There has been shock and an outcry over the death by shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The youngster was called “Tray” by friends at Krop Senior High School, where he was an A and B student headed for college. At the time of his death, he was hoping for a career in the field of aviation mechanics.
While visiting his father, Tracey Martin, in the upscale, gated community known as the Retreat at Twin Lakes, Trayvon took a walk in the rain to a nearby store, telling his father he was going for some candy. In fact when his body was first viewed by police, the young man had a bag of Skittles, a bottle of iced tea, and his cellphone.
Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, whose family claims he is a Latino, but who is sometimes described as white, was making his regular patrol of the exclusive subdivision in his SUV. It was he, armed with a pistol, who shot Tray Martin that night in Florida.
Zimmerman was devoted to the protection of his neighbors. He routinely called police to advise them of his observations and pursuits. He called police 46 times during his time as watch commander; dozens of times in the months just prior to the fatal shooting. The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office released records of six typical calls from George Zimmerman reporting suspicious activity; all those he deemed as suspicious were black.
George Zimmerman called police on Sunday evening, February 26, saying, “We’ve had some break-ins my neighborhood. There’s a really suspicious guy…up to no good.” Zimmerman a few moments later called back, he said the “suspicious guy” was approaching, with “something in his hands.”
At that point in the eventful evening, Trayvon had gotten caught in the rain, and was unaware he was being reported and followed. Then Trayvon noticed the SUV driver observing him. He had been talking to his 16 year old girl friend all the while he walked to the local store. Now she became aware he was frightened. The girl, from near Miami Gardens, Florida told investigators, “He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on.” She said, “Then he lost sight of the man. She said,” 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.”
Eventually Trayvor did run, the girl said. He thought he’d managed to escape, but the strange man was suddenly back, and cornering Trayvon. The cell phone monitored the entire incident. Trayvon: “What are you following me for?” Then the man: “’What are you doing here?” In the words of the 16 year old friend, “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.” Then the phone went dead.
During his tracking of the suspicious stranger, Zimmerman was told by police not to follow; They would handle it. But George was caught up, and continued in pursuit. Neighbors heard the loud conversation and the scuffling, and called police. They reported screams. The time line on Trayvon’s cell phone indicated a five minute argument and altercation. Then Trayvon was dead from a gunshot wound.
Tracey Martin, the teen’s father, told authorities, “He knew he was being followed and tried to get away from the guy, and the guy still caught up with him and that’s the most disturbing part. He thought he had got away from the guy, and the guy backtracked for him.”
The larger community that includes the gated subdivision is Sanford. Sanford’s black residents have complained that the region’s police department targets and arrests blacks, while allowing whites accused of similar offenses to go free. They talk of arbitrary arrests and harassment. The current Sanford police chief, William Lee, has been in office less than a year. The previous chief of police was removed from office resulting from an incident wherein a black man was beaten in downtown Sanford by a white man with ties to a Sanford police officer. The beating was caught on video, but the man doing the beating was not arrested.
The death of Trayvon Martin has aroused interest not only in Florida, but nationally. Even in New York City, marchers and demonstrators are seeking inquiry and justice. The teenager’s father, Tracy Martin, told a New York crowd “We’re not going to stop until we get justice.” The crowd in Manhattan chanted “We want arrests.”