The Trayvon Martin “controversy” is at conflagration level this week. In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll give you the quick version of what was already a short story.
Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was returning to the house of his father’s girlfriend in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. He was carrying a can of iced tea and a bag of the candy, “skittles.” George Zimmerman, a (some say “self-appointed”) neighborhood watchman followed him, called the police and got into a scuffle with Martin and ended up shooting him.
In the aftermath, Zimmerman (who was not dressed in any sort of security uniform) claimed to have been defending himself and therefore was not arrested by the police.
Zimmerman followed Martin. Then and only then, some kind of confrontation occurred. The only reasonable way that Florida’s “stand your ground” law could be applied in this situation would be to say that Trayvon Martin was in fear for his life – as he was the one being followed. That would have given Martin the right to use deadly force to defend himself.
But Martin didn’t have a gun, so he defended himself with his fists, it appears. Then Zimmerman shot him. Zimmerman single-handedly decided that Martin was a criminal. And as a self-styled vigilante he chased Martin, confronted him, and killed him.
This seems the most simple case to me. There’s really not much more to say. However, just as in the killing of Oscar Grant, race has become the center issue. Let’s hope that, this time, the cries of racism (though they may well be accurate) don’t drown out the simple circumstances that make it clear that this was an unjustified killing.
Is racism a factor in this case? It’s all over it. Zimmerman singled Martin out because he was black. The police immediately asked on the phone if he was black. And the police appear to have accepted “self-defense” without any question because Martin was black, even though they had clear knowledge that Zimmerman was following him, possibly even running after him.
George Zimmerman is guilty of murder and, in my opinion, it was clearly a hate crime. Nonetheless, it’s the Sanford police department that should be charged with racism. After yet another incident like this, it’s no wonder so many people of color have no faith in the rule of law in this country.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.