Is it 2012? Yes, it is, but in Sanford, Florida (near Orlando), the clock winds back to the days of Deep South Justice. Unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was hunted down and gunned down for the heinous crime of “carrying Skittles while black.” Charles Blow, in the NYT:
Trayvon had left the house he and his father were visiting to walk to the local 7-Eleven. On his way back, he caught the attention of George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, who was in a sport-utility vehicle. Zimmerman called the police because the boy looked “real suspicious,” according to a 911 call released late Friday. The operator told Zimmerman that officers were being dispatched and not to pursue the boy.
Zimmerman apparently pursued him anyway, at some point getting out of his car and confronting the boy. Trayvon had a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman had a 9 millimeter handgun.
The two allegedly engaged in a physical altercation. There was yelling, and then a gunshot.
When police arrived, Trayvon was face down in the grass with a fatal bullet wound to the chest. Zimmerman was standing with blood on his face and the back of his head and grass stains on his back, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
Trayvon’s lifeless body was taken away, tagged and held. Zimmerman was taken into custody, questioned and released. Zimmerman said he was the one yelling for help. He said that he acted in self-defense. The police say that they have found no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s claim.
One other point: Trayvon is black. Zimmerman is not.
George Zimmerman who was told not to pursue Martin, did so anyway and executed the teen. Was he even arrested? No – he wasn’t — and has not been charged with any crime, claiming self-defense. And there were people who heard the screams of the boy. The Orlando Sentinel has the 911 call, which the police had refused to release until this story blew up. It was clear from the call Zimmerman was on, that he was out for bloodlust. Chicago Sun-Times:
In one of the eight calls, screaming can be heard in the background as a woman tries to get help. That call is punctuated by two gunshots.
“You hear a shot, a clear shot, then you hear a 17-year-old boy begging for his life,” said Natalie Jackson, another family attorney. “Then you hear a second shot.”
It was the first time that anyone said two shots were fired that night.
In the call placed by Zimmerman to alert authorities that there was a suspicious person in the neighborhood, he says the person “looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something.”
Moments later, Zimmerman says, “These assholes, they always get away.”
In one of the 911 calls, placed moments later, a man reports that “they’re wrestling right in the back of my porch. There’s a black guy down. It looks like he’s been shot and he’s dead.”
Exactly what crime had Martin committed from the POV of Zimmerman? “Looking suspicious.” We all know what that means in racially tense America. A black man simply walking down the street to many people gets their dander and fear up without provocation. Perhaps Zimmerman fell prey to the “he doesn’t belong here” — and that’s enough to raise suspicion. But in his alleged act of violence, Zimmerman shows his hand — “These assholes, they always get away” — his pursuit of Martin was following the Charles Bronson in “Death Wise” vigilante mode — “I’ve had enough of this sh*t (crime).” He wasn’t just defending himself — he was avenging “the community” — and the police in Sanford, Florida agreed with him. And the defense that race had nothing to do with the initial execution and follow up by law enforcement is already being floated by Police Chief Bill Lee Jr., who told the Sentinel he is not a racist and that his officers “conducted a thorough and fair investigation and did nothing underhanded or untruthful.”
Well, not releasing the 911 tapes until the heat is on doesn’t suggest that “forthcoming” could be applied to the situation. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be meeting with local officials early next week to try to unravel this tragedy. Darryl E. Owens in the ChiTrib, on why this outrage shows how so little has changed when it comes to street justice and race – and why those who are in shock and horror over Martin’s death may feel the die has been cast:
On Sept. 23, 1955, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam fired up stogies and smooched their wives. About an hour earlier, a Mississippi jury had mulled their fates.
The men had stood trial for abducting a 14-year-old black boy. They pounded his face into ground chuck. Shot him in the head. And tossed his broken body — weighted with a large fan used for cleaning raw cotton that they’d hitched with barbed wire around his neck — in the Tallahatchie River.
Emmett Till was dead. And despite damning evidence, Bryant and Milam were acquitted — after the all-white jury deliberated a mere 67 minutes. Nearly 67 years later, and some 800 miles from the delta town where Emmett Till met his doom, another young black kid’s death has revived the suspicion that a black life doesn’t have all that much value.
Sure, few of the nearly 400 righteously indignant people who flocked Allen Chapel AME Church this week, demanding that police lock up George Zimmerman, probably know the details about Emmett Till’s death.
But the black folk among them know all too well the deep, abiding sense that, in a country where segregation, Jim Crow and prejudice have created unequal footing, African-Americans also too often endure separate and but unequal justice.
In 2012 we will see whether much has changed at all. Carrying Skittles and a can of tea should not equal a death sentence.