This is being continuously updated; click here for the latest. Or read on for a primer.
On the evening of February 26, Trayvon Martin—an unarmed 17-year-old African American student—was confronted, shot, and killed near his home by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime. Since Martin’s death and the revelation of more details, the case has drawn national outcry and sparked hot debate over racial tensions, vigilantism, police practices, and gun laws.
Read on for the rest of our primer, or jump to these latest updates:
- Trayvon was suspended from school for trace amounts of pot
- EXCLUSIVE: Zimmerman can still buy guns instantly, walk around most of America armed
- Trayvon case not exactly top priority for Florida’s GOP governor
- President Obama weighs in on Trayvon—and the wingnuts go nuts
- MoJo tells Geraldo to back off the hoodie-hating
- Sanford police chief steps down “temporarily”
- EXCLUSIVE: Zimmerman’s earlier 911 calls—including his obsession with black hoodlums
- MAP: The NRA pushes for “shoot first” laws from coast to coast
- Glenn Beck site calls Trayvon Martin “aggressor”, implies he’s a criminal
- Florida’s controversial self-defense laws
What happened to Trayvon?
Martin, a Miami native, was visiting his father in Sanford and watching the NBA All-Star game at a house in a gated Sanford community, the Retreat at Twin Lakes. At halftime, Martin walked out to the nearby 7-Eleven to get some Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea. On his return trip, he drew the attention of Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood in a sport-utility vehicle and called 911 to report “a real suspicious guy.”
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher. “It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about.” The man tried to explain where he was. “Now he’s coming towards me. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male…Something’s wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is…These assholes, they always get away.”
After discussing his location with the dispatcher, Zimmerman exclaimed, “Shit, he’s running,” and the following sounds suggest he left his vehicle to run after Martin.
“Are you following him?” the dispatcher asked. Zimmerman replied: “Yep.”
“Okay, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher warned.
Several minutes later, according to other callers to 911 in the neighborhood, Zimmerman and Martin got into a wrestling match on the ground. One of the pair could be heard screaming for help. Then a single shot rang out, and Martin lay dead.
Are the 911 recordings available to the public?
Yes. After public pressure, the city of Sanford played the tapes for Martin’s family, then released the audio recordings. Here are some excerpts. You can also read a full transcriptof George Zimmerman’s initial police call here, along with an examination of whether he used a racial epithet, as some listeners have suggested.
What happened to the shooter?
So far, not much. Zimmerman told police he’d acted in self-defense. ABC News reportsthat he had wanted to be a police officer, and Sanford police didn’t test him for drugs or alcohol after the shooting (such tests are standard practice in homicide investigations). He was licensed to carry his gun, and policeinitially told Martin’s father that they hadn’t pressed charges because Zimmerman was a criminal justice student with a “squeaky clean” record.
That wasn’t entirely true, however; in 2005, Zimmerman was arrested for “resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer”; those charges were dropped. Media investigations and Martin family attorneys suggest that Zimmerman was a vigilante with “a false sense of authority” in search of young black men in his neighborhood. Police records show Zimmerman hadcalled 911 a total of 46 times between Jan. 1, 2011, and the day he shot Martin. (Floridaguidelines for licensed gun owners state: “A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman.”)
How are Florida’s self-defense and “stand your ground” laws key to this case?
Zimmerman may have benefited from some of the broadest firearms and self-defense regulations in the nation. In 1987, then-Gov. Bob Martinez (R) signed Florida’s concealed-carry provision into law, which “liberalized the restrictions that previously hindered the citizens of Florida from obtaining concealed weapons permits,” according to one legal analyst. This trendsetting “shall-issue” statute triggered a wave of gun-carry laws in other states. (Critics said at the time that Florida would become “Dodge City.”) Permit holders are also exempted from the mandatory state waiting period on handgun purchases.
Even though felons and other violent offenders are barred from getting a weapons permit, a 2007 investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that licenses had been mistakenly issued to 1,400 felons and hundreds more applicants with warrants, domestic abuse injunctions, or gun violations. (More than 410,000 Floridians have been issued concealed weapons permits.) Since then, Florida also passed a law permitting residents to keep guns in their cars at work, against employers’ wishes. The state also nearly allowed guns on college campuses last year, until an influential Republican lawmaker fought the billafter his close friend’s daughter was killed by an AK-47 brandished at a Florida State University fraternity party.
Florida also makes it easy to plead self-defense in a killing. Under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the state in 2005 passed a broad “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation. (More stringent self-defense laws state that gun owners have “a duty to retreat” before resorting to killing.) In championing the law, former NRA president and longtime Florida gun lobbyist Marion Hammer said: “Through time, in this country, what I like to call bleeding-heart criminal coddlers want you to give a criminal an even break, so that when you’re attacked, you’re supposed to turn around and run, rather than standing your ground and protecting yourself and your family and your property.”
