Justice Florida-style: will this vigilante get away with murder?

Mar 21, 2012
Charles Laurence

Public outcry after self-styled neighbourhood watch man seeks protection of controversial self-defence law

Gerardo Mora

THE DEATH of an unarmed black teenager shot by a vigilante in Florida has raised a furore over gun laws and the right to self-defence, prompting investigations by both the Department of Justice's civil rights division, which investigates racially motivated crimes, and a local grand jury.

Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot dead on a private gated estate in Sanford, near Orlando, by George Zimmerman, who patrolled the community in his self-appointed role for neighbourhood watch, armed - legally - with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

Twenty-eight-year-old Zimmerman claims he believed the teenager was behaving "suspiciously" and assumed he was a prowler. He says he confronted Trayvon Martin and then shot him in self-defence. Because of a controversial state law, police took no action.

Friends, family and half a million Americans who have signed an online petition for justice claim Zimmerman's actions were little more than cold-blooded murder.

The view is supported by the fact that when Zimmerman called in his suspicions about Martin on the night of 26 February, he was clearly told by the 911 dispatcher that there was no need to follow the teenager. He chose to ignore the advice.

In the latest development, a 911 tape obtained by ABC television reveals that seconds before the fatal shooting Zimmerman can be heard saying under his breath what sounds like "f***ing coons".

ABC has also obtained tapes of Martin talking on the telephone with his 16-year-old girlfriend moments before he died. He was aware that Zimmerman was following him as he walked home to his father's girlfriend's house after going out to buy sweets – a packet of Skittles - and iced tea at a local convenience store.

"He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on," the teenage girl told ABC. "He said he lost the man."

"I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run."

After a few minutes, the girl said, Martin thought he was safe. But Zimmerman reappeared.

"Trayvon said, 'What are you following me for?'" the girl said. "And the man said, 'What are you doing here?' Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the [phone's] headset just fell."

Quite what happened next is the subject of nationwide debate.

Reports say a voice cried out for help, then there were two shots, then silence. Zimmerman told police that he was being held on the ground by Martin when he shot him, but Martin's family say that the voice crying for help is Martin's.

Zimmerman claims the right to kill Martin under Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law, which was approved by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005.

As the New York Times reports, this controversial law states that a person who is threatened does not have to retreat from the encounter in order to claim self-defence. In other words, you don't need to be running away from, or backing off from, an assailant, to claim self-defence: you can stand your ground and use deadly force to confront the person you believe is threatening you.

Even some police and prosecutors have derided the measure, saying it fosters a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality and gives criminals a pass on facing justice. Claims of justifiable homicide have tripled in Florida since the law was passed.

Following the public outcry at the authorities' refusal to prosecute Zimmerman – students in Florida have organised demonstrations and New York's veteran civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton has intervened - the Department of Justice has ordered the FBI to investigate and the Florida state attorney yesterday ordered a grand jury to start hearing evidence on 10 April.

The Miami Herald reports that an arrest could hinge on whether prosecutors believe Zimmerman acted unreasonably when he confronted Martin.

The fact that the 911 dispatcher advised Zimmerman not to follow the teenager could be crucial. "If he was attacked, he can stand his ground," said retired Miami-Dade prosecutor David Waksman, who is not involved in the case. "But if police say back off and we'll take care of it, he's not covered by the law."

Legal experts believe that if Zimmerman is charged, it will be for manslaughter and not murder. Others believe he is clearly protected by the law.

"I think absolutely this is a case that squarely falls within the Stand Your Ground immunity statute," said defence attorney Bill Matthewman. "Even if he shouldn't have been following [Martin] he's not committing a crime and he can stand his ground."
The case is further confused by the issue of Zimmerman's colour. The fact that the police have described him as a white man has helped support the popular view that this was a racist killing. But Zimmerman's father told the Sun Sentinel that his son is actually half Hispanic and has many black family members. "He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever," he said. "The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth."

That was before the"f***ing coons" revelation.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

Two witnesses have come forward stating they saw Zimmerman straddling the prone body of Travon Martin, and we must remember that Travon Martin weighed approximately 145 pounds with Zimmerman almost 100 pounds heavier. The "stand your ground" defense tactic is ludicrous in the view of the fact that Zimmerman pursued Martin with a 9mm pistol and the difference in their physical sizes. The person who really could have used this absurd law as a defense would have been Martin. He was the one being pursued and not the other way around.

Zimmerman also made the statement to the 911 dispatcher,
"These assholes always get away." Was this a reference to others he had previously pursued and was lamenting because of the police taking their time to arrive at the scene letting those he suspected of being criminals to get away? Zimmerman was going to make sure this one would NOT get away.

Many news commentators are emphasizing the fact that Martin had the hood up on his shirt, and it this is why he was profiled. The reason why he had his hood up was because it was raining. Let's be clear about this, Trevon Martin was profiled because he was black. Racism, obviously, is still around in the U.S., but if you have ever been to Florida, you will note that racism is especially overt in this state.

One has to wonder if Zimmerman would already be heading for death row if the dead boy had been white?

John Clay

He could easily get away with cold blooded murder, significant public outcry notwithstanding. For all its occupation of the moral highground especially on matters of justice, huge swathes oif America are still under wild west vigilante rule. Florida and many southern states fall into this category.

