Trayvon Martin: The 5 Key Unanswered Questions
It’s been more than a month since Trayvon Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman. (Get a full rundown of the facts of the case here.)
While media coverage of the case has been intense, there are several key questions that have yet to be answered about the case. Here are five of the most important:
1. What was the purported “conflict” that required the initial prosecutor to step down? On March 22 — after several weeks on the job — state attorney Norm Wolfinger stepped down from his role as prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case. Wolfinger relinquished his post after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. He said it was necessary for him to step aside to preserve “the integrity of this investigation,” adding he wanted to avoid “the appearance of a conflict of interest.” He did not explain why his continued involvement would damage the integrity of the case or explain the potential conflict he was seeking to avoid. Did anyone at the prosecutor’s office know Zimmerman or his family? [Orlando Sentinel]
2. Why did the prosecutor ignore the recommendations of the lead homicide investigator? ABC News reported that Chris Serino, the lead homicide investigator on the Trayvon Martin case, recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter on the night of the shooting. Serino filed an affidavit that night stating “he was unconvinced Zimmerman’s version of events.” As the lead homicide investigator, Serino was: 1. In the best position to evaluate Zimmerman’s credibility, and 2. Intimately familiar with Florida law. Why was he ignored? [ABC News]
3. Why did then-Police Chief Bill Lee make public statements directly contradicting the official recommendations of the police department? On the day the Sanford Police concluded their investigation and handed over the case to the prosecutor, then-Police Chief Bill Lee stated publicly that there was no “probable cause” to arrest or charge Zimmerman. (Lee has subsequently “temporarily” stepped down from his post.) But the Miami Herald reports that on the same day the Sanford Police formally requested that the prosecutor charge Zimmerman, something known as a “capias” request. [ThinkProgress]
4. Who leaked Trayvon Martin’s school records? As public outrage increased, Zimmerman’s sympathizers launched a smear campaign against Trayvon Martin. This included details of several occasions where Martin was suspended for minor infractions (defacing a locker, possessing an empty “marijuana baggie.”) None of the information seemed to have any particular relevance to the night Trayvon Martin was shot to death. Was this a ham-handed attempt by the police or the prosecutor to defend their lack of action against Zimmerman? The Sanford City Manager announced he would launch an independent investigation into the source of the leak. [Miami Herald; NBC12]
5. Why was Trayvon Martin’s body tagged as a John Doe? The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart notes a police report “that was completed at 3:07 a.m. on Feb. 27 lists Trayvon’s full name, city of birth, address and phone number.” But yet, Trayvon’s body was reportedly “tagged as a John Doe” and his father wasn’t informed of his death until after he filed a missing person report later on the 27th. Why weren’t Trayvon Martin’s parents contacted immediately after the police confirmed his identity? [Washington Post]
Special prosecutor Angela Corey has promised to release additional information about the caseonce she makes a decision about whether to charge Zimmerman, something that could happen at any time.
DON’T LET THE “LIBERAL” MEDIA FOOL YOU!
Wherein the tighty-righty smear machine is tangled in its own racism
Anonymous asked you:
Meg, I really need your help. Do you have links to the Trayvon Martin murder concerning the smear back-lash by certain right-wing outlets? A point-by-point dismantling of this blatantly false and blatantly racist “evidence” would be much appreciated for certain people in my social circle. I like how when the media actually reports on cases like this, the right-wingers call it “manufactured sensationalism”.
Meg at Cognitive Dissonance:
Yes, I have lots of links, info, and outrage.
First, I’m getting sick of the new meme regarding the media “ignoring” the “black on black” violence. Bernie Goldberg insists if both men were black, we wouldn’t know the name Trayvon Martin. He’s probably right. Why?
BECAUSE GEORGE ZIMMERMAN WOULD HAVE BEEN JAILED. No self-defense claim would have flown.
“What about all the dead black kids killed by other blacks?!” wails Heather Mac Donald of The National Review. I’m paraphrasing. Sort of:
Blacks commit 80 percent of all shootings in the city — as reported by the victims of and witnesses to those shootings — though they are but 23 percent of the population; whites commit 1.4 percent of all shootings, though they are 35 percent of the population. Add Hispanic shootings to the black tally, and you account for 98 percent of all of the city’s gun violence. In New York, as in big cities across the country, the face of violence is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic…
[T]he racial storyline that has been imposed on the shooting does not fairly represent contemporary America. That storyline is not just wrong, it is dangerous, because it only feeds black alienation and anger. Family breakdown, not white racism, is the biggest impediment facing blacks today, producing such casualties as the 18-year-old gangbanger who fatally shot a 34-year-old mother picking up her child from school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, last October. Sharpton and the national media didn’t show up for that killing, just as they don’t for the thousands of other black-on-black killings each year.