Again, the Sunshine State was the trendsetter: 17 states have since passed “stand your ground” laws, which critics call a “license to kill” or a “shoot first” law. The law has been unpopular with law enforcement officers in Florida, since it makes it much more difficult to charge shooters with a crime and has regularly confounded juries in murder cases; many Orlando-area cops reportedly have given up investigating “self-defense” cases as a result, referring them to the overloaded state Attorney’s Office for action. A 2010 study by theTampa Bay Times found that “justifiable homicides” had tripled in the state since the law went into effect.
Slate‘s Emily Bazelon has more background on the evolution of “stand your ground,” its predecessor (the “castle doctrine”), and why Zimmerman hasn’t yet been arrested and charged. And we have a more detailed legal explanation of exactly why the law makes it so hard to get a prosecution or conviction.
Why is the history of the Sanford Police Department in question?
Sanford PD’s officers have suffered a series of public missteps in recent years, according to local reporters. In 2006 two private security guards—the son of a Sanford police officer, and a volunteer for the department—killed a black teen with a single gunshot in his back. Even though they admitted to never identifying themselves, the guards were released without charges. In 2009, after an assailant allegedly attempted to rape a child in her home, the department was called to task for sitting on the suspect’s fingerprints, delaying identification and pursuit of the attacker.
Perhaps the most significant incident occurred in late 2010: Justin Collison, the son of a Sanford PD lieutenant, sucker-punched a homeless black man outside a bar, and officers on the scene released Collison without charges. He eventually surrendered after video of the incident materialized online. The police chief at the time was ultimately forced into retirement. “Bottom line, we didn’t do our job that night,” a Police Department representative told WFTV of the incident. The TV station later learned that the Sanford patrol sergeant in charge on the night of Collison’s assault, Anthony Raimondo, was also the first supervisor on the scene of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death.
As a result of these incidents and their initial handling of Martin’s death, the Sanford Police Department has been under increased scrutiny. Martin’s parents have suggested they might call for Police Chief Bill Lee to resign.
What has been the reaction to the case?
The case garnered national attention thanks in large part to the reporting of Huffington Post‘s Trymaine Lee, who kept on the story since it broke. It caught major national media attention last week, when the police tapes were released, and the New York Times‘ Charles M. Blow and The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that the case deserved greater scrutiny. Celebrities like Russell Simmons, John Legend, and Jamelle Monae have taken to social media to comment on the case. A petition at Change.org was recently posted demanding that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, the local state attorney, and Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee prosecute Martin’s killer. The petition currently has more than 350,000 signatures, and had been averaging more than 10,000 signatures per hour.
The local state Attorney’s Office, which has the option of pursuing a case against Zimmerman, said this weekend that it received so many emails—more than 100,000—demanding prosecution, that the office’s servers temporarily shut down.
Meanwhile Monday, demonstrators gathered in support of Martin at the Seminole County courthouse and the Tallahassee campus of Florida A&M University, a historically black institution. Groups at the Seminole County rally reportedly chanted “Do I look suspicious?” and “Arrest Zimmerman now.” George Zimmerman’s father wrote in a letter the Orlando Sentinel that his son has moved out of the neighborhood where he shot Trayvon Martin. “The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth,” he wrote. “He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.”
But Martin’s mother and her attorney disputed that assertion on TV Monday morning. “[Zimmerman] was reacting to the color of his skin,” the mother, Sybrina Fulton, told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “I just don’t understand why this situation got out of control.” Her lawyer, Benjamin Crump, added: “Trayvon had a bag of Skittles. [Zimmerman] had a nine-millimeter gun. He was almost 80 pounds more weight than Trayvon Martin…Everyone in America is asking, ‘When are they going to arrest Zimmerman for killing this kid in cold blood?'”
UPDATE 3, 9:30 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 19: Where is Trayvon Martin’s cellphone?
When Trayvon Martin was killed, all he had were Skittles, iced tea…and a cellphone, authorities told the L.A. Times. The phone has been mentioned in multiple reports in recent days, and journalists and concerned citizens are starting to ask: Where is Trayvon’s phone? Why did the police on the scene of the shooting not use it to identify Martin, or contact his next of kin? “Trayvon’s body was bagged and taken to the morgue, where he was tagged as a John Doe,” writes African American affairs blogger Sandra Rose. “No one contacted Trayvon’s family even though police had Trayvon’s cell phone in their possession.”
