Walking While Black: Florida Police Resist Calls to Arrest Shooter of Unarmed Teen, Trayvon Martin
The Justice Department and the FBI have announced they will conduct a criminal probe of the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the ensuing police investigation that allowed his killer to walk free.
Martin, an African-American student at Michael Krop Senior High School, was visiting his father in a gated community in the town of Sanford, Florida, on February 26 when he walked out to a nearby convenience store to buy candy and iced tea.
On his way back, Martin was spotted by the shooter, George Zimmerman, who had been patrolling the neighborhood. Zimmerman has told police he was attacked by Martin from behind.
But in the tape of Zimmerman’s own 911 call to the police, Zimmerman tells the dispatcher he is the one following Martin. The Miami Herald reports Zimmerman had taken it upon himself to patrol the neighborhood and had called police 46 times since January 2011 to report suspicious activity or other incidents.
We play excerpts of the 911 calls and speak with Jasmine Rand, an attorney who heads the civil rights division at Parks & Crump Law Firm, which is representing Trayvon Martin’s family. “I think we have all of the evidence in the world to arrest him. And I think what the state attorney is trying to do is to try the case and the investigation, and that’s not the state attorney’s job,” Rand says.
Amy Goodman: The shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager in Florida has sparked a national outcry as apparent racial profiling claims yet another young life. On Monday, federal authorities announced the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI will conduct a criminal probe of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the ensuing police investigation that allowed his killer to walk free.
Martin was a student at Michael Krop Senior High School. He was visiting his father in a gated community in the town of Sanford on February 26th when he walked out to a nearby convenience store to buy Skittles and iced tea. On his way back, Trayvon Martin was spotted by the shooter, George Zimmerman, who had been patrolling the neighborhood. Zimmerman has told police he was attacked by Martin from behind. But in the tape of Zimmerman’s own 911 call to the police, Zimmerman tells the dispatcher he is the one following Trayvon.
George Zimmerman: 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.
911 Dispatcher: OK. And this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?
George Zimmerman: He looks black.
911 Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?
George Zimmerman: Yeah, a dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes.
911 Dispatcher: Are you following him?
George Zimmerman: Yeah.
911 Dispatcher: OK, we don’t need you to do that.”
AMY GOODMAN: In the last part of that tape, some say Zimmerman can be heard using a racial slur: “these blank-ing coons.” Shortly after this, police received another 911 call from a neighbor hearing someone screaming for help. Then there’s a gunshot. Then there’s silence.
911 Dispatcher: 911. Do you need police, fire or medical?
Caller: Maybe both. I’m not sure. There’s just someone screaming outside.
911 Dispatcher: OK. And is it a male or female?
Caller: It sounds like a male.
911 Dispatcher: And you don’t know why?
Caller: I don’t know why. I think they’re yelling “help,” but I don’t know. Just send someone quick.
911 Dispatcher: OK. Does he look hurt to you?
Caller: I can’t see him. I don’t want to go out there. I don’t know what’s going on.
911 Dispatcher: Do you think he’s yelling “help”?
911 Dispatcher: All right, what is your [gunshot heard] number?
Caller: Just, there’s gunshots.
911 Dispatcher: You just heard gunshots?
911 Dispatcher: How many?
Caller: Just one.
Amy Goodman: Police have refused to arrest Zimmerman, saying even though Trayvon Martin was unarmed and nearly 80 pounds lighter, they can find no evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s self-defense claim and that they think it’s his voice on the 911 call screaming for help. But family members and witnesses say it was Trayvon Martin, not Zimmerman, whose pleas can be heard. In another 911 call, a different neighbor reacts to the sight of seeing Trayvon Martin’s dead body.
Caller: Oh, my god! He shot—he shot the person. He said he shot the person.
911 Dispatcher: Who’s saying they shot who?
Caller: People out there. A guy is raising his hands up. He’s saying he shot a person. I think it’s a police officer that’s with him right now, arrest—oh, my god! Oh, oh, my god! Someone has been shot.
911 Dispatcher: It’s probably going to be best if you stay inside your home for the time being, OK?
Caller I can’t believe someone was killed. He was saying “help.” Why didn’t someone come out and help him.
911 Dispatcher: Listen. We don’t know if they’ve been killed, OK? We know that they—probably someone—
Caller: He just said he shot him. Yes, a person is dead, laying on the ground! I didn’t see because it was too dark, and I just heard people screaming, “Help me! Help me!” And this person shot him.
