Shooting of Trayvon Martin
|This article documents a current event. Information may change rapidly as the event progresses.|
|Born||February 5, 1995|
|Died||February 26, 2012(aged 17) |
Sanford, Florida, USA
|Cause of death||homicide|
|Other names||Nicknames: Tray; Slimm|
|Home town||Miami, Florida|
|Parents||Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin|
at unrelated 2005 arrest
|Born||George Michael Zimmerman |
October 5, 1983 (age 28)
|Ethnicity||Latina mother (Peruvian)/ |
|Home town||Sanford, Florida, USA|
|Parents||Gladys C. and Robert J. Zimmerman, Sr.|
Trayvon Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012) was an African American teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a multiracial man (Peruvian mother, Caucasian father) in Sanford, Florida. Martin, who was unarmed, had been walking to his father's home from a convenience store when Zimmerman called 911 and followed Martin after witnessing what he described as "suspicious" behavior. Soon afterward, he fatally shot Martin during an altercation between the two.
Zimmerman described the shooting as self-defense, and he was not arrested. Witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the shooting. Both Martin and Zimmerman had made phone calls during the incident, some of which were recorded by emergency personnel.
The circumstances around his death received international attention, particularly regarding Florida's self-defense laws and allegations ofracial motivations and police misconduct, triggering multiple investigations. President Barack Obama said: "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon".
Trayvon Martin was born on February 5, 1995, the son of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. He was 17 years old, 6' 3" and 140 pounds at the time of his death. His parents had divorced in 1999, his mother is Miami-Dade government employee and his father is a truck driver. Known as Tray or Slimm, Martin lived with his mother and older brother in Miami Gardens, Florida. He had transferred fromMiami Carol City High School during his sophomore year and was was a junior at Michael Krop Senior High,  where his English teacher, Michelle Kypriss, reported him as being "an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness." He hoped to become an aviation mechanic. He was visiting his father and his father's fiance (Brandi Green) at her rented townhome in Sanford, Florida, on the day of the incident, after being suspended from school.  Kypriss stated that he "was not a violent or dangerous child", "not known for misbehaving", and "was suspended because he was late too many times." According to his father Tracy Martin, he was suspended because he was in an unauthorized area on school property, but he declined to offer more details. Trayvon Martin had no criminal record.
During a break in an NBA basketball game on TV, Martin left his father's fiance's home in the gated community of Twin Lakes to walk to a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store to buy some candy. While returning to the house, Trayvon was seen by George Zimmerman, who called 9-1-1, the emergency services number.
According to T-Mobile phone records, Trayvon was speaking on a cellphone at the time of the incident. Martin's girlfriend came forward, identifying herself as the other person in that conversation; she was interviewed by an attorney, who has made a statement, and her parents have requested her anonymity. The girl stated that Martin expressed concern about a "strange man" following him, and she advised him to run. She claims to have heard Martin say "What are you following me for?" followed by a man's voice responding "What are you doing here?" She stated that she heard the sound of pushing and that Martin's headset suddenly went silent, leading her to believe that he had been knocked down. She attempted to call him back immediately, but was unable to reach him.
Zimmerman police call
Zimmerman phoned the Sanford Police Departmentpolice at the non-emergency number at approximately 7:00 p.m., February 26, 2012. to report Martin’s “suspicious” behavior, which he described as “just walking around looking about.”  The police dispatcher tape recorded him saying, "This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something." He further stated that the person he was observing had his hand in his waistband, was holding something in his other hand, and was walking around slowly in the rain looking at houses.
The dispatcher recommended that he not take any action, and informed him that police were on the way. Zimmerman reported that Martin had taken off. The dispatcher asked him if he was in pursuit and he affirmed that he was. The dispatcher informed him that pursuit was not necessary, saying "We don't need you to do that.".
A part of what Zimmerman said on the tape is unclear. Some have heard the disputed words as "fucking coons", an ethnic slur used against black people, while others suggest it was "clueless", "course", or "punks". Others insist the words are too muffled to make any determination. Police have now said that they may have missed a potential racial slur on the call.
When the police arrived, they reported finding Martin face-down and unresponsive, with a gunshot wound in the chest. Statements by the police say Zimmerman had grass on his back and his back was wet. Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose and the back of the head; subsequently his lawyer stated that Zimmerman's nose was broken and that wound of the back of his head normally required stiches.   Zimmerman claimed self-defense, telling police he had stepped out of his truck to check the name of the street he was on, when Martin attacked him from behind as he walked back to his truck. He said he fired the semiautomatic handgun because he feared for his life. Martin was unarmed, and was carrying a bag ofSkittles candy and a can of Arizona brand iced tea.