The lack of information about Martin’s phone is feeding further skepticism about the police’s conduct, and it’s led New York Times columnist Charles Blow to start a new meme on Twitter:
UPDATE 4, 10:56 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 19: US Department of Justice, FBI, and Florida state detectives to investigate
The Miami Herald reports that the Department of Justice’s civil rights division will investigate the Martin case. The paper quotes a DOJ statement (apparently not online yet) noting that the bar for such federal probes is high:
“With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids – the highest level of intent in criminal law. Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws.”
Florida, too, is moving forward with a state-level investigation. Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (the state’s FBI equivalent) requesting the move, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The letter states:
The circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin have caused significant concerns within the Sanford community and the state…I understand an investigation was initiated by the Sanford Police Department and referred to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office. I believe it is appropriate the the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provide any assistance necessary to fully investigate this matter. Accordingly, please ensure that FDLE offers and provides the appropriate resources to the State Attorney’s Office as they continue their investigation.
These moves may suggest that state- or federal-level charges in Trayvon Martin’s death could come soon.
UPDATE 5, 11:45 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 19: Zimmerman violated neighborhood watch rules; traumatized teen witness speaks
Via Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, who tweeted “There are 22,00 registered neighborhood watch programs. Zimmerman’s was not one of them”:
Zimmerman also blatantly violated major principles of the Neighborhood Watch manual, ABC News has learned.
The manual, from the National Neighborhood Watch Program, states: “It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers, and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles. They should also be cautioned to alert police or deputies when encountering strange activity. Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous….”
According to Chris Tutko, the director of the National Neighborhood Watch Program, there are about 22,000 registered watch groups nationwide, and Zimmerman was not part of a registered group—another fact the police were not aware of at the time of the incident.
In another development, the Orlando Sentinel has a video interview with a 13-year-old identified as Austin who witnessed part of the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman. (Austin and his sister are audible on one of the 911 recordings embedded in this post.) “I just think that sometimes people get stereotyped, and I fit into this [same] stereotype as the person who got shot,” Austin worries.
UPDATE 6, 12:00 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 20: “How one senator predicted a Trayvon Martin-like case in 2005”
The Miami Herald‘s Marc Caputo relates how, during the debate over Florida’s passage of the controversial “stand your ground” law seven years ago, one state senator offered “eerily prescient” concerns about the bill that echo the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Democrat Steve Geller of Hallandale Beach, south of Fort Lauderdale, criticized the law as an unreasonable extension of the well-known “castle doctrine”:
…Geller fretted it was going too far.
“We never said . . . that the street is your castle,” he said on the Senate floor.
“I don’t think you ought to be able to kill people that are walking toward you on the street because of this subjective belief that you’re worried that they may get in a fight with you.”
UPDATE 7, 3:00 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 20: What did George Zimmerman whisper at 2:21 on his initial police call?
Late Monday night, several journalists and listeners suggested that in his call to police (which you can listen to above) George Zimmerman muttered or whispered a racial slur about Martin. It’s hard to be sure. Mother Jones has transcribed the entire call here and excerpted the part in question below. Zimmerman whispers “fucking [something]” at 2:21 on the recording as he leaves his car and pursues Martin on foot. Some listeners have suggested the muffled word was “coons,” while others heard “punks” or “clueless” or “course.” It is clear from the rest of the recording that Zimmerman repeated Martin’s race numerous times in his call. (“He’s got his hand in his waistband,” he says at one point, “and he’s a black male.”)
With the FBI and Florida detectives now on this case—and with hate-crime charges potentially on the line—hopefully federal and state agencies will attempt to enhance the recording’s quality to determine clearly what Zimmerman said.
Read the entire transcript of Zimmerman’s police call here.
Listen to the full call:
UPDATE 8, 10:00 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 20: Girl: Martin spoke on phone of being chased before he was shot
ABC News is reporting that a 16-year-old girl spoke on the phone with Trayvon Martin just before he was killed, and she said Martin was evading the pursuer who would eventually kill him. She told her story to the network:
“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.”
Eventually he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.
“Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn’t answer the phone.”
The line went dead. Besides screams heard on 911 calls that night as Martin and Zimmerman scuffled, those were the last words he said.
Trayvon’s phone logs, also obtained exclusively by ABC News, show the conversation occurred five minutes before police first arrived on scene.
UPDATE 9, 11:10 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 20: Grand jury convened; lawmakers line up for prosecution, investigations
The state attorney for Sanford, Florida, has announced he will convene a grand jury on April 10 to investigate Trayvon Martin’s shooting, according to WESH-TV in Orlando. “I share in the desire of the family and the community to accurately collect and evaluate all the facts surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin,” prosecutor Norm Wolfinger said in a statement.