Screw examining the systemic explanations — let’s just chide people for the “racial storyline” while claiming “the face of violence is overwhelmingly black and Hispanic” because THAT’S NOT WRONG AT ALL. Perhaps examining the unequal criminal justice system, the incarceration rate of minorities, the efforts expounded by police in investigations dependent upon the race of the victim and perpetrator, and interactions with police in minority neighborhoods can shed some light on these statistics.
Nah, let’s just throw some numbers out there about scary brown people.
On to the release of Trayvon Martin’s suspension from school for traces of marijuana in an empty plastic baggie in his backpack. First, if the police department did indeed leak this information (and they need to get their pipes checked - lots of leaks lately) they may have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [FERPA]. The information in a student’s educational record, including disciplinary record, is not to be revealed without written permission.
Before any conservative naysayers exclaim: “But Meg! It says on the government’s socialist website with ‘free’ information that they can release the record to law enforcement! What about the weed?!” — the AP is on it, confirming Trayvon Martin has no juvenile record. Oh, and these things called facts show white youths are more likely to abuse drugs than black youths but black students, particularly black male students, are much more likely to be suspended and referred to the juvenile system.
Of course, discussion of Trayvon’s maybe drug use fits nicely in with George Zimmerman’s claim he was suspicious and “on drugs or something.” The drug-crazed brown man is an old canard:
Straight from The New York Times in 1914 — the only way to deal with drugs in the black community is to lock up “irreclaimable” users. As for marijuana:
Brown people are getting your kids hooked. Lock ‘em up. Does any of this ring a bell?
None of the alleged drug use matters, though. Zimmerman is not a cop, even if he aspired to be one. He didn’t observe Martin selling or using drugs. He just thought he was suspicious and up to no good. Neighborhood Watch captains are told to not carry weapons, and call 911 to report crime — not to confront alleged perpetrators because they aren’t police. However, Zimmerman thought differently. From the Miami Herald:
The recent shooting raised troubling questions about whether the homeowners association knew its volunteer was armed with a Kel Tek 9mm semiautomatic handgun. Many residents — black and white — question Zimmerman’s judgment and wonder why he would have engaged the teenager at all.
The answer may lie in police records, which show that 50 suspicious-person reports were called in to police in the past year at Twin Lakes. There were eight burglaries, nine thefts and one other shooting in the year prior to Trayvon’s death…
Since the beginning of the year, Zimmerman made 46 calls to police. His most frequent calls were to report “suspicious persons” — all of whom were black — including a skinny black male, about 7-9 years old. The Orlando Sentinel reports:
Many of the calls start the same way — Zimmerman mentions the recent rash of burglaries in the area and identifies himself as a member of the neighborhood watch.
“We’ve had a lot of break-ins in our neighborhood recently and I’m on the neighborhood watch,” Zimmerman said during one call. “There’s two suspicious characters at the gate of my neighborhood, I’ve never seen them before. I don’t know what they are doing. They are hanging out…loitering.”
That day, the “characters” are two black men in a white sedan, Zimmerman tells the dispatchers. An officer is sent to check out the call, but it’s unclear if anything suspicious was uncovered. Another time he calls to report two black teens who match the description of suspects in recent break-in, who his wife saw and identified for police.
One of Zimmerman’s African American neighbors, Ibrahim Rashada, discussed his discomfort with Zimmerman’s zealotry in the Miami Herald:
[Rashada] does not walk around the neighborhood at all. “I fit the stereotype he emailed around,” he said… “So I thought, ‘Let me sit in the house. I don’t want anyone chasing me.’” For walks, he goes downtown. [Rashada’s wife] listened to her husband’s rationale, dropped her head, and cried.
Zimmerman’s neighbors expressed frustration with police response and anger at his tactics. However, Zimmerman is not without his defenders:
Problems in the 6-year-old community started during the recession, when foreclosures forced owners to rent out to “low-lifes and gangsters,” said Frank Taaffe, a former neighborhood block captain.
“Just two weeks before this shooting, George called me at my girlfriend’s house to say he saw some black guy doing surveillance at my house, because I had a left a window open,” Taaffe said. “He thwarted a potential burglary of my house.”
Oh, really? You know this black man was going to burglarize your house? In the neighborhood invaded by “low-lifes and gangsters” no less… Taaffe’s emerged as one of Zimmerman’s primary defenders. There’s a lot of guilt by association and dredging up the supposed past in order to tarnish Treyvon Martin and black men in general.
You wanna play that game?
