We must dismantle the fraternity of racism and build an altar of love and justice, writes the pastor of Obama’s former church.
After ‘scuffling’ with Trayvon Martin on ground.
The first eyewitness account of the events leading up to 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s death has emerged: An anonymous man, his voice disguised, said on CNN that he looked out his window and saw Trayvon and George Zimmerman, the shooter, “scuffling” on the ground when two shots rang out. The witness says that Zimmerman then walked away with his hand on his forehead, looking “worried,” but not injured. Before peeping out, the man heard angry voices outside. The man says that he reported the details of the incident to the police when it happened. Police video of Zimmerman doesn’t appear to show any blood—contradicting Zimmerman’s story.
Prosecutor won’t allow media access to records.
Despite the intense interest in the Trayvon Martin case, authorities are invoking the “active criminal investigative information records exemption” to keep from having to reveal any details into their investigation of George Zimmerman. No documents, videos or factual information regarding the case will be released, said special prosecutor Angela Corey’s office in a statement Thursday. The national media has descended on Sanford, the city where Martin was shot and killed. Zimmerman remains uncharged because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, but authorities are investigating to see if they can bring charges.
How a garment rooted in weekend athleticism became the complicated symbol for our country’s moral outrage and racial unease.
Even as more details emerge about the Trayvon Martin shooting last month in Sanford, Fla., nothing will change the terrible fact that an unarmed African-American teenager was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch volunteer who is Hispanic. But as each day brings more questions than answers, as frustrating as that may be, it’s also a good thing. It underscores how complicated this case—this social convulsion—ultimately is.
Members of the New York City Council wear hoodies at a rally for Trayvon Martin on Wednesday (Mike Segar, Reuters / Landov)
This story, with its stench of racial bias, is not a matter of black versus white. It isn’t symbolized by nooses, clubs, or snarling dogs. It isn’t a modern-day Emmitt Till. Today the pain of racism flares up and then subsides; it throbs like a dull ache and often its source can be hard to locate. On good days, it even feels like it has gone away.
So it’s not really surprising that something as banal as a hoodie, which Martin was wearing when he was killed, has become symboli of Zimmerman’s presumed prejudice, ignorance, and animus. When Zimmerman described Martin as “suspicious” to a 911 operator, it begged the question: What, precisely, made him suspect? Since there was no indication from the call that Martin’s actions were untoward, logic turned to his mere presence. He was a black man in jeans and … a hoodie.
Such a stupid, innocuous garment.
It has never had the fear factor of black leather or steel-toe boots. Swaggering rappers and tough guys were never able to take full ownership of hoodies; they weren’t able to exploit them for their own purposes like baggy jeans or oversized white t-shirts. There was too much that was functional, cuddly, and universal about hoodies for them to be fully co-opted. Too broad a population embraced them. They remained rooted in weekend athleticism and collegiate sports, the Gap and Old Navy. Suburban dads wear them when they mow their lawn. Soccer moms wear them to soccer games. Channel surfers pull them on for pizza and beers.
Still, it makes a striking visual statement to see throngs of protesters dressed in hoodies. It is a stirring message when a minister--having exchanged his regal robes for a hoodie—preaches to congregants about humanity, love, and fellowship. And it was a bold statement for Rep. Bobby Rush to ignore a stern House dress code and wear a hoodie as he spoke against racial profiling in Congress. (The Illinois Democrat’s decision to accessorize with dark sunglasses, however, detracted from his point. At that point, he frankly did look rather cagey.)
Geraldo Rivera was lambasted for suggesting that a hoodie was as culpable in Martin’s death as the shooter. He later apologized for his remarks. But the fact is, we do like to play with our public image—pretending that it doesn’t matter and yet knowing full well that it does. Baggy jeans became popular among young men—whether honor-roll students or delinquents—thanks to all of their negative, subversive connotations. Walking up to the edge of propriety and stepping over the line are all a rite of passage to self-definition.
Contradicting claims of self-defense.