A witness to the physical altercation just prior to the shooting stated that Martin was on top of Zimmerman and beating him up, while the older man yelled for help. Another witness, Mary Cutcher, has said in a TV interview that "there was no punching, no hitting going on at the time, no wrestling", but police say that she gave an official account to them that agreed with Zimmerman's story. Cutcher and her roommate told CNN journalist Anderson Cooper that their own account of the incident to the police did not agree with Zimmerman's, and that they had demanded that the police retract that incorrect statement. They also said, about the police's attitude at the scene, that "they were siding with him [Zimmerman] from the start" and that they heard the pair in their backyard and a "very young voice" whining, with no sounds of a fight. They heard a gunshot; the crying stopped immediately, and they saw Zimmerman on his knees pinning Martin down on the ground.
The police took Trayvon Martin's body and stored it in a morgue for three days, calling him "John Doe". Martin's family accuses the police of not asking any of the neighbors if they recognized Martin. According to David Horsey, they also did not check his cellphone to find someone he knew.
Zimmerman was born in Virginia, and is the son of Gladys, who is from Peru, and Robert Zimmerman, Sr., who was in the military. He studied criminal justice for four years. He was licensed to carry a firearm, but it is unclear if he had informed the homeowner association that he would be armed as a volunteer. Zimmerman had a previous charge in 2005 of "resisting arrest without violence" on a police officer while interfering with the arrest of a friend. He subsequently entered a pretrial diversion program, which is not considered a conviction on his criminal record. Zimmerman had previously been accused of domestic violence by an ex-fiancee (Veronica Zuazo), who had filed for a restraining order against him. Zimmerman counter-filed for a restraining order. A judge eventually ordered them both to stay away from each other for at least one year. 
In 2008, Zimmerman enrolled in the Seminole County Sheriff's Office citizens' law-enforcement academy, a four-month-long course. Zimmerman expressed ambitions of becoming a member of law enforcement, writing: "I hold law enforcement officers in the highest regard and I hope to one day become one." In 2009, Zimmerman re-enrolled in Seminole State College and was working toward an associate degree with the goal of becoming a police officer.
According to Zimmerman's father, in the wake of the controversy, George Zimmerman received death threats and moved out of his home. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee claimed that Zimmerman had cooperated with investigators, has not retained an attorney, and has disconnected his phones.
Some residents of his gated community declared that Zimmerman was known for being strict and that he went door to door asking them to be on the lookout for "young black men who appear to be outsiders", while others regarded him as "normal," "helpful" and "passionate about neighborhood security", having supposedly thwarted a previous burglary attempt. The community reportedly experienced numerous instances of burglary, theft, and one shooting during the previous year, with 402 calls made to the police. According to the Miami Herald, Zimmerman had placed 46 of those calls since the beginning of 2011, "to report disturbances, break-ins, windows left open and other incidents. Nine of those times, he saw someone or something suspicious".
Sanford police chief Bill Lee stated, "Mr. Zimmerman was not acting outside the legal boundaries of Florida Statute by carrying his weapon when this incident occurred."
Zimmerman has not been charged with any crime, because he claimed the right of self-defense, and investigators said they could find no evidence disproving that claim. According to Martin's father, Tracy Martin, when the family asked why Zimmerman had not been arrested, the police responded that he had a "squeaky-clean record" and they respected his educational background in criminal justice. However, Tracy Martin claims that the revelation of Zimmerman's previous charge demonstrated his "propensity for violence" and that the police had lied to the family. Police ran a background check on Trayvon Martin, confirming that he had no criminal record, which caused Tracy Martin to further question why Zimmerman was not arrested after shooting and killing an unarmed teenager with no criminal history. The case has sparked national outrage and protests.
Recordings of eight calls to the police made on the night of the shooting were released by the Sanford police on March 17, 2012.Early press reports indicated that the recordings included the sound of a single shot followed by a voice pleading or begging for help, and then a second shot is heard, after which the voice immediately stopped. Later reports indicate that gun was fired only once. Zimmerman told police at the scene that he was the one crying out for help. The statement was corroborated by a witness who claimed that Martin was on top of Zimmerman, beating him, as Zimmerman called for help. Other witnesses stated that Martin was the one calling for help, and claimed that the police tried to "correct" them into changing their assertion to Zimmerman as the one calling for help. A witness, Mary Cutcher, claimed that the cry was from Martin and said that she did not believe that Zimmerman acted in self defense, contending that she and her roommate heard Martin cry out, followed by a gunshot, whereupon they saw Zimmerman standing over his body.
The night of the shooting, Sanford police accepted Zimmerman's account at face value. Police Chief Lee said he did not have enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman. "In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense," Lee said. "Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him." In response to criticisms of the investigation, Lee responded that "We are taking a beating over this," and defended the investigation. "This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too."
Missing persons report
The morning after the incident, Tracy Martin called missing persons and the police to report his son as missing. Officers were dispatched to the home, where they showed the father a crime scene photograph of Martin for identification purposes. Martin's body had been taken to the medical examiner's office as a John Doe.