Meanwhile, two state legislators who sponsored Florida’s “stand your ground” deadly-force law in 2005 called for George Zimmerman to be arrested for shooting Martin. “They got the goods on him. They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid,” one of the lawmakers, Republican former Sen. Durell Peaden told the Miami Herald. “He has no protection under my law.” His co-sponsor, current Rep. Dennis Baxley (R), told the paper: “There’s nothing in this statute that authorizes you to pursue and confront people, particularly if law enforcement has told you to stay put. I don’t see why this statute is being challenged in this case. That is to prevent you from being attacked by other people.”
Even so, the Democratic state senator from the Miami district where Martin lived, Oscar Braynon, called for legislative hearings on the effectiveness of the “stand your ground” law. “The Legislature needs to take a look at Stand Your Ground,” he told the Herald. “This is a perfect case of where it goes awry. This could only be the beginning of more problems down the road. It has unintended consequences. When the Legislature passed this in 2005, I don’t think they planned for people who would go out and become vigilantes or be like some weird Batman who would go out and kill little kids like Trayvon.”
UPDATE 10, 12:25 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 20: More on Trayvon’s last phone call; family “does not trust the Sanford PD”
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, held a press conference Tuesday releasing further details about the purported final cellphone conversation between Martin and a girlfriend just before Martin died. “She completely blows Zimmerman’s absurd self-defense claim out of the water,” he told the assembled reporters. “Arrest George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin in cold blood today.”
According to Crump, Tracy Martin—Trayvon’s father—worked with his cellphone service provider on Sunday evening to determine the final phone call his son had received before being shot dead by George Zimmerman. That led him to the 16-year-old girl, who reluctantly offered an affidavit detailing the contents of her conversation with Trayvon. She was “traumatized…beyond anything you can imagine,” Crump said in a long and far-ranging speech that sounded like a courtroom opening statement.
Crump related the girl’s experiences, which were consistent with the ABC News renderinglinked here. Her testimony, he said shows that Trayvon was “just a kid trying to get home and get out of the rain from the store,” Crump said. “That’s all. Nothing else.”
The girl’s final call to Trayvon lasted four minutes, Crump said. One minute after she and Martin were cut off, police were reportedly on the scene.
Crump then played a recording of the girl’s statement and said he would forward it directly to state and federal investigators. The family, he said, “does not trust the Sanford Police Department in anything to do with the investigation.”
UPDATE 11, 7:00 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 20: EXCLUSIVE: NAACP president toMother Jones: “Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered”
Mother Jones has received an exclusive statement from NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, weighing in on Trayvon Martin’s death:
It appears that Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered by a neighborhood watch volunteer. In recent years, people with connections to the Sanford Police Department have gotten away with assaulting and even killing black men. We requested and welcome the Department of Justice’s involvement. Trayvon’s killer must be brought to justice. The people of Sanford deserve to understand why the police did not lock him up the day the killing happened. And the nation must ensure that this pattern and practice of people attacking and killing black men with impunity is ended.
UPDATE 12, 7:25 p.m., Tuesday, March 20: Martin’s congressional representative: “I am tired of burying young black boys”
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who represents the Miami Gardens district where Trayvon Martin lived, rose during morning hours in Congress and delivered a stirring speech on his behalf today. “I am tired of burying young black boys,” Wilson said in a wavering voice. “I am tired of watching them suffer at the hands of those who fear them and despise them.”
She brought up the case of Martin Lee Anderson (detailed above), a black teen who was killed by guards in a Florida youth boot camp in 2006; the guards were eventually acquitted of wrongdoing. “In Florida, we have another Martin: Trayvon Martin,” Wilson said. She concluded:
I encourage the citizens of Florida and the citizens from around the world to continue to fight for justice for Trayvon Martin. Justice must be served: No more racial profiling. I’m tired of fighting when the evidence is so clear, so transparent…
We still have to march and demonstrate and write letters and protest and fight and have prayer vigils and sue and sit in just to be heard. No more. No more, Florida. No more, America. No more hiding your criminal racial profiling by using self defense to get away with murder. Stand up for Trayvon Martin. Stand up for justice. Stand up for our children. I am tired, tired, tired of burying young black boys.
UPDATE 13, 12:00 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, March 21: Neighbor defends George Zimmerman’s actions: “The stage was already set”
A neighbor of George Zimmerman’s and a fellow night watchman in the neighborhood told NBC Zimmerman believed he was protecting the townhouse development when he shot Trayvon Martin.
Frank Taffe, shown in the video below, said there had been eight burglaries in the neighborhood in just over a year, most committed by black men. “The stage was already set. It was a perfect storm,” he said. (NBC couldn’t immediately confirm Taffe’s statement.) Taffe continued:
“George is a congenial, amiable, admirable person,” he said. “He had a passion and a care for this neighborhood to ensure the safety of everybody here. And, furthermore, George is no Rambo.”
Taaffe said that Zimmerman was appointed as a watch captain, despite reports that he appointed himself to the post.
