The Lonesome Death of Trayvon Martin

    Ever since news broke about George Zimmerman shooting down Trayvon Martin in that gated community outside of Orlando, I’ve had Bob Dylan’s song, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, going through my head. Maybe it’s just that Zimmerman’s name sounds to me like that of William Zantzinger, the privileged young tobacco farmer in Maryland who was immortalized in Dylan’s song for having beaten a 51 year old black barmaid to death at a 1963 society ball, when she didn’t deliver his bourbon fast enough for his liking. (According to those in attendance, it took her about “one minute” to get him the drink that he’d demanded of the “black bitch.”) Calling the beloved mother of eleven a “nigger,” he struck her repeatedly with a cane. Carroll collapsed moments afterward, and was hospitalized. She died eight hours later, from a brain hemorrhage. Zantzinger, claiming that he had no memory of the assault, as he was incredibly drunk at the time, mounted an inspired defense, suggesting that Carroll’s poor health was more to blame for her death than the fact that he had struck her about the neck and head with a cane. (He also argued that it was just a cheap, toy cane… not the kind of thing he’d have used if he’d really wanted to kill her.) Apparently, this logic resonated with his white peers on the jury. He was sentenced to only six months in jail… Here, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the song, and its origins, is audio of Bob Dylan performing it, after a brief interview with Steve Allen.

    I know I said above that the song may have just come to mind because Zimmerman’s name was similar to that of Zantzinger’s, but clearly there’s more tying the two cases together than just that. Zimmerman, as we now know, was also a son of privilege, having grown up with a father who was a Virginia Supreme Court magistrate. It’s unclear whether his father’s experience within the criminal justice system helped his son avoid jail time after a violent 2005 altercation with police, or in relation to a recent charge of domestic violence, but I think it’s safe to say that Zimmerman, at the very least, was raised with a certain level of privilege that his victim was not. And, like Zantzinger, Zimmerman, and his supporters, are also turning things around the young, unarmed victim, who, as far as I can tell, just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Stories began swirling almost immediately that Trayvon Martin was not the innocent young man that he appeared to be… Sure, he’d just bought a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles, but, as some on the right wing would claim, “skittles” is the street term for dextromethorphan. Of course, he didn’t have dextromethorphan on him at the time of his murder, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that a link has been made, so now people can start to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he’d gone to the 7 Eleven to score dextromethorphan, but accidentally got candy by the same name instead. Oh, and others on the right are saying that he did’t actually buy the Skittles at all. According to some, the candy was shoplifted. And, then there’s the story making the rounds about how he’d been expelled from his high school for having a small plastic baggie in his possession – like those used to hold marijuana… It’s all nonsense, of course. Even if it were all true, though, it wouldn’t mean a thing. Even if the kid were a degenerate shoplifter who cultivated fields of pot in the Florida Everglades, it wouldn’t change the fact that, on that specific night, he’d done nothing to warrant the attention of Zimmerman, a wannabe cop with a loaded guy, a history of violent outbursts, and a demonstrated problem with “coons” in his exclusive, gated community… Of course, we’re being told now, by Zimmerman’s friend Joe Oliver, that Zimmerman didn’t say “fucking coons” at all on that 911 tape, but “fucking goons.” And “goons,” we’re told, is a term of endearment… So, apparently, Zimmerman really liked this black kid that he was stalking through his neighborhood, until the point that the young man turned around and started beating the shit out of him.

    That’s the prevalent narrative on the right, but the way… Zimmerman was following Martin, whom he determined to be suspicious (given the fact that he was a young black man walking slowly in the rain), when Martin attacked him for no reason. Zimmerman Sr., speaking on behalf of his son, said that Martin yelled, “you’re going to die tonight,” as though his dialogue were being written by a 70 year old, first-time screenwriter in suburban Kansas who had only experienced black people through reruns of Matlock. Of course, Martin’s girlfriend, who was talking with him at the time that he was approached by Zimmerman, says that no such thing happened. Zimmerman’s father, however, says that she’s being dishonest. (He, of course, knows the truth, having heard his son’s story.) As I understand it, he’s also said that the young man heard screaming for help on the 911 tape is his son. Two leading experts in the field of forensic voice identification, however, have come out today, saying that the voice is almost certainly that of Martin. What’s more, the Miami funeral director who prepared Trayvon Martin’s body, said he found no “cuts, scratches, or bruises – only a gunshot wound to the chest”, which seems to refute Zimmerman’s claim that Martin and he scuffled. And, then there’s the newly released police surveillance footage, that appears to show Zimmerman, less than an hour after the shooting, without a mark on him, collaborating an eyewitness account that he wasn’t at all injured, in spite of his claims to have received a broken nose, and had his head thrust repeatedly into the asphalt.