George Zimmerman’s face may not have taken a hit, but his credibility sure has. Zimmerman’s attorney had claimed in recent days that Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old his client shot and killed last month, attacked him before the fatal incident, breaking the neighborhood watch captain’s nose and bloodying his head and face. But a police video released Wednesday showed police frisking a handcuffed Zimmerman with no discernible facial injuries. The attorney for the Martin family said that the video “dramatically contradicts his version of the events.”
Newly released police video of George Zimmerman reveals none of the injuries he said he received from Trayvon Martin. Jesse Singal on how the footage lays bare the worst, most dangerous tendencies of the Internet—and ourselves.
If the police video of George Zimmerman being taken into questioning shows what it appears to show, if Zimmerman really was devoid of the injuries that had been so feverishly and eagerly recounted by his defenders, then we have on our hands an absolutely catastrophic failure on the part of the media, and one of the most dramatic, devastating examples in recent memory of the Internet’s power to decide “the facts” long before anyone has a clue what they are.
In the eyes of many, the story about how Zimmerman came to shoot Florida teen Trayvon Martin had taken a sharp turn into Zimmerman-friendly territory this week. “With a single punch,” the Orlando Sentinel reported Monday, “Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk, leaving him bloody and battered, law-enforcement authorities told” the paper.
As Allison Samuels pointed out the next day, there were reasons to be skeptical of this account. Zimmerman’s call to 911 clearly revealed that he had been following Martin, and Martin’s girlfriend said she had been on the phone with him immediately prior to the incident, that she had encouraged Martin to run from the man following him, and that right before the shooting Martin had asked Zimmerman why he was being pursued. (Phone records obtained by ABC confirmed that Martin and his girlfriend had been talking right before the shooting.)
But none of these questions—which, it should be said, didn’t necessarily invalidate Zimmerman’s claims—mattered to the millions of people who had a eureka moment as they read the latest twist: of course Martin was the aggressor! They clicked eagerly, and soon a variety of ostensibly damning facts about Martin were racing around the Internet: not only the Sentinel story, but also Martin’s tweets (which show him to be guilty of nothing more serious than being a teenager) and reports that he had been found with trace amounts of marijuana and possibly stolen jewelry in his bag at school.
None of these facts had any bearing on the case at hand, of course, nor did they change what we know to be true (almost all of which comes from Zimmerman’s 911 call). But a sizable chunk of America reflexively decided that Zimmerman had defended himself against a dangerous, suspicious black teen, and they urgently spread the word. This wasn’t restricted to anonymous bomb throwers; the respectable right chimed in as well. Victor Davis Hanson, considered a conservative intellectual, wrote: “Martin is emerging not quite as a model pre-teen, Skittle-eating student with a slight truancy problem, but as a 6 foot 2 inch teen with troubled Twitter allusions to criminal activity, an obscene n-word Twitter ID, and suspensions entailing possible drug use and theft.”
Of course, that Zimmerman likely outweighed Martin by 50 pounds or more, or that the worst “criminal activity” alluded to in the Twitter account was smoking pot, or that a black teenager has a different relationship to the n-word than a middle-aged white pundit, or that Martin was not suspended for theft but for possessing trace amounts of marijuana didn’t matter. No. What mattered was that this version of events was so much more palatable and digestible than the notion that race had played a part in the death of an unarmed black teen (which is so...liberal). And that’s why the story festered and spread like a virus.
It’s a profound failure of our information environment, and it can be traced in part to a lack of skepticism. In retrospect, there was so little reason for the Zimmerman account to have changed anyone’s view of the case. Neither he nor the Sanford Police Department were disinterested observers. He, after all, was facing potential murder or manslaughter charges, and the department was shielding itself from a nationwide barrage of criticism for not arresting him.
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin reflects the hysteria that has gripped large numbers of Americans since the election of our first black president.
When President Obama said, movingly and beautifully—and with great courage in this rancid political season—that Trayvon Martin could well have been his son, he hit the nail on the head more directly than he knew. George Zimmerman’s response to Trayvon Martin was an allegory for the way at least half the country has been responding to Obama since he was elected to sit in the White House.
