Nation Divided Over Trayvon Martin Case

Liz De La Torre

Well, it seems that sensational cases in Florida have not stopped with Casey Anthony. The newest commotion centering around a mix of outrageous media coverage and public outcry is the case of 17 year-old African American Trayvon Martin and multiracial George Zimmerman, the man who shot him. Interestingly enough, due to the uproar that it has generated, one-fifth of all news space has been committed to the case.

Although opinions continue to split between self-defense circumstances and the crime being potentially racially-based, the facts of the case are uncontested. On a rainy February 26 at around 7:10 p.m., Trayvon Martin was walking back from a 7-11 convenience store in which he had purchased Skittles and iced tea but was otherwise unarmed save for money and his cellphone. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain and resident of the area in which Martin was walking through, spotted Martin as he was driving. Zimmerman proceeded to call 911 from his car, telling the operator that he looked suspicious. Despite the operator’s objections, Zimmerman got out of his car and followed Martin on foot. An altercation between Martin and Zimmerman ensued. It was then that Zimmerman shot Martin in the chest, killing him.

Due to muddled circumstances and Martin, the only other person who knows what happened, being dead, what is uncertain is who provoked the altercation and whether or not Zimmerman actually had reason to believe he was in danger. However, according to Zimmerman, he was walking back to his car when Martin came up behind him and punched him in the nose. He alleges that Martin continued to attack him and slammed his head against the pavement, so he shot Martin in self-defense. One man interviewed said he identified Zimmerman dressed in red being beaten by Martin: “The guy on the bottom, who I believe had a red sweater on, was yelling to me ‘Help, help,’ and I told him to stop and I was calling 911. I got upstairs and looked down, the person that was on top beating up the other guy was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.” As for the self-defense claim, the first officer who arrived, Timothy Smith, observed that Zimmerman’s “back appeared to be wet and was covered in grass, as if he had been laying on his back on the ground. Zimmerman was also bleeding from the nose and back of his head.”

Evidently, Martin was on the phone with his unidentified girlfriend until the altercation took place. According to the girlfriend, Martin told her that someone was following him, so he put on his hoodie and kept walking. At one point, he thought he lost Zimmerman only to encounter him around a corner. The last thing his girlfriend heard was an exchange between Martin and another man. Martin allegedly said “What are you following me for?” to which the man subsequently answered, “What are you doing here?” Moreover, there were seven 911 calls made in total from neighbors. Several neighbors say they heard a fight but did not want to go outside. One neighbor said that she heard someone screaming for help but could not make out who the scream was coming from. Then, she heard a loud crack sound off, which turned out to be the gunshot, followed by no more screaming.

Still, many people have cited racial profiling as a vital part of this case because of Zimmerman’s claim about finding Martin suspicious. The fact that Zimmerman, termed a “white Hispanic” because of his mixed ethnicity, continued to pursue Martin when specifically ordered not to is also a subject of question. But many of the neighbors say that Zimmerman is someone who is “fixated on crime and focuses on young, black males” which they say is probably what led him to believe that something was awry about Trayvon Martin wandering. Nevertheless, there is no indication that Martin acted in any way that made him suspicious other than the hoodie he was wearing. In the 911 call made by Zimmerman, he only says that there have been several break-ins and that Martin appears to be “up to no good, on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about… These assholes always get away.”

With much of the world conflicted over what to think of the case, culpability has been shifted back and forth between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. To paint him as a hoodlum capable of instigating a fight, Trayvon Martin’s past has been brought up, focusing on his school suspensions, tweets, and his Myspace and Twitter pictures. For George Zimmerman, the focus has been on his previous run-ins with the law including assault on a police officer in 2005. Yet, there have been many protests and rallies sweeping the nation to defend Martin. Recently, demonstrators in Sanford, Florida calling for Trayvon Martin justice have marched to a chant referring to the shot that killed Martin: “We want arrests…shot in the chest.” What the public knows is what the media releases, so a lot of the facts out of this case are clouded but enough for people to react strongly and make determinations about the case. UCLA forensic psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman adds, “The public has been whipped up into this frenzy wanting revenge for [Trayvon]. And because of the desire for revenge, they’ve been whipped up into a lynch mob.”

Despite the public’s perceptions, the situation is complicated. Because the only other eyewitness is dead, there is just one account of the details of that night. CNN correspondent David Mattingly says: “You don’t have anybody who was there watching at that precise moment when the gun was pulled and fired. Only Zimmerman knows exactly what he was thinking and what he was going through.” As of now, the case remains a mystery until it is determined that either Martin was the victim of racial profiling or Zimmerman was acting in self-defense.