More than four weeks after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, no arrests have been made, and key questions remain unanswered. Sophie Spence reports.
The unarmed black teenager was shot dead by neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman, 28, who claims he shot the boy in self-defence under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, that allows residents to defend themselves against force. Zimmerman has not been arrested.
Day by day new evidence is leaked out to the press that sinks the case into murkier waters. Due to so much conflicting evidence (or lack thereof) and the numerous critics surrounding the police handling of the case it has been extremely difficult to get a clear picture of not only what happened that night but what is going to happen as a result.
In the last few days the evidence that has emerged has cast serious doubts on George Zimmerman’s version of events. Leaked to the press by police, Zimmerman claimed Martin was the aggressor and attacked him from behind, punching him to the floor. The new evidence suggests otherwise, an affidavit from the teenagers’ girlfriend, who had been talking to him on his cell phone minutes before his death. She has said that Martin was being followed and was trying to get away. She also heard Trayvon ask: “Why are you following me, man?”
Besides this, an eyewitness has recently come forward claiming the confrontation all happened in one place. This does not support Zimmerman’s claim that he had been followed by Martin back to his vehicle.
It is disputed as to whom the cries on the 911 tape belong to. Zimmerman claims they are his whilst the Martin family claims they are those of their son, begging for his life.
George Zimmerman claims he shot Martin in self-defence during a violent confrontation whereby Martin had been slamming his head into the pavement. Leaked CCTV footage from the police station when Zimmerman was brought in shows him uninjured. There are no visible signs of injury to his face or the back of his head and there are no obvious traces of blood on his shirt. An eyewitness has since claimed he was the confrontation occur on the grass.
Although not relevant to the case, news reports about Trayvon Martins suspension from school for possession of marijuana have attempted to discredit him as the victim. He has also previously been suspended for truancy. Perhaps this was the reason why the case was not picked up on and investigated immediately by the police, his recent behaviour at school could have unrightfully branded him a suspicious character.
Due to the new evidence presenting itself daily and the mounting pressure to arrest and charge the shooter, the police have had go back to the beginning and start afresh in order to piece together what really happened that night. Federal investigators have also been assigned to the case and on April 10 a grand jury will meet to consider the evidence.
social networking has played an important role in the case; the condemnation of Zimmerman has led to an online petition with over two million signatures calling for his arrest. The Million Hoodie March page on facebook has seen thousands of protestors marching in major cities across the United States including Miami, New York and Los Angeles.
Support has come from celebrities including musician P.Diddy and Miami Basketball player, LeBron James posting photos of themselves wearing hoodie’s to show their support for Martin.
The situation has become somewhat serious for locals in Sanford, Florida who want answers and change to the justice system and to gun laws. This week the federal agency said it is sending in its community relations service to Sanford to meet with authorities, community officials and civil rights leaders “to address tension in the community.” Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger has also urged the public to be patient as the investigation continues to unfold.
Surely now this story is bigger than Trayvon Martin, it has prompted national discussions, from high school students to President Obama, about racial profiling, stereotyping and gun laws. The seeming injustice has hit a deep nerve with communities across the United States, regardless of race, clothing attire or background. For many, it has shown that even with a nation under a black president, a good and decent man, cannot get pass ingrained stereotypes and labelling.
The racial slur made by Zimmerman that was caught on the police tape has presented people with an uncomfortable idea that perhaps this 17 year old boy was shot due to the colour of his skin. It is doubtful that the teenager was murdered solely due to racial profiling but it is, sadly, likely to be a contributing factor.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson once remarked, “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — (and) then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.” The statement does not make the Reverend a racist, he is commenting on the trends in American society where there are a disproportionate number of black people involved in crime.
According to the Uniform Crime Report for 2009, among people 18 or younger, blacks were charged with 58 percent of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, 67 percent of robberies, 42 percent of aggravated assaults and 43 percent of auto thefts. As for murder, more than 90 percent of the time, their victims were black. These statistics, showing a strong interconnection among race, youth and crime, are a far better explanation for racial profiling and suspicion than simple racism.
There has been a lot of debate about how much the boys clothing contributed to him being labelled as suspicious. The preconception over what type of person wears a hoodie has highlighted how easily people are categorized over their choice of clothes. Illinois congressman Bobby Rush wore a hoodie on the House floor on March 28 to draw attention to the issue. He was subsequently kicked out of the chamber for violating the House code of dress. Had Trayvon been wearing a tucked in shirt, chinos and a blazer he may not have been pursued by Zimmerman. A hoodie is a very popular item of leisure clothing and wearing one cannot be seen as a reasonable argument to judge someone as a hoodlum. Alas the classic hoodie stereotype, intimidating when the hood is up, might have concerned Zimmerman into phoning the police.
The third matter, after racial profiling and stereotyping is the need for a revision of gun laws within certain states. George Zimmerman, according to Florida’s shoot first, ask questions later stance, was within his rights to fatally shoot a teenage boy. He claimed it was self defence but the lack of witnesses and conflicting evidence are making it near impossible to tell either way.
On this pretence, if there aren’t any witnesses could the self defence argument be used for killing anyone? There seems to be no consequences for shooting someone dead. How can there be such a gaping wide hole in America’s legal system?
It is incomprehensible for those in the UK, Canada and countries where there are such strict regulations on guns for someone to have legitimate grounds to shoot another human being and face little or no penalty.
Florida’s gun laws failed to protect Trayvon, but those same laws are in fact protecting Mr Zimmerman. Those laws also permit Mr Zimmerman the right to own and handle a weapon at this very moment as he has not actually been charged or convicted. There is something quite unsettling about that fact and one that is surely not sensible for the cases where, in the end, the gunman is guilty of manslaughter or murder. Allowing the continued possession of arms poses an unnecessary threat to the American public.
At the moment, there isn’t enough known about the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, hence why speculation is rife. Whatever the outcome, the story has been a catalyst for invoking a united desire for change in public opinion, change within local communities and change to current untenable gun laws.
To be black and young in America should not warrant the suspicions and prejudices that it seems to have generated in the Trayvon Martin case. It has caused many to question why, in 2012, there are still such prejudices in place and why nothing has been done to protect the innocent from falling victim to racial profiling and wrongful stereotyping. President Barack Obama said “all of us have to do some soul-searching” as a result of this tragedy.