Trayvon Martin, left, Barack Obama, right, gives a lecture at the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit March 26, 2012 (Martin Family Photos / AP Photos (left); Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)
Just as Zimmerman suddenly became a crime-watch volunteer—after being charged with assaulting a cop, no less—countless people suddenly, upon the election of America’s first black president, began to worry about the country as if about a crime-ridden neighborhood.
As though patrolling local streets, they began to obsess over the Constitution. As if spotting broken locks or shattered windows, they believed they saw breaches of “freedom” everywhere. Because there had been numerous recent break-ins in the neighborhood, Zimmerman believed that following Martin was necessary. Because there had been tyrants before in world history, true patriots became convinced that scrutinizing Obama’s every move in the past and in the present was of the utmost urgency.
Zimmerman had called 911 46 times in the past eight years. No doubt each time he called, he thought he perceived a different threat. One black kid walking alone. Two black kids walking alone. A black kid holding something. A black kid looking around suspiciously.
How many 911-like alarms have been rung since Obama was elected? His friendship with Bill Ayers demonstrated that he had the heart of a terrorist. His association with Jeremiah Wright confirmed that he hated America. Hello, Operator. Send help, Obama is a socialist! He bailed out Detroit because he’s in bed with the unions. He’s also in cahoots with the banks and screwing the common man. Plus, he’s turned on the American financial system and, yes, is screwing the common man. Help, police, his health-care plan is a plot to put all our civil liberties in the hands of a totalitarian government! He’s looking around at our institutions, at our individual freedoms, at our God-given right to be American...
We don’t think he was born in America. We’re going to follow him.
And that hoodie. True, it’s sometimes a fashion statement that means trouble. But on that night, it was raining. The hoodie wasn’t necessarily in the form of something meant to be menacing. It was the function of something meant to be protective. It was a way for Martin to shelter himself from bad weather. It had a physical justification that should have made Zimmerman check his automatic responses. Instead, it must have rattled Zimmerman because he couldn’t see Martin’s face. Unable to see his face, Zimmerman projected onto the teenager his worst fears.
Wrong address forced couple to flee home.
Spike Lee did the right thing Wednesday night, when he apologized for retweeting an address that he thought belonged to George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin. David and Elaine McClaine, the Florida couple, were forced to leave their home and move into a hotel after the director’s apparent Twitter endorsement. They live four miles from where Zimmerman lived and, coincidentally their youngest son’s last name is Zimmerman and middle name is George. Lee’s twitter apology: “I Deeply Apologize To The McClain Family For Retweeting Their Addres. It Was A Mistake. Please Leave The McClain’s In Peace. Justice In Court.”
But was not bloody after being taken in for Trayvon shooting.
ABC News released police video Wednesday showing Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman being taken into the police department the night he killed the unarmed black teen. The surveillance tape showed no obvious signs of Zimmerman being injured; he has claimed Martin hit him and banged his head against the sidewalk during their altercation. According to the police report, Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and back of his head. The video shows a cuffed Zimmerman stepping out of the patrol, looking subdued and later returning to the patrol car.
Wednesday may have marked the first time many heard of Bobby Rush, but the hoodie-wearing, Trayvon-supporting congressman is known as a ‘local legend,’ writes Nicholas McCarvel.
Before Wednesday morning, Bobby Rush was best known as the one politician to ever have beaten Barack Obama in an election. The congressman from Chicago’s South Side made headlines for wearing a hoodie while speaking on the chamber floor in support of Trayvon Martin, and getting himself booted from the podium for not adhering to the dress code.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., wore a hood in support of Trayvon Martin on the House floor on Wednesday and was escorted out for violating the chamber's ban on wearing hats. (AP Photo; Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo)
Rush is both a longtime Washington insider and a well-liked representative of Chicago’s South Side, an overwhelmingly Democratic district that boasts the country’s highest percentage of black voters (65 percent). Those two characteristics helped Rush rout the current president when he was challenged as an incumbent in the 2000 election, and also seemed to influence his Wednesday stunt that included a pair of oversized sunglasses.
