The initial coverage of the tragic Trayvon Martin killing fit a common narrative: the senseless killing of a young black man and the insensitivity or incompetence of law enforcement.
Reports that the Sanford, Florida police did nothing when an unarmed 17 year old African American was senselessly gunned down by George Zimmerman, seemingly for wearing a hoodie, went viral. Zimmerman, an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer with a permit to carry a gun, pursued Martin, who had a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Tea.
The young black was killed in a gated community, after being pursued by Zimmerman. The 9/11 dispatcher had asked Zimmerman not to follow Martin. Zimmerman was released by the police, and supposedly kept the gun. In addition, the Sanford Police apparently did not investigate the killing, taking Zimmerman’s statement as fact.
Finally, the victim’s family did not learn his fate for 3 days, eventhough they had his cell phone.
The nation was justifiably outraged by this story. The black community had seen it all too many times before.
The New York Post headlined Zimmerman as a “Cop Wannabe on Paranoid Patrol.” President Obama said “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. You know, if I had a son, he’ll look like Trayvon.”
The Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton led protests, which spanned the country.
The Sanford City Commission, which lacked jurisdiction, voted 3:2 no confidence in Bill Lee, Jr. He soon took a leave of absence to quiet the outcry.
Elvis’ great song, “In the Ghetto,” is playing in the background.
However, the more we learn, the less of the original story holds up.
The fury was fueled by erroneous news coverage of the tragedy. NBC reported that Zimmerman was a racist based on his statement, and CNN broadcast that he uttered a highly racist phrase. Some of the misreporting can be expected at the onset of a tragedy, such like the proverbial “fog of war.”
For example, CNN initially reported that Zimmerman said “f…ing c..n,” clearly a highly offensive racist rant. It supported the view that the shooting was racially motivated.
However, CNN subsequently had experts enhance and examine the recording. Their findings, as reported by CNN, was that Zimmerman actually said “f…ing cold,” which fits the fact that it was a cold, rainy night in Sanford.
NBC though doctored a recording to show Zimmerman was racist. An NBC producer edited the tape to say “This guy looks like he's up to no good…. He looks black.”
The actual conversation was Zimmerman telling the dispatcher “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
The dispatcher responded “OK, and this guy. Is he black, white or Hispanic?”
Zimmerman then replied “He looks black.”
In short, George Zimmerman volunteered no racist remarks on his own.
NBC fired the producer who doctored the tape.
The New York Times on March 22 termed Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic.” His father is Caucasian and his mom Peruvian, thus he’s half Hispanic. However, the use of “white Hispanic” is not commonly used. Indeed, by this approach, President Obama should be referred to as a “white African-American.”
What do we know?
We know that a rush to judgment existed, as with the four Duke Lacrosse players a few years ago.
A six minute gap exists between 7:11 and 7:17. Some inconclusive eyewitness testimony exists, and hearsay from a friend of Martin, who was on the phone with him. She claims Trayvon said he was being followed. Zimmerman’s dad said Trayvon assaulted Zimmerman. A struggle ensued between Martin and Zimmerman, who claims Martin was on top battering him. Cries for help occurred, but from whom is still in doubt.
The Police responded quickly to the scene, and according to the police report, unsuccessfully attempted to revive the prostate Martin. Zimmerman was handcuffed and taken into custody. The police cordoned off the site with police tape and investigated for 7 hours.
The police report, available on line, said Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head.
Zimmerman was treated at the scene by paramedics, with his injuries being cleaned.
That gave rise to reports by ABC that he had suffered no injury because none appeared on the video of him entering the police station. A subsequent, enhanced version of the tape shows an injury on the back of his head.
The police retained the gun as evidence.
We also know that the police released him because they felt powerless to arrest because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute. However, the lead investigator requested an arrest warrant from the State’s Attorney Office. It was not granted.
Zimmerman’s lawyer early stated that any defense would be based on self-defense and not the “Stand Your Ground” statute. Martin is listed at 6’1” and 150 pounds versus 5’9” and 170 lbs for Zimmerman. Neither have been saints in their lives.
Here’s what else we know. A special prosecutor, appointed by the state, will present the case to a grand jury. My best guess is that George Zimmerman will be indicted for manslaughter. He shot an unarmed teenager.