He said he believes his neighbor acted in self-defense, which is what Zimmerman told police. He conceded, however, that the boiling tensions may have been affecting Zimmerman.
“I think any time you use a weapon, there are certain anger issues working,” Taaffe said. “I think he had fed-up issues. He was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore.”
Zimmerman has not been charged, despite growing calls for his arrest.
“It’s really sad that he’s already been convicted in the public media and has already been sentenced to the gas chamber,” Taaffe said. “Let’s let justice do its job.”
One minor point of order: Justice does not do its job with gas chamber in Florida; capital offenders are executed by lethal injection.
UPDATE 14, 12:45 EDT, Wednesday, March 21: Is a Koch brothers group behind the “stand your ground” laws?
Media Matters reports that a notorious Koch brothers-funded lobby group may have played a leading role in writing and passing the 2005 Florida self-defense law that’s reportedly hindering prosecution against George Zimmerman.
As Mother Jones has reported before, the American Legislative Exchange Council often writes conservative legislation that finds its way onto the lawbooks—it’s shaped energy laws, as well as labor fights in Wisconsin and Michigan. (It’s also recently been caught red-handed passing its legislation onto lawmakers in Florida.) But Media Matters says ALEC has also teamed up with the National Rifle Association to pass “stand your ground” legislation to protect shooters:
Florida’s statute on the use of force in self-defense is virtually identical to Section 1 of ALEC’s Castle Doctrine Act model legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). According to CMD, the model bill was adopted by ALEC’s Civil Justice Task in August 2005—just a few short months after it passed the Florida legislature—and approved by its board of directors the following month.
Since the 2005 passage of Florida’s law, similar statutes have been passed in 16 other states. This was no accident. In a 2008 interview with NRA News, ALEC resident fellow Michael Hough explained how his organization works with the NRA to push similar legislation through its network of conservative state legislators:
HOUGH: We are a very pro-Second Amendment organization. In fact, last session, I’ll get off-topic here real quick, but some of the things that we were pushing in states was the Castle Doctrine. We worked with the NRA on that, that’s one of our model bills that we have states introduce.
Media Matters notes that the NRA, along with the Koch Brothers, has been a primary funder of ALEC, adding, “NRA got what it paid for.”
UPDATE 15, 3:30 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, March 21: Glenn Beck website calls Trayvon Martin “aggressor,” implies he’s a criminal
In a separate post here at Mother Jones, my colleague Adam Serwer has flagged two articles from the Blaze, Glenn Beck’s news site, that 1) call Trayvon Martin the “aggressor,” 2) intimate the furor over Martin’s death is cooked up by minority racial activists, and 3) speculate that Martin was suspended from school for, possibly, maybe, “‘armed robbery,’ ‘arson,’ ‘kidnapping’ or ‘sexual battery.'” Adam’s piece is a must-read.
The Blaze pieces are written not by a random anonymous commenter but by Mytheos Holt, a Wesleyan graduate and former speechwriter for Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Holt claims to hail from the mean streets of Big Sur, California, where 0.3 percent of the population is African-American.
Personal note: I am a product of several mostly-black public schools in Broward County, the large district adjacent to Miami-Dade. Most of my friends were products of one of these public school districts. I served my share of detentions and suspensions. So did my friends—white, black, Latino, Indian, and “other”. I wonder if Holt would assume my friends and I are armed robbers.
Instead of conjecturing, he could have found the Department of Education report earlier this month that confirms how black students are punished out of all proportion to their numbers. He also could have checked state and county records in Florida for any complaints against Trayvon Martin, as I’ve done. Major felonies of the sort Holt alleges would typically be public records here, even for juvenile offenders. There are no such records for Martin. You can check for yourself.
Also, it’s worth noting that the superintendent of Miami-Dade schools has no problem with Trayvon Martin’s student record…only with “the senseless and untimely death of one of my students, one of my children, Trayvon Martin.”
Not that this matters: As Adam points out, even if Martin was a criminal felon—which he apparently wasn’t—and even if George Zimmerman, the shooter, knew his victim’s record—which he obviously didn’t—even alleged criminals would have the right not to be gunned down without cause. For Holt to fantasize otherwise isn’t criminal. But it also isn’t reporting, and it’s perilously close to racebaiting.