“He was blinded by his ambition,” Rush said of Obama in the New York Times in 2007, when the then-senator had just launched his campaign for the White House. “Obama has never suffered from a lack of believing that he can accomplish whatever it is he decides to try. Obama believes in Obama. And frankly, that has its good side but it also has its negative side.”
The 65-year-old Rush himself bursts with confidence, boosted by 10 terms in Congress, winning nine of them with 80 percent of the vote. The drubbing of Obama in 2000 was his closest contest since winning office in 1992, still doubling his opponent, 61 percent to 30 percent.
But while Rush has ingrained himself as the “only man to ever beat Obama” in the minds of many Americans, he had been rather quiet on the issue of Trayvon Martin prior to Wednesday. His Twitter account—one place where the Trayvon case gained steam on the national stage—did not mention Trayvon until Wednesday, when Rush spoke on the floor of the House.
Yet Rush has championed civil rights for much of his career, last year penning a column honoring the late Martin Luther King Jr. In honoring King, Rush scolded the country for not moving forward on the issue of minority rights. “If [King] were alive today, I believe he would demand that the nation take a hard look at the mass incarceration of young black and brown men and women that has eviscerated too many communities in our nation.”
Strong identification with the Trayvon case could also come from a tragedy in Rush’s own life. In the fall of 1999, his 29-year-old son Huey was shot and killed in Rush’s district in Chicago as the incumbent waged his campaign against Obama. The killer got 90 years in prison.
George Zimmerman called police 46 times in the years before he shot Trayvon Martin. As far as the cops were concerned, that wasn’t excessive in a neighborhood fighting petty crime, reports Amy Green.
Olivia Bertalan was home alone with her infant son one morning last August when a man came to her door, knocked, and rang the doorbell. She peered out a window, didn't recognize the man and called police when another man came to her back door.
A neighborhood watch sign outside the gated community where Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman on Feb. 26 (Roberto Gonzalez / Getty Images)
Bertalan, 21, ran upstairs and locked herself and her son in a bedroom as the second man entered her home, which was in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated, middle-income neighborhood of 260 townhouses in Sanford, Fla., outside Orlando. Terrified, she and her son cried as the man tried to turn the knob of the door where they hid. Both men ran when police arrived, but not before stealing a laptop and digital camera.
"It was terrible," said Bertalan, who moved from the neighborhood last month after about half a year, because of this and other burglaries. "I'm sure he could hear me in there because my son was crying, and I was crying. ... Who knows what would have happened if the police hadn't been there."
Twin Lakes has been in the national spotlight since one of its residents, George Zimmerman, shot and killed a 17-year-old boy named Trayvon Martin while Martin was walking through the neighborhood on a rainy February night. Martin, who was unarmed, was reportedly headed to a relative’s house. Zimmerman, who was carrying a concealed 9mm handgun and was the captain of the neighborhood-watch organization, told police that Martin had assaulted him after Zimmerman had asked why he was there.
Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people who believe they’re in danger to respond with deadly force, Zimmerman was not arrested, but Martin’s death has since inspired protests and public demonstrations nationwide. The U.S. Justice Department on March 20 announced a review of the case for possible civil-rights violations. Two days later, the Sanford police chief stepped down temporarily, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment of a special prosecutor in the case and a task force to review the controversial law. Even President Obama weighed in last week, saying, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
In attempting to understand Zimmerman’s actions, much attention has been called to the fact that Martin was black, and to the frequency with which Zimmerman, who is half-white and half-Hispanic, called police in the years leading up to the shooting. Twin Lakes is almost 50 percent white, with Hispanic and African-American populations of about 20 percent each.
Conversations with several residents, however, suggest that Zimmerman’s calls reflect a wider feeling of concern and distrust in the community. For years, Twin Lakes residents had been on edge—demonstrated by their decision last September to start a neighborhood-watch organization, which was initiated by Zimmerman himself. The burglary of Olivia Bertalan’s home was just one of at least eight reported over the previous 14 months—several of which, neighbors said, involved young black men. On Feb. 26, the odds were stacked against Martin: he was a young black man in a neighborhood that was feeling besieged by crime and blaming it—fairly or not—on people who looked like him.
