Trayvon Martin shooting calls for tolerance and equality around the country
EDITORIAL | Race relations in America today
Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 06:04
In recent weeks, Trayvon Martin’s murder has gradually and rightfully become a source of national contention. On Feb. 26, 2012 George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed a 17-year-old African American teenager named Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Martin, a high school student from Miami, Fla., was pronounced dead at the scene from a wound at the back of his head. Despite national outcry and further police investigation, Zimmerman has yet to be charged with a crime. The Sanford Police Department has also denied releasing information about Martin’s previous school suspension for trace amounts of marijuana found in his book bag that attempts to cast Martin in a negative light. The lack of criminal justice surrounding the killing of Martin’s death is appalling and suggests strong racial bias continues to exist in Sanford’s homicide investigations and America’s gun control laws.
According to recently released tapes, Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man, had dialed 911 to report Martin as “a real suspicious guy” and “a black man” with “his hand on his waistband” who looks like “he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something.” Despite the dispatcher’s request to desist, a wrestling encounter ended with Zimmerman shooting and Martin dead. Martin is said to have only been carrying a pack of Skittles and a can of iced tea from the local convenience store.
The case of Trayvon Martin clearly demonstrates a need for a higher level of national discourse about racial tolerance. Martin’s parents have conducted live interviews on nationally-syndicated talk shows and attended public rallies to draw attention to racial profiling and hate crimes. On Tuesday, March 20, the NAACP released the statement, “Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered.” Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) of the Miami Gardens district where Martin lived said in a congressional meeting, “I am tired of burying young black boys.” She continued, “I am tired of watching them suffer at the hands of those who fear them and despise them.” Despite the increasing outcry of voices and media attention surrounding the issue, neither local police department nor state nor federal charges have been pressed for a murder case.
The combination of a botched police investigation and Florida’s “Stand your ground” law has meant that Martin’s family and friends have seen none of the closure or justice that they deserve. The Sanford police department did not complete standard practices as part of homicide investigations such as testing Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol after the shooting. According to Martin’s father, police authorities told him that they did not arrest Zimmerman because of his “squeaky clean” record when, in fact, the image of Zimmerman currently being circulated on television news reports is actually a mug shot from his 2005 arrest for resisting arrest and battery of a law enforcement officer.
Due to the intense scrutiny of this case and cases in prior years that suggest strong racial bias and lack of thorough investigation, the Sanford police chief has temporarily stepped down, clearly unable to confront the negative publicity or heavy criticism directed at his leadership of city police.
Florida’s “Stand your ground” law has inspired even further debate in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder. The law was passed in 1987 to protect citizens that act in self-defense if they have the reasonable suspicion that they are in physical danger. But instead of making communities safer, the law creates “Wild West” environments in which an armed citizen has no reason to stand down whenever he or she feels threatened. Justifying killing another human being under “Stand your ground” isn’t that difficult because the law leaves a strong prerogative with the defendant to exercise force at his or her own discretion or interpretation of danger. In many cases, such as Martin’s, this means that convicting a killer can be nearly impossible if they claim they were acting in self-defense. Unfortunately, laws like this create an environment in which minorities especially become the targets of violence perpetrated by citizens who only have to claim they felt threatened. When an individual, such as Zimmerman, is racist or tends to have racial prejudices, he or she is more likely to act to protect themselves against minority citizens, simply because they are threatened by their appearance.
There is an obvious need to revise this legislation and changes to the laws have been called for by politicians of both the Right and the Left. Even Jeb Bush, in a speech at the University of Texas, Arlington stated that “‘Stand your ground’ means ‘stand your ground.’ It doesn’t mean ‘chase after somebody who’s turned their back.’” Twenty-four states currently have some variation of a “Stand your ground” law.
Hopefully, Martin’s case will turn the national preference away from so-called “Castle law” and back to the more civilized “duty to retreat” laws that encourage non-violence and more reasoned action. Even President Obama has gone public with his opinion on Martin’s case, stating that if he had a son “he would look like Trayvon Martin,” and joining the millions of other individuals who have spoken out against the injustice of the student’s murder.
There is a strong hope that Martin’s case is re-igniting the debate on gun control in the country. Zimmerman, as a volunteer watchman, was not supposed to use a weapon in order to “protect” the neighborhood. However, he acted, in a vigilante-type way, shooting Martin with a previously concealed weapon as the victim attempted to escape.