UPDATE 17, 8:45 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, March 21: City of Sanford releases Q&A with police chief: Zimmerman claims he was attacked
In other developments, the Sanford city commission approved a vote of “no confidence” in Bill Lee, the police chief whose department has so far declined to arrest and charge Trayvon Martin’s shooter. The city manager now has three choices: fire Lee, ask him to resign, or do neither and agree to take responsibility for any future problems with the police department. In response, the city manager released an undated set of “citizens’ questions” about the case for Lee to answer; they appear to date from before the release of the 911 tapes. The questions and answers, which you can read here, are pretty fascinating and add to our knowledge of the case—or, at least, Sanford PD’s understanding of it. Among Chief Lee’s more interesting revelations:
On why Zimmerman wasn’t arrested or detained after the shooting:
Lee then goes on to cite Florida’s “stand your ground” law as the reason Zimmerman could not be arrested. That wouldn’t however, explain why even a law-abiding gun-owner who committed a purportedly justifiable homicide wouldn’t have been administered drug and alcohol examinations as a matter of procedure.
On the release of the 911 tapes, which apparently hadn’t occurred yet when the Q&A was drafted:
On Zimmerman’s armed presence in the neighborhood:
While on the phone with police, Zimmerman began to pursue Martin, and the police dispatcher who fielded Zimmerman’s call told him, “You don’t need to do that.” But that doesn’t mean Zimmerman was in the wrong, Lee explained:
This latter account of Zimmerman’s would appear to be in conflict with much of the story currently known to the public.
UPDATE 18, 4:05 a.m. EDT, Thursday, March 22: Trayvon’s parents speak to “Million Hoodie March” in New York City
Protesters wearing hoodies (and, in some cases, clutching Skittles and iced tea) marched through Manhattan Wednesday night chanting “We Are All Trayvon Martin.” Martin’s parents addressed the march: “My son is your son,” his mother told the crowd. Our reporters were on hand, and James West filed this video. See more of the MoJo news team’s pics and tweets from the march here.
UPDATE 19, 2 p.m. EDT, Thursday, March 22: New info on George Zimmerman; his police calls: potholes, piles of trash…and black men
The city of Sanford this week quietly released a 47-page log of some of George Zimmerman’s previous phone calls to 911 and police dispatchers. I’ve written a detailed report on the fascinating contents. Here’s the lede:
At 9:02 p.m. on September 21, 2005, he called 911 about a stray dog on Skyline Drive. At 7:22 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, 2005, he called 911 about a “pothole that is blocking [the] road.” Then there was the pile of trash in the road near the local Kohl’s, which he reported on Nov. 8, 2010. “[Complainant] states it appears recently dumped and appears to contain glass,” the dispatcher dutifully reported…the newly released police calls paint Zimmerman as a man obsessed with law and order, with the minutiae of suburban life, and with black males.
The full story is kind of amazing, and you can read it here.
We’re also learning more about Zimmerman’s background: The Daily Beast has a pretty encompassing profile here, and a Fox affiliate in Northern Virginia, where Zimmerman’s family lived before moving to Florida, interviewed some of his old acquaintances. George Hall, a former neighbor, tells the station he once wrote Zimmerman a letter of recommendation for the local police academy. “He just said he always wanted to be a policeman, Hall says.
UPDATE 20, 4 p.m. EDT Thursday, March 22: Sanford police chief steps down “temporarily”; town rally planned at 7 p.m.
In a dramatic midday statement, beleaguered Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced he was leaving his post until the city’s investigation into the killing of Trayvon Martin is complete.
“I am aware that my role as a leader in this agency has become a distraction from the investigation,” he announced from behind an outdoor podium this afternoon. “It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process.”
Lee announced that he was “temporarily removing” himself from the department’s lead as it retraced its steps in an investigation that got off on the wrong foot.
In earlier updates, we explained how Lee’s position had grown precarious after the police department failed to arrest or charge shooter George Zimmerman after the killing, and Lee defended that course. “[L]aw enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time,” he had stated in response to questions about the case posed by Sanford’s city manager.
A sergeant in the department, Scott O’Connor, will take over Lee’s duties during the investigation.
Meanwhile, the Central Florida city is bracing itself for a mass march for Trayvon Martin at 7 p.m. today, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. That rally comes on the heels of the “million hoodie march,” a major demonstration that Mother Jones covered from the trenches in New York yesterday. For their part, Trayvon’s parents reportedly meeting with officials from the Justice Department right now, and will make a public statement shortly after the meeting.
UPDATE 21, 10:25 a.m. EDT, Friday, March 23: Obama weighs in: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”
President Obama this morning spoke publicly for the first time about the Trayvon Martin case, expressing relief that the Department of Justice was on the case and saying it was “absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.”
“I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” he said. “And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.”
“I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”
He added, “When I think about that boy, I think about my own kids…If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness this deserves and get to the bottom of what happened.”
Obama made the comments during a Rose Garden press conference to announce his nomination of Dartmouth President Jim Young Kim to run the World Bank.
