The deadly shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old Black male at the hands of a white neighborhood watch member who has not been arrested in Florida is stirring tensions.
The situation, which is now gaining national attention and has the Rev. Al Sharpton getting involved, has the family of the slain victim, Trayvon Martin, calling for justice as his admitted killer has yet to be arrested and charged by police.
As the local police continue to be criticized for their slow process and failure to arrest the alleged suspect, the case has gone to the Florida’s State Attorney General’s office with the hope that justice will be served.
Reports indicate Martin was visiting his father in Sanford, Fla., just outside Orlando, on Feb. 26 in a gated community when he was on his way back from a convenience store, where he had purchased Skittles and iced tea. White neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, 28, spotted him.
Zimmerman allegedly called 911 to report a “suspicious person” in the neighborhood. Some accounts indicate that Zimmerman in fact told authorities there was a suspicious Black man walking in the neighborhood.
Dispatchers told Zimmerman not to interfere and that officers were on the way to check out the situation. Ignoring instructions, Zimmerman followed the teen in his SUV, approached Martin and the two got into a scuffle on the ground.
Zimmerman then pulled out a semiautomatic handgun and allegedly shot Martin in the chest, killing him 70 feet from Martin’s apartment. Police arrived on the scene and found Martin’s dead body.
Police reports indicate that Zimmerman told officers during questioning that he shot Martin in self-defense. After being interviewed a total of three times, officers have not arrested Zimmerman and he remains free. Police claim they don’t have enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman.
“In this case, Mr. Zimmerman made the statement of self-defense,” said Stanford Police Chief Bill Lee at a press conference this week. “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him. The Sanford Police Department is conducting a fair investigation no matter what the color of anyone involved in it is.”
Martin’s family, along with Black neighborhood residents, say that Martin was the victim of racial profiling and question why Zimmerman had a handgun as a neighborhood watch leader. Legally, Zimmerman had a permit to carry the weapon.
“He was stereotyped for some reason. Why was Trayvon suspicious? There are hundreds of children in that community,” said Benjamin Crump, attorney for Martin’s family.
Zimmerman has a criminal record that includes resisting arrest and getting into a physical altercation with a police officer.
Since the shooting, residents have held several protests and rallies calling for the arrest of Zimmerman. Martin’s family is asking for the 911 calls from the night of the shooting to be released, which police have yet to hand over, citing the ongoing investigation. The family has also reported that police initially lied about Zimmerman’s criminal past.
“I had a detective look me in the eye and tell me he is a dad, that he is in pain and that he would bring us justice,” said Martin’s father, Tracy. “He started off on the wrong foot. He lied.”
After a request for his involvement, Sharpton said in statement this week the National Action Network (NAN) is calling for a complete investigation. Sharpton is scheduled to go to Florida to demand the 911 calls be released.
“The fact that a young, unarmed man could be killed by a neighborhood watch captain while his family was blatantly misled by local police as to the background of the shooter is disturbing,” Sharpton said. “Further, the fact that we are told that racial language was used when the young man reported his suspicions to police, and when he was told not to pursue the shooter, that he allegedly defied them by doing so, is a compelling reason for NAN and I to become involved.”