Brüno

    How common is it in the states to not arrest somebody who is investigated for murder, when he has a clean record? Would a person in that situation routinely be arrested or only if it is presumed that he would try to flee the jurisdiction?

    • rhian

      You know, I have been wondering this too, and I live here. My understanding was that “self defense” is usually an argument made in court, i.e. after you have been arrested and tried for something. I’ve never heard of it being used as a reason that an arrest is not made. Maybe if it were really clear cut–like someone killed an armed intruder or something. This sounds totally bizarre to me, and just heartbreaking.

  • Brittany

    Right. He’s totally suspicious. Because every black person will viciously kill you if you don’t kill them first.

    Look, Mr. Zimmerman, you’re not Batman. Batman doesn’t use guns, kill at all, or specifically target “them colored people”.
    And Sanford police department? Yeah, nice to know you only “protect and serve” the good, white people of Sanford, Florida. Not that they clearly need it, since they can just shoot black people and claim “self-defense”.

    By the way, you have to be attacked or being targeted by someone who is armed for it to be self-defense. If you just see a black kid walking around with an iced tea, you don’t need to “defend” anything.

  • Courtney

    This is so incredibly heartbreaking. This story should be an eye-opener, and a teaching lesson for everyone about racial profiling and privilege. Some may not want to admit it but had the roles been reversed, or had Trayvon been white, this would have been a much different story.

    I also hope it can be a teaching moment about our gun laws, the “stand your ground ” laws, violence, and the criminal justice system. When “vigilantes” like Zimmerman can shoot a kid for “looking suspicious” and get away with it on self defense – when Zimmerman was clearly the aggressor, and initiated contact after he was ordered not to – things should be reexamined.

    We need to be talking about this. It’s not just a “black problem” – it’s everybody’s issue.

  • Robert

    So tragic. This shooting response may be an extreme reaction but this is far more common on a less violent scale that not many talk about. There are places I frequent by where I live where whenever a black person comes in everyone keeps their eye on them and sometimes it’s a student from my school. I don’t get this treatment in the states as a latino but I’ve experienced plenty of stares in the white areas of Europe and it can make you defensive and paranoid. This makes you look even more suspicious because people wonder why you look like you are about to fight someone.