The rampant media frenzy that took hold of this case has robbed it of some of the facts. While Andy and I have slightly different perspectives of this story, I thought I would provide a counterbalance to his commentary. A friend recently posted a great article on Facebook, and the article corrects many of the media/mob created misconceptions about what happened. The article even includes the audio from the phone calls.
The killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has reopened old racial wounds and ignited calls for justice from across the nation.
But as often happens when a local case captures national attention, the hard facts of the killing seem to have been drowned out amid the rumors, shouts and political rhetoric.
The debate has its place, no doubt. But to try to more clearly present what actually happened on the night of Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., TPM has put together a guide to the events that reportedly took place before, during and immediately after the killing.
The article highlights many of the important facts, and also gives light to some of the misconceptions that I have seen from the media. (Disclaimer: I am not posting this or coming from a place where I think that Zimmerman was justified or that Martin was “asking for it”. I do not think this killing was justified, I wholeheartedly believe that Martin did not deserve this and that Zimmerman is in the wrong – morally. [I cannot comment legally, see below, as I have not read the FL law in question here.] The purpose of the article is simply to analyze the facts. Save your hateful comments, if you have them, for yourselves.)
Misconception 1 – Trayvon Martin was walking home, minding his own business. Based on the moment by moment updates on the tape, this does not appear to be entirely accurate. George Zimmerman was watching Martin, and Martin noticed he was being watched. This is corroborated by Martin’s girlfriend’s statements. as she was on the phone with Martin at the time. Martin then stared Zimmerman down and Martin, still staring, reached his hand into his waistband. This is clearly what someone does when they want the viewer to believe they are armed. This huge fact, which is largely absent from the media coverage, and it very important for several reasons.
First, we need to entertain the possibility that Zimmerman made it up. We know this man has a chip on his shoulder for neighborhood enforcement, and that he later chases Martin down. The guy is overzealous, at best, and crazy at worst. However, legally speaking, this is called “present sense impression” evidence and it would be let in to a court hearing to show the speaker’s state of mind when the statement was given. It’s basically a play by play statement.
Second, this statement also is a clear indicator that Zimmerman believed Martin to be armed. I mean, if it was me and there was a “suspicious” looking fellow, in a neighborhood that has been having problems lately, and he is staring at me, and puts his hand in his waistband – I get the message he is sending. He wants me to be intimidated, and he wants me to think he has a weapon. And I would be scared. And I would RUN the other way. Zimmerman is nuts, and he did not run, he was looking for a fight. Martin had no way of knowing he was “intimidating” a crazy person, and Martin’s actions are actually very normal for someone who is scared, and wants to send a message to the other person that they should not be pursued. Unfortunately for Martin, he wasn’t dealing with a normal person. Hindsight is 20/20 and we all know now that Martin only had a packet of skittles, but Martin intentionally made Zimmerman think he had a gun on him, in his waistband, and we cannot continue to ignore that fact just because what Zimmerman did was grossly inappropriate.
Misconception 2 -Zimmerman was told to “back down” or not to chase Martin, and he was told this by the police. None of that is true. First, Zimmerman was on phone with 911, who is not law enforcement. Second, the 911 operator asks Zimmerman if he is chasing the suspect, Zimmerman replies affirmatively, and then the 911 operator says “we don’t need to do that”. “We do not need you to do that” is not the same as “Stop, do not do that.”
Misconception 3 – I hate to refer to this as a misconception, it’s more of a complete omission in the media coverage. It’s the eye witness accounts. There are three eyewitnesses. Only one went on record.
The first one was a young boy who stated that the man in the red shirt was on the ground. Later, his mother “corrected” the child’s statement because he must have been “confused”.
That witness is a 13-year-old boy named Austin McLendon.
McLendon told the Orlando Sentinel he was walking his dog in the rain when he heard someone screaming for help. When he went to get a closer look, McLendon saw someone lying on the ground. The person was wearing a red shirt, he said. According to the newspaper, he did not mention seeing another person.
Before McLendon could get closer, he said, his dog escaped. He turned to catch it, but a few seconds later, he heard a gunshot. McLendon ran back to his home, where he and his sister called 911.
In its story, the Orlando Sentinel said McLendon’s story backed up Zimmerman’s because the gunman was wearing a red jacket when police arrived. In other words, it was Zimmerman that McLendon saw on the ground. But a few days later, the boy and his mother told the Huffington Post that his comments were twisted. He believed Martin was the one who was in trouble, not Zimmerman. McLendon’s mother also told HuffPo she believed the police investigator who talked to her son tried to lead him to provide information he really didn’t have.
The second eyewitness said that a man in a red shirt was on the ground screaming to the eyewitness, “Help, Help”.
There is also a second person who said he witnessed the altercation before the shooting, but so far he has refused to go on camera or give anyone his name. Identified only as “John” by a WOFL, the Fox affiliate in Orlando, the man spoke to the television station last month through the door of his home.
The man said he saw two people in an altercation. “The guy on the bottom, who had a red sweater on, was yelling to me, ‘Help! Help!’ and I told him to stop, and I was calling 911,” he said, according to the TV station. He went inside to call 911 but then heard a gunshot. He said when he looked down at the scene, the person who had been on top and who was “beating up the other guy” was now lying dead on the grass.
Eyewitness number three, the only one to go on the record:
A third person has also claimed to have seen the altercation. That person spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper but refused to even reveal his or her gender, much less provide a name or other identifying characteristics on air.
The person said it was dark and hard to see what happened, but he or she claimed to have heard multiple gunshots. “It was very dark, but I felt like they were scuffling,” the person said. “And then I heard the gunshots, which, to me, were more like pops than they were like a bang.”
This situation was the perfect storm of a guy with a hankering to keep his neighborhood safe at any cost, who was also looking for a fight and a kid who was unarmed, but made the crazy person think he was a threat. I do not know enough about the “stand your ground” law in Florida to comment on whether Zimmerman’s actions should result in a conviction. But I hope you will all listen to the tapes and make up your own minds about this rather than just repeating what you are told.