The claims and counterclaims regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin are flying fast and furious. It’s well past time to get this case into a courtroom. Here is how it can get to court immediately.
But first, some preliminaries.
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2011, more than one month ago. Initial reports were that the young man was simply walking along the street when an armed white man shot him to death. The shooter, George Zimmerman, was described as a vigilante, an armed, self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who shot a young man for the crime of walking while black. Martin, it was reported, was ambling along the street minding his own business and eating Skittles when a Cracker opened fire.
The world erupted in outrage when the local police did not arrest the white racist. Calls for a federal investigation of a hate crime ensued. There have been rallies. One group, the New Black Panthers, even put a $10,000 bounty on Zimmerman’s head.
It turns out that head is about as white as I am Hispanic or Mexican. But never mind; we need a white man to play villain here. That makes for a compelling and energizing narrative.
In round two, reports emerged that Martin wasn’t such a little angel after all. He had recently been expelled from school on drug-related charges. Far from being the diminutive little boy portrayed in the photos his family released to the world’s press, Martin was a 6’3” football player. Eyewitnesses are alleged to have said he was pummeling Zimmerman with his fists moments before he was killed. Zimmerman was said to have a bloody nose, blood on the back of his head, and the back of his shirt was grass-stained when the police arrived, or so the story goes.
Suddenly, the case took on added depth. Was there a struggle? Did Zimmerman have reason to believe his life was in danger, or that he was in immanent risk of harm? Was he the victim of an assault? The pendulum began to swing.
Now comes the next wave: Television stations air police videotape of Zimmerman taken immediately after the shooting. There is no bloody nose. There is no blood on the back of his head. Where are the grass stains on his back? Zimmerman looks unruffled, despite just having shot and killed a man.
Florida officials refused to prosecute Zimmerman initially. They say he acted in self-defense. There is not enough evidence to convict, they say. Critics rightly wonder whether these standards are applied in race/ethnic-neutral manner: Had the killer been a young black men, would prosecutors have been so quick to decide no crime was committed? Frankly, I doubt it.
So the stalemate continues. Both sides develop a story line. One side says Zimmerman was the victim of a white racist; the other says the shooting was a justifiable act of self-defense. There are still no charges, just pieces of information trickling out episodically.
Martin’s family cries out for justice, but, paradoxically, seems to have done nothing other than attend press conferences and publicized hearings to get it. Why hasn’t an estate been opened for this young man? Why haven’t they filed suit for wrongful death against Zimmerman? Why isn’t their lawyer filing motions to preserve evidence in the civil case?
If the state won’t prosecute, then the family should sue. I want to know now what happened the night Zimmerman killed Martin. Murder or justifiable homicide? Let’s find out once and for all. Or are our various political perspectives better served by volleying isolated facts back and forth across the color line?