Seminole County, Florida, is not immune to racially-heated debates associated with its governmental agencies. The county Sheriff’s office has been under particularly harsh criticism as of late, and with the recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the county is seeing a microscope being placed over its ways of conducting itself. Just 20 miles north of downtown Orlando, Sanford is the largest incorporated city in Seminole County. Though its proximity from the progressive metropolitan of Orlando is close, its recent history is wrought with allegations of racial biases.
On the night of February 26th, 17-year-old black high school student, Trayvon Martin, walked to a nearby 7-11 from his father’s girlfriend’s townhouse located in a gated community in Sanford. On his way back, he had a bottle of iced tea in his jacket pocket and a bag of Skittles for his younger brother in his front pocket while talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. During that walk back, Trayvon was noticed by “neighborhood watchman,” 28-year-old Hispanic man, George Zimmerman. While on the phone, Martin’s girlfriend stated that Martin told her that he was being followed, and she encouraged him to run, but Martin refused.
Zimmerman, known for his self-appointed position as head of the community’s watch, was carrying a licensed and registered gun, something that is forbidden by the official USAonWatch-Neighborhood Watch Program, of which Zimmerman was not a member. While Zimmerman was watching Martin walk home from the store holding his drink, candy, and cell phone, he called 911 as he had done over 45 times in the previous 13 months to report “a real suspicious guy” in his neighborhood.
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher. “It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about.” The man tried to explain where he was. “Now he’s coming towards me. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male…Something’s wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is…These assholes, they always get away.”
After discussing his location with the dispatcher, Zimmerman exclaimed, “Shit he’s running,” and the following sounds suggest he left his vehicle to run after Martin.
“Are you following him?” the dispatcher asked. Zimmerman replied: “Yep.”
“Okay, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher warned.
After the dispatcher tells Zimmerman specifically not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman exits his car with his gun. What is reported to be an argument and physical altercation between the two, Zimmerman shoots Martin in the chest, killing him instantly.
A 2005 Florida state law “allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation. (More stringent self-defense laws state that gun owners have “a duty to retreat” before resorting to killing.)” [MotherJones] This basically means that if you hold a legal handgun, you are not responsible for leaving a dangerous situation before acting, however you may discharge that gun in self-defense.
The “stand your ground” law is keeping George Zimmerman out of jail without being charged for the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman (arrested in 2005 [charges later dropped] for resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer) claims that the 17-year-old high school junior was a threat to his life, and to “stand his ground” in defending himself, he used deadly force against Martin.
Since the February 24th shooting, Sanford police have been under extreme scrutiny by community leaders that has grown into a worldwide press investigation into the incident. Through the media and online social media, Trayvon Martin’s name is known around the world as a victim at the hands of who many call a vigilante, demanding the arrest of George Zimmerman.
Thanks to Florida’s “stand your ground” defense, Zimmerman remains free as of the publishing of this article. But because of the overwhelming amount of international media coverage, social media mentions, and local protests, the US Department of Justice announced on March 20th they opened an investigation of the Seminole Sheriff’s office and their handling of Martin’s death.
UPDATE (3/22): Sanford Commission approves a “vote of no confidence” in police Chief Bill Lee. “Commissioner Mark McCarty said Lee, who was hired in May 2011, should resign from his position.” -WESH
If you’ve been watching the news or reading the facts of the incident and the subsequent outpouring of support in favor of further investigation, what is your take on the incident?
Angie Lynch is the founder and managing editor of the powerhouse women’s literary community, Smut Book Club. She is a Native Floridian without a tan, probably because she spends her days hard at work on the magical internet. For the past several years, Angie has worked way too hard at building clout as an influencer in food and margaritas as well as being a source for laughable pop culture commentary. You can read more from Angie on her blog, A Whole Lot of Nothing.