Monday, March 26, 2012

Race and Justice in America

In case you haven't been keeping up there's a good summary of developments in the Trayvon Martin tragedy in the Orlando Sentinel. Here is some of the more pertinent info:
With a single punch, 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 several times, leaving him bloody and battered, authorities have revealed to the Orlando Sentinel.

That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say.

Zimmerman has not spoken publicly about what happened, but that night, Feb. 26, and in later meetings he described and re-enacted for police what he says happened.

In his version of events, he had turned around and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from behind, the two exchanged words then Trayvon punched him in the nose, sending him to the ground, and began beating him.

Zimmerman told police he shot the teenager in self-defense.

Civil rights leaders and thousands of others have demanded Zimmerman's arrest, calling Trayvon a victim of racial profiling and Zimmerman a vigilante.

Trayvon was an unarmed black teenager who had committed no crime, they say, who was gunned down while walking back from a 7-Eleven with nothing more sinister than a package of Skittles and can of Arizona iced tea.

Supporters have held rallies in Sanford, Miami, New York and Tallahassee, calling the case a tragic miscarriage of injustice.

Activist Al Sharpton headlined a rally in Sanford Thursday that drew an estimated 8,000 people. The Rev. Jesse Jackson yesterday spoke at an Eatonville church, where he called Trayvon a martyr.

Zimmerman has gone into hiding. A fringe group, the New Black Panthers, have offered a $10,000 reward for his capture.

Police have been reluctant to provide details about all their evidence, but this is what they've disclosed to the Sentinel:

Zimmerman was on his way to the grocery store when he spotted Trayvon walking through his gated community.

Trayvon was visiting his father's fiancée, who lived there. He had been suspended from school in Miami after being found with an empty marijuana baggie. Miami schools have a zero-tolerance policy for drug possession.

On Feb. 26, when Zimmerman first spotted Trayvon, he called police and reported a suspicious person, describing Trayvon as black, acting strangely and perhaps on drugs.

Zimmerman got out of his SUV to follow Trayvon on foot. When a dispatch employee asked Zimmerman if he was following the 17-year-old, Zimmerman said yes. The dispatcher told Zimmerman he did not need to do that.

There is about a one-minute gap during which police say they're not sure what happened.

Zimmerman told them he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.

Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police.

Trayvon then said, "Well, you do now" or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose.

Zimmerman fell to the ground and Trayvon got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, he told police. Zimmerman began yelling for help.

Several witnesses heard those cries, and there's been a dispute about from whom they came: Zimmerman or Trayvon. Lawyers for Trayvon's family say it was Trayvon, but police say their evidence indicates it was Zimmerman.

One witness, who has since talked to local television news reporters, told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon on top, pounding him and was unequivocal that it was Zimmerman who was crying for help.

Zimmerman then shot Trayvon once in the chest from very close range, according to authorities.

When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had bloody lacerations to the back of his head. Paramedics gave him first aid, but he said no to going to the hospital. He got medical care the next day.

The Department of Justice last week opened a civil rights investigation into what happened, and Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor.

It's not clear whether the special prosecutor, Angela Corey, the state attorney for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, will have Zimmerman arrested. She announced that there's not enough evidence to file a manslaughter charge or present evidence to a grand jury.
If - and I emphasize the if - this is all true then why is there a lynch mob out there waiting to string Zimmerman up both figuratively and literally? Why are people demanding that the police chief be fired and that Zimmerman be arrested? Since when is it a crime to shoot someone who's smashing your head against the pavement? Perhaps there's more to the story, but no one knows that, least of all Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

And since when does a private group of citizens, The New Black Panther Party in this case, have the right to put out a reward for the "capture" of another citizen who is not charged with a crime and who is not a fugitive? Try to imagine the KKK offering a reward for, say, O.J. Simpson to anyone willing to fetch him from the golf course where he was busily searching for his wife's "real" killers and drag him to the Klan's leaders. There would be national apoplexy. The Department of Justice would be beside itself, issuing summonses and arrest warrants faster than Mrs. Obama can pack for her next vacation, but our Department of Justice is run by perhaps the most incompetent individual ever to serve as Attorney General, and so nothing is said or done about this outrage.

I also wonder why the photo of Trayvon Martin that the media keep showing us appears to have been taken when he was about ten years old. He was 17 and 6'3" tall. Do the media not want us to know that?

Elsewhere in the news, three black men broke into the dorm room of a 21 year-old white Mississippi State student named John Sanderson over the weekend and shot him to death. Can we expect the New Black Panthers to post a reward for the apprehension of his killers? Will the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton be leading demonstrations and demanding justice for young Mr. Sanderson? Will President Obama be giving a statement to the press grieving for this student's murder?

I doubt it. The young man was the wrong color. Mr. Obama has empathy for shooting victims who look like him, but for those who don't, apparently, not so much.