'I think absolutely this is a case that (sic) falls squarely within the Stand Your Ground immunity statute', defense lawyer Bill Matthewman. In other words the state has a 007 law- giving a clear license to kill under any dubious circumstances! No wonder many people beleive that hell will be so filled with lawyers that there wiill hardly be room for Florida policemen.

You, bet, Mr Clay. Even if he were an armed bona fide burglar. America is a dangerous place in which to bring up young boys of African descent. Glad we brought up our four in the UK, all of whom are professionals, graduates from the UK 's equivalent of Ivy League colleges. 

This just goes to show how much has not changed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A tragedy where a gun happy man took the law into his own hands and killed an innocent boy.

EVERYONE, listen closely to the call in which Zimmerman is reporting Martin as acting suspicious.  In the call, a few seconds after Zimmerman says "Going around to the back gate" you clearly hear him say the words "Fucking Coons" under his breath.  I think if the Sanford Police dept. know that was on there, the tapes never would have been released.  This is a blatant hate crime and the family deserves justice.  Also, its not self defense or standing your ground when you pursue someone after being told not to..

This pigs will not black rest.
Why waste my time and go and stay in the US. motherfuckers.

Want to send my Prayers out to the Martin family may God Bless u all
Surrina Ivory Cleveland Ohio.

Amazing that the President is making comments, why doesn't he look into the heavy load of court cases like family law or juvenile court.  I almost died and my mom suffered a stroke due to crooked judges, not one person from the district attorney did anything when the father and step mom harassed me and the girls.

There is no justification to kill a human being. But why is it when a black person is killed by another race there is all this public outcry by blacks. Just about everyday in the Tidewater Virginia area a black person is killed by another black. Where is the black public outcry then, there is none it just excepted as a normal thing.

It's not so simple a case.

Let's let the Grand Jury hear the evidence and consider whether there's grounds to bring charges, and if so, what charges. 

The police told him not to follow but he had another agenda. Reports have revealed that this individual had called in a large number of complaints. Seems this guy had a walter mitty complex.

You are very ignorant. Why don't you walk in the shoes of a black person for 1 year.  Then you would get it, there is so much that black people have to deal with that never goes noticed and we seldom complain, but it does not make it okay.  So many people like you just don't get it, because you have never had to live it! God help you and your kind!


Hello, LW. Pausing briefly to reflect that I would find it somewhat dehumanising to refer to white people as "whites", I will only point out that in this case, there are various elements which suggest that the actions of the shooter were unfortunately predicated on the race of the victim.

I do fail to see how such a big guy, carrying a gun, could in any way be intimidated by a slight teenager carrying iced tea. The bottom line is that this case should concern all of us, whatever our race, and I for one would definitely want an investigation whatever the races of the people involved. RIP, Mr Martin.

It's understandable that the disarmed, diminished and dependent wards of the UK nanny-state have a very hard time understanding anything that occurrs in the U.S.   The justice system (cough, cough, gag) of the UK recently sent an old man to prison for life because he shot a vicious, violent repeat offender who was threatening his life and property.   While, on the other hand, UK police allow marauding mobs of ethnic punks burn, pillage, rape and destroy their own neighborhoods and others' property without lifting more than a baton... but not in anger.   A hispanic man engaged in protecting his neighborhood, shoots and kills a black man in an altercation yet to be clearly defined.   Evidence presented so far indicates the shooter acted in self-defense as described in law.  If y'all have some evidence to the contrary, please feel free to present it.  Otherwise, go back to blessing your local jihadist for bringing the peace of allah to your block.

I would certainly rather have our generally unarmed (not "disarmed") populace and police than guns in the hands of people like you. Making non-specific, tendentious statements does not equate to formulating a reasoned, logical argument, but don't worry - I haven't mistaken you for someone trying to do so. What do events in the UK have to do with this issue, on any rational basis?  "Ethnic punks"? I take it from your use of the adjective that you have absolutely no idea that all human beings have ethnicity, and that all ethnicities were represented amongst the London rioters. Unlike you I am very well able to see that one (ill-informed) commentator is not going to be representative of the thoughts of a whole nation, so I will be on my way. Ignorance is bliss indeed...

We must remember that Travon Martin weighed approximately 145 pounds with Zimmerman almost 100 pounds heavier. The "stand your ground" defense tactic is ludicrous in the view of the fact that Zimmerman pursued Martin with a 9mm pistol and the difference in their physical sizes. The person who really could have used this absurd law as a defense would have been Martin. He was the one being pursued and not the other way around.

VC I'm sorry, but you are incorrect.  Brown people complain about how much the country owes then for the crime that were committed to them.  Get over your self.  The guy that shot him was a Mexican.  Why must one walk in the shoes of a black person?  You must think you are the only one with problems?  How about all the Kids that are killing kids, parents and friends in Africa, due to Joesph Kony.  Yes, he is a black man, and doing horrible things to kids.  Each race has something going on, and because of media and people like you, they always turn it into a race issue.  This is due to a guy killing a kid and getting away with it, it is BS the guy should be in jail, plain and simple.