UPDATE 22, 11:00 a.m. EDT, Friday, March 23: Must read: Profile of Obama’s top civil rights attorney, now in Sanford
Consider this your absolute, positive, don’t-miss must-read-of-the-day: My colleague Adam Serwer has published a deep profile of Tom Perez, the Justice Department’s lead civil rights investigator—who’s currently examining the Trayvon Martin case, and who’s taken pains to turnthe department’s civil rights division around after it was ravaged by the previous administration. Perez will look at ths shooting itself for evidence of hate crimes…but as events develop, he may very well end up investigating the local police’s behavior, too. Do yourself a huge favor and read this piece.
UPDATE 23, 1:30 p.m. EDT, Friday, March 23: MoJo tells Geraldo to back off the hoodie-hating
I just did a short radio hit with Geraldo Rivera on his WABC/KABC radio show where I took him to task for his sad commentary that “His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did.” And yes, as Geraldo insisted to me that he wasn’t victim-blaming,I wore a hoodie. We’ll get a transcript/tape up as soon as possible, but in the meantime, here’s a rough taste of what I told him:
I do just want to call you out for a minute: You know, our explainer and our coverage have become a community for people to gather and express their concerns and frustrations about the case, and one of the big frustrations we’re hearing today is with your commentary that Trayvon’s choice of clothing, his hoodie, was as much to blame for his death as George Zimmerman and his 9 millimeter.
That ignores some facts in this case: We pored over Zimmerman’s previous calls to 911, and when he wasn’t obsessing over potholes and piles of trash in the road outside a Kohl’s department store, he worried about black guys. Black guys in leather jackets. Black guys in tank tops. He was equal opportunity in that respect. Trayvon didn’t die because of what he was wearing. And even if he did, that’s not his fault, anymore than a rape victim could be blamed for a short skirt. That’s malarky.
I think a lot of people agree with you that minority kids are being unfairly stereotyped by their clothes, but the appropriate response is not to tell kids to change their clothing – the appropriate response is to flip it and tell our culture, hey, pull your head out, stop making deadly assumptions about people based on what they wear.
UPDATE 23, 4:00 p.m. EDT, Friday, March 23: The right goes nuts over Obama’s Trayvon Comments
Well, that didn’t take long. While much of the right wing stayed silent (or civil) in the month following Trayvon Martin’s Killing, they went all-out today after President Obama commented on the case today. My colleague Adam Serwer has the complete story.
What makes this all the more puzzling is that Obama’s off-the-cuff remarks were confined mainly to expressing empathy for Trayvon’s family, and refraining from influencing the investigation with any out-of-turn commentary. He even complimented Florida’s Republican tea party governor, Rick Scott, for putting a task force on the case. But as Adam points out, Obama’s two-minute musing was a golden opportunity for the right to stoke some anti-Obama racial paranoia.
[Related update, March 27: Read Kevin Drum on the agenda driving conservatives’ attacks on Trayvon Martin.]
UPDATE 24, 11:00 a.m. EDT, Saturday, March 24: Trayvon case not exactly a top priority for Florida’s GOP governor
I’ve got a new piece up here at MJ that details how Rick Scott, one of the nation’s most unpopular governors (and host of this summer’s Republican National Convention), isn’t doing much to bring justice to Trayvon Martin… or to fix his own poor relationship with minorities. The lede:
Last Monday, Rick Scott—Florida’s beleaguered freshman tea party governor—made a powerful executive decision: He signed legislation to require drug tests of state employees. On Friday, he acted decisively and signed a controversial pro-school-prayer bill into law. His top cop, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi, spent the week on one of her top priorities: promoting the state’s Supreme Court case against President Obama’s health care reforms. The state’s Republican Party this week also began airing a new pro-Scott ad, two years ahead of his next election, and Scott’s also taken to bragging about his recent legislative accompishments.
Somewhere in there, the governor addressed Trayvon Martin’s killing.
Scott hasn’t done nothing, exactly…but what he has done comes with some stunning caveats. Read the full story here.
UPDATE 25, 6:00 p.m. EDT, Saturday, March 24: Zimmerman attorney speaks, but media can’t; rallies continue
“In my legal opinion, that’s not really applicable to this case. The statute on ‘stand your ground’ is primarily when you’re in your house,” attorney Craig Sonner told CNN. “This is self-defense, and that’s been around for forever—that you have a right to defend yourself. So the next issue (that) is going to come up is, was he justified in using the amount of force he did?”
He added that Zimmerman was not a racist. “This case is spinning out of control,” he said. “I hope there’s a way to rein things in so it doesn’t become an issue of a racial battle. I hope that things come back so that there can be a time for justice and for healing and not for just skipping the whole judicial process and going straight to sentencing.”
Meanwhile, some media workers have been asked not to comment publicly on the case. ESPN recently put a gag on their employees discussing Martin’s killing on their Twitter accounts. “We completely understand the strong feelings involved,” a spokesman for the sports station said. “Our decision is in keeping with our long-standing policy for ESPN content.
