Trayvon Martin’s Killing Raises Justice and Racial Issues in Sanford, Florida Community


On 26 February a 17-year-old black man armed with a packet of Skittles candy was confronted by 28-year-old George Zimmerman , who drove further down the street in his Florida suburban neighborhood, got out of the car armed with a loaded revolver. Bystanders close enough to hear the altercation and not see it heard screams (not Zimmerman’s) and then a gunshot and silence. Trayvon Martin was dead.

Zimmerman was participating in the Sanford Police Department’s neighborhood watch program. He did his job marvelously. He saw Martin, walking down the sidewalk toward his home wearing a hoodie, and holding something (the skittles and a soda) and looking around. He called in this suspicious behavior to police via 911. The dispatcher ordered Zimmerman not to do anything—that squad cars were on the way.

What should have happened was that police would have confronted a 17-year-old kid who had gone to a neighborhood store to get soda and candy and was returning home. They might have told Martin to take down his hood as it was scaring the neighbors perhaps but it was raining and he was simply on his way home. The habit Martin had of looking to either side of the sidewalk may have been simple human curiosity and nothing more. If soda and skittles are illegal in Sanford, Florida then George Zimmerman had exposed a ring of skittles candy and soda eaters among neighborhood high school students.

Zimmerman himself admits driving his car up to Martin and jumping out of the car with his gun fully visible. Even if we accept Zimmerman’s assertion that he thought initially that Martin had either a gun or knife you have to take into account that Martin was found not to be so armed and that he may have reacted to a strange man in a car jumping out of it and brandishing a gun. Zimmerman was wounded. Scratches and wounds about his head indicated Martin may have defended himself along with his screams. They were not screams of exultation in a fight but fear of death, as captured by the 911 tape as Zimmerman also had the time to talk to dispatchers while he was confronting Martin. It would seem that Martin was pleading for his life when a gunshot is heard on the tape, and by the bystanders, and then silence. At no time did Zimmerman lose control of his gun.

Police officers that resort to deadly force in virtually any department around the nation must go on leave or on desk duty until a review board determines the use of force was justified. The Sanford Police Department has conducted no such review. And George Zimmerman was ordered not to intervene. At no time did Martin approach anyone’s home or go on anyone’s property. There was absolutely no justification for his getting in his car and driving up to Martin. And, if the Sanford Police Department permits its neighborhood watch volunteers to use deadly force they may wish to seriously re-think the policy.

Any rational observer must conclude that Zimmerman badly overreacted, confronted Martin who immediately became frightened of this man with a gun who he did not know suddenly showing up, and defended himself with his hands correctly thinking he was being kidnaped or killed. The incident has the stench of murder. Zimmerman’s family points out that they are all Hispanic and so racial bigotry could not have been involved. But very strong racial stereotypes were in play here. And the refusal of the Sanford Police Department to fully investigate this case, and to do the obvious thing and take Zimmerman into custody for using deadly force when not authorized to and with being the aggressor and driving up and confronting Martin with deadly force raises real questions about how racial attitudes may still be influencing how the so called “justice system” operates around the nation.

Police interpreted a 13-year-old boy who was trying to walk the family dog as saying that it was Zimmerman screaming. Yet when Martin’s family listened to the 911 tape it does not sound like Zimmerman at all but like their son. Sheryl Brown, the mother of the boy who had to listen to the entire incident says her son now and even at the time believed that it was Martin and not Zimmerman who was crying out.

Martin did not approach Zimmerman. It was the other way around. Zimmerman was told to stay in his home and not to do anything. He violated those instructions. Zimmerman used a vehicle to bring him to Martin and not the other way around. Wouldn’t you scream and perhaps throw up your hands and arms in self-defense if a man suddenly got out of a car weilding a gun and asked what you were doing there and when you told him walking home not taking that for an answer? Zimmerman should be under arrest for conduct regardless of life or manslaughter if not murder.