    I should add that I’m all for keeping an open mind, and letting the facts come out over the course of the investigation. And, generally speaking, I’m not one to advocate on behalf of mob justice. With that said, though, I’ve been given very little reason to believe the narrative put forward by the survivor. And, given how difficult it has been to get the police to turn over the 911 calls, and the video footage of Zimmerman on the night of the killing, I’m not inclined to believe that the young black victim in this case has an advocate inside the department. So, while I’d love to sit back and wait for justice to run its course, I’m not so certain that we can afford to do that in this case. And, quite frankly, I’m pissed at the blatant lies being pushed by the friends and family of George Zimmerman.

    Oh, speaking of Speaking of Zantzinger, there’s one last thing that I wanted to mention. He died in 2009, at the age of 69. And, you might be interested to know, his views on race didn’t evolve much over the course of his life. The following clip is from his New York Times obituary.

    …In 1991, The Maryland Independent disclosed that Mr. Zantzinger had been collecting rent from black families living in shanties that he no longer owned; Charles County, Md., had foreclosed on them for unpaid taxes. The shanties lacked running water, toilets or outhouses. Not only had Mr. Zantzinger collected rent for properties he did not own, he also went to court to demand past-due rent, and won.

    He pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of deceptive trade practices, paid $62,000 in penalties and, under an 18-month sentence, spent only nights in jail.

    Information on Mr. Zantzinger’s survivors was unavailable. Though he long refused interviews, he did speak to the author Howard Sounes for his book “Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan” (2001) , telling him of his scorn for Mr. Dylan.

    “I should have sued him and put him in jail,” he said…

    I find it interesting that he felt as though Dylan should have been “put in jail” for having written about his coldblooded murder of another human being, but that, at the same time, also felt as though he shouldn’t have served time for having actually having done the killing. I think that sums up the concept of white privilege pretty well.

    As for The Lonesome Death Song of Hattie Carroll, I’d intended, when I first set out to write this post, to suggest that we start a letter writing campaign to Dylan, urging him to employ his still considerable talents to document the story of Trayvon Martin in song, so as to ensure that his passing isn’t lost to history, in the same way that Carroll’s surely would would have been, if not for his song in 1963. Then, however, it struck me how much I disliked the fact that Elton John had taken the song, Candle in the Wind, which was originally written for Marilyn Monroe, and had it rewritten for Princess Diana, and I decided to drop the idea… I hope, instead, that lots of other songwriters, drawing inspiration from The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, set out to share the facts of this case as best that they can, so that people never forget what happened a month ago in Florida.

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      30 Comments

      1. Chidave
        Posted April 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        Not to dismiss the point of this but… isn’t it most likely that Bob Dylan’s birth name being Robert Zimmerman the likely reason for you being reminded of him?

      2. Edward
        Posted April 1, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        It’s amazing how little things change in 50 years. I bet Zimmerman gets about the same 6 month sentence.

      3. Posted April 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        That did occur to me Chidave, but not until after I’d already written it. One hopes that Dylan isn’t related.

      4. Posted April 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

        Someone just sent me an email also telling me that Dylan’s birth name was Zimmerman. He said that it was a weird twist of fate. “No,” I responded, “it was a simple twist of fate.”

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmZ6sQFg74I

      5. Posted April 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        And I didn’t mention it in the post, but I don’t know who we have these days that would be up to the task of writing something like The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

      6. Justin
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 1:11 am | Permalink

        The gunman’s seemingly dishonest father is named Robert Zimmerman, just like Mr. Dylan.

      7. Eel
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

        The times, they are apparently not changin’.

      8. John Galt
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        I, for one, am happy to know that good, honest white folk are finally standing up for themselves and taking law enforcement into their own hands. Case in point…..

