Monday, April 9, 2012

Trayvon Martin's Death: What Really Happened

     Since late February, Americans have been polarized in dueling versions of a good-versus-evil morality play. Neither version is realistic. In reality, neither Trayvon Martin nor George Zimmerman was wholly in the right. Each made a series of unwise decisions that progressively narrowed their options until only one option remained. At that point, each one had a reasonable fear of death at the others hands.
     Here is the way it happened:
     There was a young man named George Zimmerman, an older boy named Trayvon Martin, a controversial law, a rash of burglaries, societal perceptions, unconscious signals, and some rain.
     Zimmerman was a conscientious Neighborhood Watch volunteer who was frustrated at his and others inability to end the burglaries in their neighborhood. He was pudgy for his twenty-seven years, and he stood five foot nine; his weight was not reported. Martin was a troubled youth: the product of a broken home, shifted from pillar to post, having a checkered relationship with authority figures; and, at the time, staying at his father’s fiancé’s home. At seventeen,  Martin was a strapping six footer and tipped the scales at 160 pounds.

     During the last hour of Trayvon Martin's life, he had just bought some candy and a can of tea from a local store and was passing through the neighborhood where Zimmerman lived, apparently looking at residences as he passed them. Possibly due to the weather, Martin had raised the hood of his pullover, covering his head and partially obscuring his face. While similar articles of clothing have been in use since the Middle Ages, hooded pullovers (hoodies) are now perceived as popular among members of youth gangs.
     Zimmerman didn’t “single him out,” as some people have misleadingly said, because there was no one else from whom Martin could have been “singled out.” Because no one else was passing by Zimmerman’s range of sight, the neighborhood watch volunteer noticed him. Martin, in turn, felt uncomfortable under Zimmerman’s gaze and proceeded cautiously—some would say, furtively.
     Zimmerman, troubled by the recent burglaries, interpreted Martin’s manner as “behaving suspiciously.” He called 911 to report the matter.  (police report) (911 call)
     “White, black, or Hispanic?” the dispatcher asked.
     Zimmerman wasn’t sure. He hesitated and said, “He looks black. He’s wearing a dark gray hoodie, jeans or sweat pants, and white tennis shoes.”  [Race baiters would later zero in on Martin's race and the hoodie, suppressing the other information in the description.]
     As Zimmerman eyed Martin and spoke to 911, Martin’s picked up the signal that this man was talking to someone about him. Martin approached Zimmerman, possibly to ask what this was all about. “He’s coming this way,” Zimmerman said.
     Those words and the look on Zimmerman’s face were enough to convince Martin that he should leave the area. “He’s walking away,” Zimmerman said. As Martin walked away, Zimmerman followed him, continuing to talk to 911. Then Martin began to run.
     What happened next was the sort of thing that police officers today are trained to avoid. Police departments today try to restructure their officers’ response in such a way as to “slow down” the action. Zimmerman was not a trained police officer.
     As Zimmerman followed Martin, his heart raced and he spoke to 911 in quick breaths. Adrenalin and testosterone pumped through his system, distorting his judgment. (This isn't speculation on my part.  It's an inescapable fact.)  That was precisely why policemen today are expected to slow down the action.
     “These a**holes—they always get away,” Zimmerman whined.
     Who was “they”? “They” were the ones who had been frustrating Zimmerman and others by burglarizing homes and getting away with it. In just a few minutes, Martin had been transmuted from someone acting suspiciously to “They.” Under his breath, Zimmerman sighed, “F***ing coons.” Yes, that’s the plural of coon. In Zimmerman’s mind, Martin had become not just one person but an entire race of—race of what? In his sense of helplessness, Zimmerman had passed down the slippery slope from concerned citizen to dehumanizer of his fellow human beings.
     “Are you following him?” 911 asked.
     “Yes”
     “Okay, we don’t need you to do that.” Under Florida law, Zimmerman from that moment was required to break off the chase. From the sound of his breathing, and the sound of wind in the cell phone, it’s clear that Zimmerman continued to pursue Martin for perhaps a moment longer. Zimmerman’s breathing soon returned to normal.
     Zimmerman had lost sight of Martin. He tried to give directions to 911 as he looked for a spot where he could meet a policeman.
     In the meantime, Martin placed a cell phone call to his girlfriend and told her that a man was following him. Martin abruptly ended the call.
     Neither witnesses nor news accounts reveal whether Martin was cornered at that point. It’s clear, though, that Martin attacked Zimmerman, pushing him to the ground.
     An eyewitness saw someone in a red “sweater” (actually a jacket) being attacked. Martin was wearing a gray, hooded pullover. Because Zimmerman was the one being attacked, the witness thought that Zimmerman was calling for help. Earwitnesses and a recording of a 911 call indicated that it was Martin who was calling for help. Martin’s father said that the one calling for help was not Trayvon Martin. (video)
     Chances are, the person calling for help was one who had had less trouble with authority figures. That would have been Zimmerman, though that doesn’t mean that Martin didn’t also consider himself in mortal danger. A voice recognition expert has been hired to determine which one was calling for help. (video)
     Nonetheless, it’s also clear that Martin was getting the better of Zimmerman in the struggle. As the two struggled, Zimmerman pulled out his gun and shot Martin. Trayvon Martin died on the spot.
     Was Zimmerman guilty of manslaughter? That would be for a jury to decide, if the case goes to court.  Thus far, the prosecutor has said that he doesn't have enough evidence to get a conviction.
     False witnesses have come out of the woodwork.

     ABC News, in telling their version of the story, presented a Photoshopped image of Zimmerman, showing him as being more light-skinned than he really was, and showing Martin as he had looked at the age of fifteen, an unspoken suggestion that it was a recent photo. To their credit, it was ABC News whose enhanced video showed that Zimmerman had injuries to the head and face.  (video)
     Zimmerman's lawyer also told falsehoods about the case.  After condemning others for telling falsehoods, the lawyer exaggerated Martin's actual height by three inches.  (video)
     The infamous demagogues such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have grandstanded in this matter.
     In another tent in this media circus, people have lifted two embarrassing photos (out of how many?) from Martin’s Facebook page and used them to present Martin as a one-dimensional “gangsta.” Yet another has Photoshopped a familiar photo of Martin to depict him as making an obscene gesture. We’re also treated to the news that Martin had used marijuana, had been twice suspended from school for playing hooky, and he had been found to have burglary tools (which tools?) and a dozen articles of women’s jewelry in his possession.
     Our judgment is becoming distorted. We need to “slow down the action” and let the police continue the investigation.  In the interest of restoring calm and sanity, I believe it may be helpful for a post-racial person of national stature to step in and act as the voice of reason in this matter.  I have a few in mind, but I'll avoid suggesting their names.
     While I have strong opinions as to what should be done to settle the matter, I see no reason to voice them now or while the case is being adjudicated—if it is adjudicated. The voicing of opinions should be left to those who can be trusted to calmly and rationally deal with the matter.
     For now, I’ll say only that it’s not enough for justice to be done. It’s also important for people to believe that justice is done. Thus far, that’s not happening.

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