Is the Trayvon Martin case typical of Sanford justice? Ask Warren Stakes, a man arrested for shouting at his roommate over a litter of puppies. But then Stakes didn’t shoot anyone.
If he had simply shot his roommate during an argument over puppies, Warren Stakes could have cited Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law and told the Sanford police he had been in fear of death or serious injury.
Concern that the "Stand Your Ground" law might be used as a means to get away with avoidable homicide is why a majority of cops and prosecutors in Florida opposed the bill in 2005, writes Michael Daly (David Manning, Reuters / Landov)
Then Stakes might very well have escaped arrest, just as George Zimmerman has so far in Sanford after he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Stakes would have needed only announce that he had been defending himself as the law in Florida and 20 other states allows.
Butwhen he arrived home to discover his roommate had brought in a litter of puppies without consulting with him, instead of firing a pistol, Stakes slammed a door and uttered verbal threats to express his displeasure.
At least that is what the roommate said when he summoned the cops to their Sanford home on the evening of March 13. The roommate is said to have further advised police that Stakes’s threats carried the added weight of somebody who owns guns.
Unlike the February 22 incident, where Zimmerman actually used a gun to kill Trayvon Martin, Stakes did not even reach for a gun. Stakes could hardly contend that he had shot somebody out of self defense because he had not shot anybody at all.
And unlike in the Zimmerman case, the cops immediately arrested Stakes, charging him with “simple assault intent–threat to do violence.”
Stakes was duly fingerprinted and made to pose for a mugshot, as Zimmerman still has not in connection with the Martin shooting. To underscore the full gravity of the Stakes case, the police report noted that he did more than simply slam the door; he broke it.
Black men face excessive force and are less likely to receive equal legal protection, says Randall Kennedy. Following Trayvon Martin’s death, can some justice be salvaged?
The killing of Trayvon Martin is a terrifying tragedy that has inflicted a loss that is irrevocable. What remains to be seen is the outcome of competing responses to the calamity. Encouraging has been the extraordinary effort to prevent the shooting from being swept to the margins of public attention. Demands voiced in letters, blogs, petitions, and demonstrations have prompted government at all levels to respond to the pressure. Absent massive, persistent, and loud expressions of outrage, there would have been no recusal of the city police chief and the county prosecutor, no convening of a state grand jury, no appointment of a special state prosecutor, and no initiation of a federal investigation.
A man attending a Los Angeles demonstration in memory of Trayvon Martin on Monday (Joe Klamar / AFP / Getty Images)
Presidential candidates typically steer clear of controversial local disputes, invoking either jurisdictional boundaries—claiming that it’s a state, not a federal, matter—or a lack of knowledge. In this case, though, the facts are so damning and discontent so mobilized that silence is unfeasible. Mitt Romney initially declined to comment. But then, realizing his vulnerability, he changed his tune, maintaining that “there needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity.” His Republican rivals were more forceful, with Newt Gingrich remarking that Martin’s assailant had obviously been engaged in dangerous “overreaching,” and Rick Santorum asserting that “the fact that law enforcement didn’t immediately go after and prosecute this case is another chilling example of horrible decisions made by people in this process.”
Barack Obama confronts a singular dilemma. First, he alone of the candidates shoulders a responsibility that directly impinges on the Martin case. He is, after all, the boss of Attorney General Eric Holder, whose department is conducting the federal investigation. The president alluded to that authority when he spoke about the killing, indicating his awareness of a need to be circumspect. Second, the president is a black man who is being asked for reactions to a homicide which has highlighted the special burdens that confront black men: an obsessive fear of black masculinity, habitual deployment of excessive force towards African-Americans, and a long-standing tendency for the legal system to withhold from black men equal protection of the law.