        It was just another Tuesday evening in a normally quiet neighborhood in Pearland, Texas, where kids are often found playing with one another and driving go-carts.

        A family had just returned from Galveston on a spring break excursion, when upon their return, all of a sudden the unthinkable happened.

        “You don’t belong in this neighborhood!”

        These are the words that Jules Moor, a 13-year old black child, says that Deanna Johnson, a middle-aged white female, said to him after Johnson slammed her 2011 Jeep Wrangler into his go-cart on Tuesday, March 13, 2012.

        STRUCK BY VEHICLE – According to court documents obtained from Jules’ attorney, Sylvester Anderson, Jules went for a ride in his go-cart in his neighborhood with another 13-year old boy who had been spending spring break with the Moor family. A third minor boy, another friend of Jules’, rode a small bicycle behind the go-cart.

        Jules saw two cars behind him while driving back home, so he decided to drive his go-cart completely off the road to his right onto the grassy edge of the neighborhood park to avoid being in the way of traffic.

        It is then that Jules states that Johnson swung her vehicle across the south-bound lane of the road, ran over the curb onto the grass and deliberately and intentionally rammed her vehicle head-on into the go-cart.

        According to Jules, Johnson got out of her vehicle and confronted the boys in a hostile and threatening manner yelling “Where do you live? Who are your parents?” while shaking her finger at the kids. Jules goes on to say, “With all due respect, Ma’am, I live down the street,” to which Johnson allegedly tells him that she didn’t care and that she was calling the police.

        http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-768331

      9. Burt Reynolds
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        Zimmerman was completely wrong, and should face just punishment. Martin did nothing wrong that night, from what we know, and did not deserve to die.

        That being said, has anyone noticed that the only picture the news media keeps running of Martin, are of him looking like sweet little church going boy? They are all from 2008-2009. No news outlet is showing the photos of him from his twitter account (@no_limit_nigga.) These pictures include him with a gold grill, pointing guns at the camera, and spewing vile tweets like “Ho, you got used for ur loose ass pussy #tightenup” and “shoot that mf’er in the head.”

        Like I said, I feel like everyone else regarding the case, I just find it interesting the news media is playing this angle so hard, when it doesn’t need to be with the facts in the case.

        God, sorry. I feel like EOS just took over my keyboard.

      10. Mark H.
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Thanks, Mark, for this thoughtful post on the killing in Florida. It’s even more cold blooded than the Maryland death Dylan wrote about. His song still rings true, and he does still perform it in concert, by the way.

        The songs speak the truth, man.

        And the name Zimmerman is pretty common, so I think it’s mere coincidence that was Dylan’s birth name. And, anyway, he’s said he was born with the wrong name anyway.

      11. Mike Shecket
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        It also reminds me of the John Lennon song (“God”) with the line “I don’t believe in Zimmerman”.

      12. Eel
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        I hear you, Burt. The kid could have been a real asshole. And the world may be a better place without him. Hell, if Zimmerman hadn’t killed him, he could have gone on to rob a bank one day. But we don’t execute people because they look that they could be bad, or because they might do bad things in the future. That’s not what America is about.

      13. Eel
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        And what do you think the over/under line is on Zimmerman in Vegas? I’m guess it’s right at about 6 months.

      14. ytown
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Sure Mark, all of your information is correct. Nobody has all of the facts yet, Zimmerman may well be a murderer, but let wait to convict.

        http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-04-02/news/os-trayvon-martin-enhanced-video-040212_1_reporter-matt-gutman-abc-news-neighborhood-watch-volunteer-zimmerman

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/post/nbc-to-do-internal-investigation-on-zimmerman-segment/2012/03/31/gIQAc4HhnS_blog.html

      15. K2
        Posted April 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        Ytown, I believe what Mark was getting at, toward the end of his post, was that he’d love to sit by and wait for justice to run its course, but that others don’t seem to be doing the same. People are attacking Trayvon, making claims that aren’t true. They’re saying that he attacked Zimmerman, and that Zimmerman was the one screaming for his life. And, until there was pressure applied, the police weren’t releasing the recordings. If people hadn’t taken to the streets, this would have been over with, and that, in and of itself, is a travesty.

