Wednesday, March 21, 2012

American Skin

I fancy myself to not be a member of the "rush to judgment" crowd. While I am horribly unskilled in all things related to carpentry, I try to live by the creed of Norm Abram: Measure twice, cut once. Experience has taught me that it has practical application far outside the cozy confines of The New Yankee Workshop.

Therefore, I do not even pretend to know all the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. However, based upon the news accounts I have read and the audio transmissions of emergency and non-emergency calls to the Sanford Florida Police on the night he was killed, those facts and those circumstances certainly warrant an inquiry above and beyond that which the Sanford Police Department has conducted or thus far seemed willing to conduct.

These facts are not in dispute: On the night of February 26th a 17 y/o African-American boy named Trayvon Martin was killed by a single gunshot. George Zimmerman, a man in his late twenties, fired the shot that killed him. Zimmerman is not a law enforcement officer. He is a member of a Neighborhood Watch group in his town. Prior to February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had no connection. Now, theirs is an inexorable link.

According to various news reports, Martin spent the evening of February 26 at the home of his father's fiance watching the NBA All-Star Game. At some point, he left the house to walk to a nearby 7-Eleven store to buy himself a snack. He ended up purchasing Skittles and iced tea. It was apparently upon leaving the store and starting his walk back to the home of his father's fiance that he attracted Zimmerman's attention. The attraction proved to be both intense and tragic.

Zimmerman made a non-emergency telephone call to the Sanford Police Department and reported to the dispatcher that Martin appeared to be intoxicated as he - Zimmerman - watched the teenager, "cut through from the main street in the tidy Retreat at Twin Lakes, onto a path between two blocks of townhouses, and decided to gave chase." According to the tape of the conversation, after reporting this information to the dispatcher Zimmerman proclaimed that, "These assholes, they always get away."

The dispatcher did not ask Zimmerman just what type of asshole to which he was referring (apparently intoxicated individuals, Skittle eating/iced tea drinking individuals or youthful African-American ones). However a very direct question - and an equally direct direction - were communicated to Zimmerman by the dispatcher:

Dispatcher: "Are you following him?"

Zimmerman: "Yes."

Dispatcher: "OK, we don't need you to do that."

While George apparently has mad forensic chemistry skills - he was after all able to detect intoxication on a young man an indeterminate distance away from him after simply looking at him - his listening skills are less well-honed. He ignored the direction to NOT follow Martin and instead continued his pursuit. It was a pursuit of which Martin at some point became aware. It was a pursuit that he disclosed to a young female friend with whom he was speaking on his cell phone at the moment his path and Zimmerman's intersected.

Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. He told local law enforcement that he acted in self-defense. According to ABC News he was not required to submit to either an alcohol or drug test that night although such a requirement in a homicide investigation would not be extraordinary. Zimmerman was never tested. As of this date, he has not been arrested.

I do not pretend to know all that unfolded in the only, ultimately fatal moments that Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman shared. I reckon that only one person does and he, Gorgeous George, has told his story and is sticking to it. What a full, impartial investigation into Trayvon Martin's death shall ultimately reveal I know not either. But the manner in which the Sanford Police have to date signed off on the "George Said So" version of events without conducting any apparent investigation whatsoever is unjust. To be kind, at least in the opinion of this one man, it is shameful.

It happens too goddamn often to count in these United States. We think we have come so far only to find out that we have in fact come not very far at all....

....and we still have our boots caked in this mud.


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