Obama’s response was Obamalike – measured, dignified, sober, and ambiguous. He refrained from acknowledging explicitly that race was part of the controversy. Some infer that there is a racial element in his observation that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” But this statement can be read in several ways. It can be seen as a declaration of racial common cause, as if Obama was saying: I am moved by Trayvon’s fate because it reflects what could befall one of my own black children. Obama’s statement, however, can also be readily understood as an echo of the slogan that has been chanted by hundreds of thousands of people of all backgrounds who have imagined themselves in the place of the deceased teenager or his heartbroken parents: “I am Trayvon Martin!”
The outcry that has pushed this tragedy to the center of public awareness is a commendable development in a society that habitually continues to devalue blacks’ lives. The way ahead, however, is covered with snares. The lackadaisical initial response of the police may have led to the loss of key evidence. Local authorities angered by state and federal intervention could sabotage investigations. Thoughtless provocateurs could forfeit the goodwill amassed by thoughtful protestors. The administration of criminal law, moreover, is vulnerable to cruel vagaries; wrongful acquittals do occur (as do wrongful convictions). One can only hope that, with the whole country watching, some semblance of justice can be salvaged in Florida.
Said hoodie is partly responsible for death.
TV host Gerald Rivera apologized Tuesday for his comments about Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager killed by a neighborhood-watch volunteer. Last week, Rivera said that Martin’s hoodie was “as much responsible” for his death as George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed him. In his apology, Rivera said his comments were called “very practical and potentially life-saving campaign” for parents, but he conceded that he had “obscured the main point that someone shot and killed and an unarmed teenager.”
Trayvon Martin may have been the victim of racist stereotyping, but we cannot ignore the fact that young black men, often for reasons beyond their control, commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes.
National media attention and public outcry have rescued the senseless killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin from obscurity and created reason to believe that justice may yet prevail. Although the local Sanford, Fla., police department failed to arrest the admitted killer—claiming that there was insufficient evidence to do so—both state and federal law-enforcement authorities now have begun investigations of their own.
Jonathan Alcorn, Reuters / Landov
As outrageous as the facts of this case appear to be, they also embody a depressingly common pattern.
Young black men are often presumed to be criminal wrongdoers. They are stereotyped as violent, aggressive, up to no good.
This perception shadows black men, many of whom have stories of the car doors that lock when we walk past, the purses that are clutched as we approach, the glances laden with the expectation that we will do wrong.
And black boys’ parents, people like me, worry especially about our children encountering the police, or private individuals, like George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, who have taken it upon themselves to act in that role. We worry that the wrong move, or attitude even, might leave our child sprawled on the pavement, yet another victim of a person armed with a gun who felt threatened.
These anxieties reflect not only anecdote and personal experience. Social-science research has documented the unfavorable stereotypes associated with young black men. Studies have found, for example, that research participants are more likely to mistake a cellphone for a gun when it is held by a black man than by a white one. The combination of being black and male can sometimes cause people to perceive a threat even when there isn’t one.
Black men labor under a cloud of suspicion partly due to the racist attitudes that have long shaped black life. Even people who openly profess “race doesn’t matter” may nonetheless respond to others on the basis of race. Americans are far from color-blind.
For House hearing Tuesday.
There will be hoodies around the House of Representatives Tuesday as Congress prepares to hold a hearing on racial profiling in light of the shooting of African-American teen Trayvon Martin last month. Martin’s parents are expected to be in attendance. Protesters have planned a march to the White House to coincide with the hearing as the cause continues to gain support among Americans. A new poll shows that 67 percent of white Americans and 86 percent of nonwhites believe Martin’s shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, should be arrested.
Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman said he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed.
The man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin has a whole new set of problems after the court found out he lied at his bond hearing, writes Mansfield Frazier.
George Zimmerman took the stand during his bond hearing Friday, issuing a statement to the Martin family. ‘I’m sorry for the loss of your son,’ he told the court before answering a series of questions about the case.
Chaz Guest captures the Trayvon Martin tragedy. He talks about honoring Martin's legacy.
Conservatives are using the teenager’s tweets, hoodie, and school suspension to blame him for his own death—and to show that racism was not a factor, says Michelle Goldberg.
George Zimmerman, the man who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, aspired to enter law enforcement.