By now, you’ve probably heard about Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old who was recently shot to death in a gated Florida community by an armed, criminally-overzealous-at-best member of a neighborhood watch group. Martin, who was black, was making his way back to his father’s home, after having purchased some candy and an iced tea from a nearby 7-Eleven, when he attracted the attention of 28 year old George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who informed a police operator that the young black man was wearing a hoodie, and looked out of place, took it upon himself to pursue the young man. Zimmerman was told not to do so by the police dispatcher, but proceeded to anyway, saying, “They always get away.” According to initial police reports, a confrontation ensued, during which Martin was killed. Zimmerman, it seemed, had acted in self-defense.
Thankfully, however, Martin’s family, and members of the community, weren’t willing to just let the matter rest. They demanded to hear the 911 tapes, hoping they might shed some light on how the unarmed man had come to die. After denying the request for several days, the police reluctantly conceded. And, with that, the police narrative began to unravel.
Here, first, is Zimmerman’s call to the police, followed by the call of someone in the neighborhood. As you’ll hear in the second recording, Martin’s screams for someone to help him come to a abrupt end with the firing of Zimmerman’s gun.
And, now, not only is evidence coming out that Zimmerman, who had tried and failed to become a cop himself, had had some run-ins with the law, and a history of obsession when it came to young black men in his neighborhood, but that the local police tried to influence testimony in order to make it look as though Zimmerman, and not Martin, had been the one yelling for help. The following clip comes courtesy of ABC News:
…Another officer corrected a witness after she told him that she heard the teen cry for help. The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who cried for help, said the witness. ABC News has spoken to the teacher and she confirmed that the officer corrected her when she said she heard the teenager shout for help….
I don’t have a lot to add to the story, and, at this point, I think it would be irresponsible to start speculating as to whether or not Zimmerman fancied himself a libertarian “I’ll take matters into my own hands” tough guy hero, but I did want to offer something for your consideration. Regardless of the facts in this case, I think it’s pretty clear that, with the increase in privately owned weapons, and the decreased funding for trained police officers, that we’re going to see more and more of this in the future. As we’ve discussed here in the past, the instances of “justifiable homicide” are already way up in Detroit, and I don’t see any reason why every other town around our country wouldn’t eventually be following suit, from the poorest urban wasteland, where individuals are increasingly carrying concealed weapons, to the the most wealthy gated community, guarded by private security forces. At any rate, I think it’s something that warrants discussion. And I’m wondering how people feel about it.
I’ll leave you tonight with this quote from Martin’s mother.
“My son didn’t do anything. He was walking home from the store. Why would the neighborhood watch guy have a weapon? It’s just crazy. You are supposed to watch the neighborhood, not take the law into your own hands.”
So, is this this the kind of America that we want to live in? Do we want to be governed by mob rule, and frontier justice, in a country where our untrained neighbors are taking the law into their own hands, without consequence?
update: Given the increased national attention, and the promise of protests in Florida, federal agencies say they will be opening a formal investigation.
…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 bill after 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 the Tampa Bay Times found that “justifiable homicides” had tripled in the state since the law went into effect…..