Self-defense may have at some point entered into what Zimmerman did when he shot Martin. But his having a gun and Martin’s inability to produce any weapon in the entire altercation and the fact that Martin at no time did anything against the law or sought out anyone in the neighborhood on their property makes Zimmerman’s action criminal, and raises serious questions about how he views black men who simply want to walk through the neighborhood on their way home with the hood on the sweatshirt up in the gentle rain of a February night, no later than 7 P.M., a time when people could be still expected to be out and way before curfew.

Martin’s family, an attorney they have retained, and a growing body of supporters all over the nation are protesting this obvious act of brutality against an innocent young man. Notably, the Sanford Police have not produced anything that indicates Martin did anything that was illegal or threatening, at least until confronted by a gun-wielding Zimmerman with an attitude and who had obviously convicted Martin of being a criminal as if he was judge and jury and executioner all rolled into one. This is vigilante justice at its absolute worst.

285.000 signatures on petitions have been collected thus far supporting the Martin’s. Why is it that even young black men, still teenagers with candy and a soda and putting the hood on their sweatshirt hood up in the rain at seven in the evening, just after supper, require that the boy be shot and killed? What justifies it? What explains it? The stench of racism is strongest with the failure of the Sanford Police Department to acknowledge that a neighborhood watch volunteer took justice into his own hands and killed an innocent high school kid. We can imagine, the boy’s body on the ground dead. Shot right through the chest at close range, and his skittles rolling over the sidewalk, and the soda spilled into the grass on the parkway.

George Zimmerman is a man that has reached his majority ten years earlier. He is fully legally culpaple for the judgments he makes and actions he takes. He presumably owns that gun. He still has it. He still lives in that neighborhood.

At the very least, Zimmerman has fallen victim to the racial stereotype of the threatening black male who simply does so by being present in a place and dressing according to that racial stereotype. Being black and walking down the street are not crimes. George Zimmerman could not see that. What does that say about our society and its attitudes? Does this feed into the disproportionate number of black people who occupy our prisons? Does it affect how police respond to reported suspicious behavior? Strugggles for Justice and any thinkig human being knows it does. Racial stereotypes deeply affect our attitudes and behavior. Add a deadly weapon to the mix and you have a witches brew of injustice and tragedy.

Trayvon Martin was by law still a minor, a kid. He is dead. A family grieves. They would grieve even if Trayvon had had a knife or gun and had just robbed the store he got the candy from. But he hadn’t. There are other black teenagers who move down that very street as they live there. How must their parents feel about their safety with George Zimmerman still there, still armed, and with the ability to initiate police action on his own initiative.

The failure here is going to reside most with the Sanford Police Department and its failure to adequately inform or train its neighborhood watch volunteers and to make them accountable as anyone would be. If some guy drives up on my street tonight with a gun and questions why I am there and then won’t take my answer as the truth and moves to arrest or to take me in I am going to assume the very same thing Trayvon Martin did: this man means to do me harm. I am not going to die or be kidnapped without resisting him. Screams heard of a boy pleading for his life: recognized on the 911 tape by his mother, father, and siblings. Then a gunshot followed by an eerie silence: then tragedy.

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7 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin’s Killing Raises Justice and Racial Issues in Sanford, Florida Community

  1. Rodney King Southern Style it sounds like, so un-armed black man gunned down by rich well armed white guy. Beyond terrible

    • Rain: While violence is not involved in the Mukwonago Logo Case it is important to note here that racial stereotyping was at least a large part of how and why Zimmerman reacted the way he did. Now, a police officer who listened to the 911 tape released over the weekend said it sounded as if Zimmerman were drinking. It is routine he said to check for alcohol and drugs in such cases. Here it was not done. (this via ABC News) But in both the Trayvon Martin case and the Mukwonago Logo Case racial stereotyping is operating and it is not helpful. Zimmerman saw Martin to be suspicious because he was black, in the neighborhood, and wearing a hoodie. The kid was heading home after visitng a friend in the neighborhood. He’d bought some skittles and a soda. He walked on the sidewalk. Stereotypes inherent in our racial preconceptions of people operate here to our detriment. It is part of my interest in this case. Make a clear distinction though, nobody in Mukwonago has used violence against anybody. But distinct stereotypes of Native-Americans are operating there as they did for the stereotype of the threatening black male in Sanford, Florida.

