Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Martin and the Quest for Justice

On the back of this weekend's controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman, we're republishing this article by poet, playwright and political commentator Charlie Braxton that originally appeared in issue 10 - written during the aftermath of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.
The senseless slaying of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed African-American male, sent shockwaves throughout the America’s black community and the world. Many people were outraged that George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic male who has a history of calling the Sanford Florida Police (SPD) to report ‘suspicious males’ in his exclusive gated community, could shoot and kill a child and not instantly be arrested and charged with murder. But in the State of Florida, as well as many other States in the US that have so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, it proved entirely possible.

According to the law, a person has the right to use deadly force if they ‘reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to him or herself or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony’.

On the surface the law seems reasonable. After all, everybody has the right to defend themselves and their loved ones.

But according to reports this is not the case with George Zimmerman, the self-appointed Captain of his community’s neighborhood watch. When Zimmerman first saw Martin, he was armed with a gun loaded with hollow point bullets and sitting in the safe confines of his car following Martin, who was unarmed and on foot. Zimmerman disregarded authorities request not to pursue Martin. Instead, the insurance underwriter got out of his car and pursued Martin on foot, not vice versa. Exactly what happened in the few minute between Zimmerman confronting Martin up until the time of the teenager’s death nobody knows except Zimmerman.

Zimmerman claims that Martin was the aggressor in the situation; that Martin wrestled him to the ground, straddled him and slammed his face into the concrete, breaking his nose and leaving a laceration on the back of his head. Fearing for his life, Zimmerman told police that he reached for his concealed weapon, which he was licensed to carry, and shot Martin. To the authorities it appeared an open and shut case based solely on Zimmerman’s account.

But if the police would have taken the time to look at it from Martin’s point of view then perhaps the outcome would’ve been much different. Think about it.

Here’s Martin, an unarmed minor who is a good 100 pounds lighter than the burly Zimmerman, walking to his father’s apartment in the rain. He’s talking on the phone to his girlfriend, minding his own business when he spots a stranger in an unmarked vehicle following him. According to his girlfriend, Martin walks faster hoping to avoid contact with the stranger, but his effort was to no avail. Within minutes the stranger gets out of his car and pursues Martin on foot. At this point, if you were Martin wouldn’t you perceive that person as a potential threat to your life?

Unfortunately, the police in Sanford Florida elected not see the incident from Martin’s point of view and apply the law accordingly. If they had, Zimmerman would have been arrested and charged with shooting Martin in the incident’s immediate aftermath. Instead, it appears the Sanford Police viewed the case solely through the eyes of Zimmerman. And all they saw in the man whom Zimmerman shot was ‘black male’; a potential threat who couldn’t possibly be innocent.

What is even more outrageous is how the SPD initially treated the entire investigation so cavalierly. And though the SPD police chief temporarily stepped down amidst the controversy, there are still some issues with how the SPD handled this incident that continue to raise some suspicion.

According to law enforcement expert Rod Wheeler, Zimmerman’s speech on the 911 call was slurred, which is an indication that he may have been intoxicated. Anytime a person involved in a crime shows signs of intoxication, an alcohol and drug test is standard police procedure. According to The Guardian, the SPD failed to check Zimmerman for drug and/or alcohol use, yet they tested Martin corpse for traces of drugs and alcohol. The test came up negative. 

Speaking of test, Zimmerman claims that he called out for help while Marin was allegedly assaulting him. He claims that he can be heard on one of the taped 911 phone calls. But two top expert have examine the tape and concluded that the voices heard on the tape isn’t Zimmerman’s. One of those experts is Tom Owen, forensic consultant for Owen Forensic Services LLC and chair emeritus for the American Board of Recorded Evidence. Owen used voice identification software to rule out Zimmerman, with the result being a 48 per cent match for Zimmerman’s voice. That’s way less than the 90 per cent needed to declare it a positive match. “As a result of that, you can say with reasonable scientific certainty that it’s not Zimmerman,” said Owen. Unfortunately, Owen could not confirm that the voice on the tape was Martin’s either. In order to do that he would need a sample of the deceased voice to compare against the taped voice, which he did not have.

Also, the police failed to contact Martin’s girlfriend in Miami. She was the last person Martin talked to minutes prior to his demise. According to her, the last word she heard Martin say was, “Why are you following me?” This contradicts Zimmerman’s claim that Martin approached him.

The SPD also failed to notice Zimmerman’s possible use of a racial epitaph to describe Martin. This would’ve been a possible motive for Zimmerman to kill Martin and potential grounds to arrest Zimmerman for a hate crime. Again, this is a crucial piece of evidence for a trained police investigator to ‘overlook’.

There are some very disturbing reports alleging that when some witnesses tried to tell the police they heard Martin scream (one witness told CNN that she saw Zimmerman straddling Martin moments before she heard a shot), the SPD either ignored or disregarded their assertions altogether. Later, two audio experts have confirmed that the voice screaming for help on the 911 tapes is not Zimmerman’s. Again, this is enough to raise any good detective suspicion. It would certainly merit questioning if not arresting and charging him with a crime.

It should be noted that Trayvon Martin’s isn’t the only controversial death of an African-American by police and/or security personnel. This year there have been 30 (29 males and one female) such killings in the US with 17 of these killings taking place after the death of Martin, at time of writing. According to published reports, 18 of the 30 people killed were definitely unarmed. 11 of them were innocent of any crimes or wrong-doing that involved hurting anyone, yet they were deemed ‘suspicious’ by the person who killed them. In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national organisation that tracks racist groups, reports that there has been a serious spike in racist hate groups who seemed to have found psychological discomfort in the election of Barack Obama, the ailing economy and the ever-changing racial demographic of America. The centre also notes that the State of Florida is among those with the largest number of hate groups.

On April 11th, after a massive nationwide outcry that saw peaceful, marches and protests rallies in support of the Martin’s family’s quest for justice. George Zimmerman was finally arrested and charged with the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin. As of this writing, Zimmerman is free on a $150,000 bond and is in seclusion as he awaits trial, but the potential damage done to the case by the SPD’s initial mishandling remains to be seen.

Meanwhile racial tension remains high. Rumours abound that a heavily armed Neo-Nazi group is preparing to patrol the streets of Sanford in order to protect white in case of a ‘race riot’. But according the SPD there is absolutely no truth to those rumours.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


A placeholder. New issue coming soon.