Rallies in support of Martin’s family continued nationwide in dozens of cities Saturday, including Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa, Jacksonville, Nashville, Albany, New York, andPortland, Oregon. More rallies are planned on Monday, from Indianapolis to Shreveport, Louisiana. “We’re asking people to get involved in their community and step up and take action and speak out,” an Indy organizer said. “We want to show every voice does count.”
UPDATE 26, 12:00 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 26: Zimmerman still permitted to pack heat…and buy more guns instantly
George Zimmerman still has his state concealed weapons permit, allowing him to carry a gun in Florida and the 35 other states that have reciprocity agreements with the state, the Sanford Police Department confirmed this morning to my colleague, Andy Kroll. (See his full story: “Is George Zimmerman Still Packing Heat?“)
A representative of the Sanford PD confirmed that they have the gun used in Trayvon Martin’s killing in their evidence locker, but nothing prevents Zimmerman from carrying other firearms on his license until and unless he’s charged with a violent crime. (In fact, he can also obtain another handgun instantly; the Florida carry permit allows holders to bypass the state’s standard three-day waiting period for handgun purchases.)
Mother Jones decided to check with Sanford PD after receiving a press release from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence stating that “One month after Trayvon’s tragic death, George Zimmerman still has his gun and his license to carry and use it.” The release was only half-right: Zimmerman’s handgun is in a police impound, though he could replace it easily enough under existing Florida law. Read Andy’s story for even more details.
Meanwhile, unnamed officials in the Sanford PD also released details of George Zimmerman’s account of that night to the Orlando Sentinel. Zimmerman says he was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon Martin engaged him in a verbal altercation, theSentinel reports:
Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police.
Trayvon then said, “Well, you do now” or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose.
Zimmerman fell to the ground and Trayvon got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, he told police.
That, the authorities say, was when “Zimmerman shot Trayvon once in the chest from very close range.”
It was still unclear from the authorities’ account how, with Martin straddling him and slamming his head into the pavement, Zimmerman managed to get his hands on his weapon, release the safety or cock it, and aim and fire it at Martin’s chest.
UPDATE 27, 1:30 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 26: Trayvon was suspended from school for trace amounts of pot
A Martin family attorney confirmed to the Miami Herald today that Trayvon Martin was serving a suspension from his high school “because he was caught with an empty plastic bag with traces of marijuana in it.” According to the paper:
Family spokesman Ryan Julison said the family has always maintained that Trayvon’s suspension had nothing to do with anything violent.
“The fact of the matter is that an empty baggie does not change what occurred,” he said. “The reason he was suspended does not change the fact that if George Zimmerman had stayed in his car, none of this would have happened.”
Trayvon’s previous behavior has been called into question by conservative skeptics whosuggest he might have been a criminal or thug whose actions toward Zimmerman justified his killing. But that account has also been disputed by school district that suspended Trayvon: the Miami-Dade schools superintendent last week railed against “the senseless and untimely death of one of my students, one of my children, Trayvon Martin.”
UPDATE 28, 11:30 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, March 27: Questions about Trayvon’s background, and a similar Wisconsin case
Questions continued to swirl around Trayvon Martin’s character this week, after unnamed sources in Sanford leaked details about Martin’s school record and George Zimmerman’s self-defense story. According to those reports, Martin had been in trouble with school authorities for tardiness, tagging a school locker with graffiti, and having jewelry and a screwdriver in his bookbag. The Miami-Dade school superintendent, citing federal privacy laws, declined to comment on Trayvon’s record. Also yesterday, the Daily Caller published what it claims is a list of tweets belonging to an account Trayvon had used before his death. The tweets portray Martin as discussing drugs and street life in vernacular language; the profile picture purports to show Martin with a “grill,” a set of gold teeth.
Martin’s family insists the Sanford Police Department leaked much of the info to turn public sentiment against them, and that accounts of Trayvon’s school behavior are irrelevant to the question of how he died. “They’ve killed my son,” Trayvon’s mother, Sabryna Fulton,said, “and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” Fulton and Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, are expected to travel to Capitol Hill Tuesday for a private briefing with members of Congress.
Meanwhile, the effects of Trayvon’s death are being felt across the country. A public uproar has grown over what appears to be a similar case in Slinger, Wisc., where a man shot and killed a black teen partygoer who had crossed onto his property from the house next door. And a New Orleans police officer has been suspended from his job for posting offensive comments about Martin online. “Act like a Thug Die like one!” one of his comments reads; in another, he insists that Martin is “in HELL.” In announcing the suspension, New Orleans PD Superintendent Ronal Serpas didn’t mince his words. “To say that I’m angry is an understatement,” he said. “Let me be clear: The hardworking men and women of the NOPD do not condone such statements.”