Monday, March 19, 2012

No Justice For Black Victims in Sanford, Flordia

Shot dead for carrying Skittles
17-year-old Trayvon Martin was visiting his father and the home of some family friends last month when he decided to head out for some snacks.  On the walk back home, he was confronted unexpectedly by 28-year-old George Zimmerman.  Within seconds, the unarmed teenager lay dead on the ground.  Zimmerman walked free that same night-- and, having shot an unarmed boy, still has not been charged with a crime.

The case has shocked people nationwide, taking on racial overtones and provoking cries of vigilantism gone amok in a case where an unarmed black teenager was shot by a white self-appointed "neighborhood patrol leader".  Zimmerman claims he was defending himself, but others say he was overzealous and lethally reckless.

What is known for sure is that Trayvon was on his way back home from a nearby 7-11 when he was spotted by Zimmerman, who called police to report a “real suspicious guy.” He told the dispatcher that Martin “looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” He described Martin as having his hand on his waistband, carrying an object, and coming towards him. “And he’s a black male…Something’s wrong with him…These assholes, they always get away.”

Despite being told by the dispatcher not to chase him, Zimmerman went after Martin. According to several 911 calls from the neighborhood, the two wrestled and screams for help went out from one of the two. Then after a single shot, Martin lay on the ground, dead. The object in his hands was a bag of Skittles.

When police came to the scene, Zimmerman dropped his weapon and told them he shot Martin in self defense.  Sanford police did not press charges against Zimmerman, telling the slain teen’s family that he had a “squeaky clean” record. He is a licensed gun owner studying criminal justice.

Reports have surfaced that Zimmerman had called police 46 times in the two months leading up to the incident and that his volunteer patrols had an unremitting focus on black males. He had also once been arrested for battery on a police officer. His defenders have pointed out that has been responsible for thwarting several crimes.

Since the incident, a new controversy has risen over whether the Sanford Police Department is protecting Zimmerman, whether he acted appropriately under Florida’s concealed carry gun laws, and whether he acted properly under the state’s “stand your ground” laws, which allow residents to use deadly force against a threat without trying to retreat.

Suspicion was heightened by the fact that Zimmerman was not tested for alcohol or drugs, customary police procedure after a shooting. Moreover, several witnesses have come forward saying Martin could be heard on the 911 tapes screaming for help.  Also fueling criticism of the Sanford Police Department are prior instances of cronyism and racial profiling.

In July 2005, two parking lot security guards, one the son of a Sanford Police Department veteran and the other a volunteer for the department, shot a black teen, Travares McGill, in the back, killing him. The two white security guards claimed self-defense, and the case was dismissed.

Last year, then-police chief Brian Tooley was forced from office after the son of a lieutenant was caught on camera beating up an unsuspecting homeless black man, but whom the department declined to prosecute. After the footage went viral on YouTube, the Lieutenant's son was arrested.

Martin’s family is angered-- not only over his death, but also over police inaction toward Zimmerman. They feel the killing was racially motivated.

The Sanford police said they do not have enough evidence to refute Zimmerman's claims of self-defense. The case has since been turned over to the Seminole County State Attorney's Office, which has still not yet determined whether Zimmerman should face any charges in Trayvon's death.

Trayvon's parents and community leaders, enraged by Sanford and Seminole County handling of the case, have called on the FBI to take over the investigation-- saying they no longer trust the local police department.

After efforts by Florida A&M students to draw attention to the case, those calls have now been heeded.  The Department of Justice this evening announced that it would be dispatching officials to Sanford to investigate and "to address tension in the community."

"The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation," Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said in a written statement. "The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident."

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