Investigations and other official statements
Multiple investigations are ongoing. On March 20, the FBI and the Justice Department announced that they were opening investigations into the incident. The state governor, Rick Scott, has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the shooting. A Seminole County grand jury will also investigate the case, and will convene on April 10, 2012 according to State Attorney Norm Wolfinger.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi made a statement March 20 on the case:
"I am both devastated and deeply troubled that young Trayvon Martin lost his life in a shooting. When someone loses his life at the hands of another, there cannot be any questions surrounding the circumstances of the death. ... I have spoken to FDLE Commissioner [Gerald M.] Bailey, whose agency is now involved, and I know that a complete and thorough review of the facts will be conducted. FDLE has skilled investigators of the highest caliber, and no stone will be left unturned in this investigation. While the Seminole County State Attorney’s Office has the sole authority regarding a charging decision by law, I will remain vigilant in ensuring that questions are answered."
Sanford city commission
Three out of the five members of the Sanford city commission, including the Mayor, passed a motion of no confidence in regards to the police chief Bill Lee, and his handling of the case. One member of the council, Mark McCarty, then asked for Lee to step down. The City Manager, Norton Bonaparte Jr., stated that he would not make a decision regarding Lee until more information from the investigation was available.
Allegations of racism
The shooting also resulted in allegations that Zimmerman was motivated by racism. Critics disparaged what they perceived to be Zimmerman racially profiling Martin. Witnesses had previously noted that Zimmerman went door to door warning residents to be on the lookout for "young black men who appear to be outsiders". A rally held at a community church was attended by nearly 400 people, including leaders of the NAACP, Urban League, and the Sanford City Commission, demanding Zimmerman's arrest. Charles M. Blow ofThe New York Times commented that the case touched upon longstanding concerns about racial profiling, inequitable treatment under the law, and overall racial strife. In an open letter, Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, defended his son against allegations that his actions were racially motivated, stating that Zimmerman was Hispanic, was raised in a multi-racial family, and "would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever," claiming that the portrayal of his son as a racist "could not be further from the truth."
Against the Sanford police
Zimmerman's lack of arrest by the Sanford police also resulted in heavy criticism and protests outside the police department, including allegations of prejudice and racial bias. A Change.org petition has gathered more than 1.3 million signatures demanding Zimmerman's arrest. The NAACP sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stating that they "have no confidence that, absent federal oversight, the Sanford Police Department will devote the necessary degree of care to its investigation" and requesting that personnel be detailed to Sanford to review the case without bias. Lee repeatedly defended the investigation, stating that the Sanford police did not feel they had conducted a racially biased investigation and welcomed a review of their efforts. Allegations were also made that the Sanford police were protecting Zimmerman. A witness who disagreed with Zimmerman's self-defense plea stated that she saw Zimmerman standing over Martin's body after hearing Martin cry out for help and stated that police only took a brief statement from her, despite her attempts to provide more detail. Lee stated to reporters that they could not arrest Zimmerman because no evidence contradicted his story, and that to do so would leave them open to litigation. He also stated that though a 911 officer did instruct Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, those instructions are only recommendations that do not carry a legal obligation to comply with them.
Previous incidents with racial issues
News reports noted that the police department of the city of Sanford has been confronted with allegations of racial prejudice before. The police chief in 2011, Brian Tooley, was forced from office after the son of a lieutenant was caught on camera beating up an unsuspecting homeless black man, but whom the department declined to prosecute. After the footage went viral on YouTube, the perpetrator, Justin Collison, was arrested. The officer in charge of that case was also the one in charge of the Trayvon Martin shooting scene. In 2005, two parking lot security guards, one the son of a Sanford police department veteran and the other a volunteer for the department, shot a black teen, Travares McGill, in the back, killing him. They claimed self-defense, and the case was dismissed in court.
Self-defense laws in the United States, particularly regarding justifiable homicide, vary by state. Florida law, as of 2005, includes a "stand your ground" provision, under which a person can use deadly force if they reasonably believe it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm, in most circumstances. In many states, such laws protect people in their own homes, but Florida's version extends the no-retreat premise to vehicles and public places. Before passage of the law, Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous in that "[w]hether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used." Since its passage, shooting deaths with claims of self-defense have nearly tripled, where all but one of those killed were unarmed.
Durell Peaden, a member of the Florida Senate until 2010 and one of the authors of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, said that based upon his understanding of what happened, Zimmerman should be prosecuted. According to Peaden, the law does not say that a person has a right to confront another. When Zimmerman ignored a police request to stay away, “The guy lost his defense right then," said Peaden. "When [Zimmerman] said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.” However, the current 2011 Florida Statutes provide an exception to the initial aggressor automatically being at fault in confrontations under the exception of Florida Statute 776.041 2(b) for specific cases where "In good faith, the person [i.e., aggressor] withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force." Zimmerman specifically claimed that he was returning to his SUV when attacked, telling police he had stepped out of his truck to check the name of the street he was on, when Martin attacked him from behind as he walked back to his truck.
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