      16. RickyP
        Posted April 3, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        I sure hope the feds go in and take care of business in Fla. What’s gone on in their “investagation” is criminal and they need to take down the good old boys network that is protecting this scumbag.

      17. Meta
        Posted April 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Zimmerman’s dad, the former magistrate, coached his son, and was with him during his questioning by police.

        http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/04/03/457593/trayvonmartin-family-attorney-questions-robert-zimmerman/?mobile=nc

      18. Meta
        Posted April 6, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Zimmerman’s neighborhood watch group had been told by police not to carry firearms, not to engage in pursuit.

        http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime/dont-confront-palm-beach-county-police-agencies-tell-2252704.html

      19. Eel
        Posted April 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        Thursday morning, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were found spray-painted on the side of Ohio State University’s black cultural center.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/george-zimmerman-supporter_n_1406071.html

      20. Meta
        Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        The Washington Post is reporting that Florida special prosecutor Angela Corey will announce this evening at 6 pm in Jacksonville that she will file charges against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on February 26. The news squares with an announcement from Corey last night that she would schedule a press conference within 72 hours for the purposes of making an announcement pertaining to the case. The report, purportedly from an anonymous law enforcement official close to the investigation, makes no mention of what the charges will be.

        http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/04/11/462713/report-special-prosecutor-could-charge-george-zimmerman-as-early-as-today-in-death-of-trayvon-martin/

      21. anonymous
        Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        From Think Progress.

        The Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department opened an investigation into a racist post on one of its captains’ Facebook page. According to The Grio, Brian Beckmann, a captain in the Miami-Dade fire department, posted a rant on his Facebook page suggesting that Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman was unjustly accused and that Martin’s killing can be blamed upon poor parenting by “urban” parents who are “welfare dependent”.

        He also calls the parents “shitbags”.

        http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/04/16/464890/miami-captain-shitbag-parents/?mobile=nc

      22. Ved Stockholm
        Posted June 29, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        I’m just hoping that I’m talking with a more credible witness on my cell phone when I get hunted down and murdered by a self-appointed cop.

      23. Tim
        Posted July 14, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

        As no one has mentioned it yet, George Zimmerman was found not guilty yesterday for the killing of Trayvon Martin.

      24. Knax
        Posted July 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Now there’s a Tim.

      25. AK
        Posted July 14, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        There’s a video going around the web of a black guy pointing out that Shartpon and company don’t come out and say a damn thing about black on black crime. His delivery is crude, but he’s got a point. The only reason this is in the news is that he was killed by a white man. Unarmed black teens are killed every day.

      26. EOS
        Posted July 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

        Justice has not been served. Zimmerman should never have been charged. Florida Special Prosecutor Angela Corey should lose her right to practice law.

        The Sanford Police Chief evaluated all the evidence and found that no crime had been committed. He was fired. The Justice department looked into the altercation for evidence that a bias crime had been committed and found none. Prosecutor Corey did not convene a grand jury, but instead charged Zimmerman on her own authority. She then withheld a large amount of evidence from the defense, and would have gotten away with it, had not an assistant prosecuting attorney blown the whistle. The attorney was fired, but the defense got copies of the excluded evidence a short time before the trial started. In spite of overwhelming media bias against Zimerman, and even comments made by President Obama before the trial began, the jury who listened to all the facts in this case found Zimmerman to be not guilty. Yet he will live the rest of his days in fear for his life.

        The next time you hear of an interracial crime, can you pause, and consider for a moment, that it might not be racially motiated?

      27. double anonymous
        Posted July 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        I saw the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sL2f0PoqME), if this is the one that you’re referring to. I liked the phrase “dust off their dashiki’s”.

      28. John Galt
        Posted July 14, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        I agree with EOS. It’s an absolute outrage that anyone would question the word of an upstanding white citizen. We should be organizing parades for him. God knows how many lives he saved by killing this young black male before he could begin a life of crime.

      29. HateOS
        Posted July 15, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        Why can’t black people just stay inside their homes?

      30. Robert
        Posted July 19, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        What does a jury know. We need to dump this jury system and let the public vote through an Internet site.

        What is the country coming to when a guy can’t physically assault a neighborhood watchman without fear for his life?

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