      • Tom, I am deeply disappointed in you. You allow Rain to lie and not call him out on it. George is not white, he is hispanic. No white person was involved in this crime as much as you want to quickly jump to conclusions to support YOUR racist agenda.As a person who strongly supported the 2nd amendment, this guy abused the 2nd amendment and should be tried and at minimum spend life in prison

  2. I got stopped by muktown cops for having a bittle of mr pib soda and crossing the street, but you are exactly right and the fact that an innocent man whose only crime was walking in a white neighborhood with a pop and candy and a hoodie is gunned down by a possibly drunken white man under the guise of “neighborhood watch”

  3. Nice analysis. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    HI, I am duking it out with a right winger on a social media site. He insists that “all reliable news sources say” that Zimmerman’s gun only became visible during the fight. Can you tell me the source you used for your assertion that, “Zimmerman himself admits driving his car up to Martin and jumping out of the car with his gun fully visible.”

    • The idea that Zimmerman’s gun only became visible until the fight (also Zimmerman’s and an anonymous witness who may or may not have been questioned by police) is part of a leak to the press from people we do not know. There is also a leak from the Sanford Police Department that says the lead invesigator in the case wanted to arrest Zimmerman on the night of the shooting for at least manslaughter but was told by the prosecutor in the case not to. Just tell your friend that the 911 tapes officially released by the police to family and press has Zimmerman telling police that Martin was suspicious, and we hear Zimmerman admit he is purusing Martin for being suspicious, wearing a hoodie, being black, and at one moment coming closer to Zimmerman who was sitting in his SUV and then placing a hand in the waistband of his pants. You can check to see if there is a crime within any of those things. Still trying? It will be a long search. The fact is that Martin had not committed any criminal act and was unarmed. We also know that in the last cell phone call in Martin’s life he told his girlfriend that a guy was following him. He ran. Then he was dead. Zimmerman had the option to wait for police. I worked with police for five years. A simple swing by and an ID of Martin was all that was needed if that. In fact, his call to police was not justified by anything Martin did. It seems Trayvon Martin’s mere presence in the neighborhood where his step brother lived and where he was a guest (frequent) and where he waited for Trayvonn to come back with the skittles and the iced tea is about it. Zimmerman also expressed on tape to police his hatred for the fact that the Trayvon Martin’s of the world always get away. It seems likely Martin saw this big hulking guy following him who was not a police officer and at some point noticed he wore a gun holster at the waist and that he was armed, enough for Martin to run and become concnerned for his safety. Zimmerman admits on the 911 tape that he was out of his SUV, and was purusing Martin with a view to apprehending him and taking him into physical custody. Even if a police officer, which Zimmerman is not, arrest is not required, nor is a foot pursuit justified either. If you think that armed people you do not know can simply decide for themselves that you are suspicious in some some undefined way and that they can accost you and threaten you and when you at the last moment attack them (this too is Zimmerman’s assertion) you get to shoot to kill is rather frightening. Even a woman in a rape situation has the right to fight back if she believes she is in danger and has to. Perhaps Martin should have meekly surrendered to Zimmerman but could he at that moment be sure he would not be harmed? Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice right wing friend you have to have the police come by and handle this. They are trained you know, and Martin would immediately recognize the squad car, their uniforms, and would respect them and show them his skittles and iced tea and lead them back to his step brother and the NBA All Star game and then and only then would police have to decide if an arrest for having skittles, iced tea and being a black teenager present in the neighborhood were crimes. Does this help?

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