Frank Taaffe said George Zimmerman is just like him and a likable guy. Well, Zimmerman and Taaffe appear to have more in common than a pathological distaste for young black males strolling their neighborhood. Taaffe was arrested for Battery, Felony Trespass, and Domestic Violence. He’s also the respondent in multiple civil cases filed for non-support of children, “repeat violence,” and Domestic Violence from as far back as 1983, and as recently as 2008.
Zimmerman was arrested for domestic violence, resisting an officer with violence, battery on a law enforcement officer, and resisting an officer without violence. His father, a retired judge, insists his son is a good boy. These two men are smearing all people of color as “thugs,” “low-lifes,” and “gangsters.” Again, Trayvon Martin has no arrest record. None. But he’s a “thug.”
Certain elements stand alone. After being told not to pursue Martin by 911 operators, warned not to be armed as a neighborhood watch captain, muttering “these assholes always get away” and a racial slur, instigating a confrontation with an unarmed man, and shooting that unarmed man dead, George Zimmerman is still free and still armed. Witnesses state Zimmerman loudly reassured people it was “self-defense” and set his gun on the ground after shooting Martin. In fact, the lead investigator did not buy Zimmerman’s story, and wanted him charged with manslaughter.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who signed the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005 said this is not the proper application of the law. Bush said, “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.” Like Zimmerman did.
Bush is not the only conservative to speak out. Columnist and commentator George Will said the law, “Tries to codify a right of self-defense that really confers upon citizens the illusion of these, that they have powers exercised by highly-trained police officers. Mr. Zimmerman says he was acting under this self-defense law, but he is said to have been recorded saying he pursued the person. You cannot be in pursuit and acting in self-defense.” Like Zimmerman.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. even chimed in and said, “We all know there’s a racial component to this, and when the president highlights it, I don’t think it adds a whole lot. But nobody suggests that the president’s insensitive to the 17-year-old if he’d been white. I think the criticism by our guys was a little off-base.”
But it’s not about race, right? The fake photos originating from neo-Nazi sites, smearing Trayvon Martin’s name, calling him a thug via his alleged Twitter — that’s not about race, it’s perspective. Attempting to link Trayvon Martin and President Obama to the New Black Panthers isn’t about race, either. It’s not about race or politics when conservative site The Washington Free Beacon loudly proclaims “REGISTERED DEM KILLED TRAYVON” and “guns don’t kill people, Dems do.” And we should feel sorry for Zimmerman because in many ways, “George has lost his life, too.”
No. That would be Trayvon Martin. He’s the one who lost his life. You know, the one armed with Skittles, not a Kel-Tec 9 mm handgun.
Conservative blogger Dan Riehl writes the outrage is the fault of black leaders — not the guy who fired the gun. Seriously: “Said leaders, I use the term loosely, seem only interested in fueling outrage and a mob mentality for political gain. It’s sad to see so many black Americans still falling for it after so many decades. Their minds haven’t been freed, all that’s changed is the owners of the plantation. Too many would be black leaders are too happy to lead them down a path through a cotton field of ignorance and hate ending at the ballot box, before just going on and on with no real end in sight.” Disgusting.
Riehl also claims Obama is leading a “lynch mob” against Zimmerman since the Obama campaign sells hoodies. No word if Mitt Romney is also leading the mob with his fashionable “Believe in America” and logo zip-up and pullover hoodies:
Angry Black Lady rips Riehl (and others) apart on her site, Angry Black Lady Chronicles. And rightly so. Black men are persistently stereotyped as dangerous, hoodie-wearing thugs, even though crime rates among black youth have fallen to record lows. Trayvon Martin’s crime appears to be “Walking while black” — a crime Bernie Goldberg or Dan Riehl will never be accused of, thanks to white privilege. Tommy Christopher writes:
This is the essence of the oft-misunderstood term “white privilege,” which is that even the least fortunate among us take for granted things that black people cannot. These don’t feel like privileges, because they’re really not, they are things that ought not be denied to anyone. It doesn’t feel like a privilege to catch a taxicab, or to walk around a store without being constantly watched and shadowed, or not to fear that any encounter with police could escalate to lethality… or to send your child to the store for a snack, confident he’ll return home without being mistaken for an imaginary criminal.
The murder of Trayvon Martin must spark a national conversation and one that must include people of color, for precisely the reasons outlined by Christopher. His fellow Mediaite columnist, Frances Martel, said, “[O]ur broken criminal justice system isn’t a black problem. It’s an American problem.” Until we acknowledge the existence of institutionalized racism, in a system serving liberty and justice for some, and then commit to real reform, Trayvon Martin will not be the last “suspicious person” gunned down for wearing nothing more than dark skin.
I hope this answers your question.