Amy Goodman: Now ABC News has obtained more details about the last moments of Trayvon Martin’s life from a teenage girl who was on the phone with him moments before he was shot dead. The girl told Martin’s attorney, quote, “He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man. I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run.” The girl says Trayvon told her he lost Zimmerman, but then he returned. She told the attorney, quote, “Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for?’ And the man said, ‘What are you doing here?’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone,” she said.
Police arrived minutes later. After the shooting, Trayvon’s body was bagged and taken to the morgue, where he was tagged as a John Doe. Critics have noted that no one contacted Trayvon’s family even though police had his cell phone in their possession.
The Miami Herald reports Zimmerman had taken it upon himself to patrol the neighborhood and had called police 46 times since January 2011 to report suspicious activity or other incidents. Trayvon Martin was killed on February 26th, but it’s only weeks later that his story is gaining national attention after a campaign led by family members and the release of the 911 tapes last week.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about Trayvon Martin’s death.
Press Secretary Jay Carney: Well, we here in the White House are aware of the incident, and we understand it. The local FBI office has been in contact with the local authorities and is monitoring the situation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Trayvon Martin’s family. But obviously, we’re not going to wade into a local law enforcement matter. I would refer you to the Justice Department and to local law enforcement at this point.
Reporter: Has the President himself expressed any comments about it? I mean, you know, the case of Professor Gates up in Cambridge pales compared to this, and the President did speak out about that.
Press Secretary Jay Carney: I don’t have any conversations to report to you.
Amy Goodman: Trayvon Martin’s killing occurred less than four weeks after the shooting of another unarmed African-American teenager, Ramarley Graham, by a police officer in New York.
For more, we turn now to a number of guests in Florida.
From Talahassee, we’re joined by Jasmine Rand, an attorney who heads the civil rights division at Parks & Crump Law Firm, which is representing Trayvon Martin’s family.
In Orlando, we’re joined by the Reverend Glenn Dames, pastor of St. James AMEChurch in Titusville. He’s also president of the North Brevard Ministerial Alliance and former president of the North Brevard NAACP.
We’re also joined by Shelton Marshall, president of the Black Law Students Association at Florida A&M University College of Law. The group held a protest on Monday calling for a federal probe into Trayvon Martin’s death and also held a meeting with local prosecutors.
And we’re joined on the phone by Florida Democratic State Representative Mia Jones of Jacksonville, the chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.
I want to first go to the lawyer for the Martin family to ask you to explain how it is that the shooter has not been arrested, Jasmine Rand.
Jasmine Rand: And I don’t think that I can explain why the shooter hasn’t been arrested. I think that’s exactly why we’re on the phone now, why the students are rallying, because there’s—there’s no explanation for it, especially with the amount of evidence that we have. You know, I think it’s rare in a murder case or a killing case to have this much evidence, to be able to hear, you know, the final moments of Trayvon’s life, to be able to hear the 911 calls of Zimmerman.
I mean, in particular, you have Zimmerman calling. You have him reporting a suspicious person. You have the police telling him, ordering him to stand down. And then you have him directly defying the officer’s orders and continuing to pursue Trayvon. And, you know, as we heard, we now have the 17-year-old girl that came forward that heard, you know, some of the final moments of Trayvon’s life. And what this witness is telling us is that Trayvon was being followed, that he was trying to run. At one point, he lost Zimmerman. What we have is Zimmerman actively seeking this child out with a nine-millimeter.
We also know that Trayvon did not have any type of weapon on him, that Zimmerman outweighed him by 80 pounds. So I think it’s a very clear-cut case of—I think it’s a clear-cut case of murder. You know, I think the kind of tag line of this case has been: “What’s Skittles up against a nine-millimeter weapon?” You have a kid walking home with a pack of Skittles, and you have a grown man following him, pursuing him, with a nine-millimeter weapon. You hear the gunshots, and, you know, you end up with a child dead.
So, I think we have all of the evidence in the world to arrest him. And I think what the state attorney is trying to do is, you know, to try the case and the investigation, and that’s not the state attorney’s job.
Amy Goodman: And what about the phone? How is it that the police had it in their possession, but they never figured out who he was for several days, that his body was not claimed, Trayvon’s body, for several days?
Jasmine Rand: I mean, I think it just—it shows that the Sanford Police Department—I mean, there was either corruption or just woeful ignorance on their behalf. They were calling the family, after losing their child, harassing the parents over his phone, wanting to get—you know, get to his phone, get in his phone. And they had the phone in their possession the entire time. So, you know, there are a lot of questions that I can’t answer, because they don’t make sense.
Amy Goodman: We’re going to break and come back to this conversation. Attorney Jasmine Rand is with us. She is part of the law firm that’s representing Trayvon Martin’s family. And we’ll speak with all our other guests in a moment.
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | News Analysis (Video)