The shooting death of a Black Florida teen after an encounter with a White Neighborhood Watch volunteer is now in the hands of a state prosecutor. In the midst of uproar and strong racial tension, the teen's parents and supporters across the country are demanding justice.
Outrage over the circumstances of the Sanford, Fla. shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old who was returning to his father’s girlfriend’s home from an errand to a convenience store, intensified with the March 16 release of the taped exchange Feb. 26 between a police 911 non-emergency dispatcher and the man who says he shot the youth after suggesting that Martin, wearing a hoodie sweatshirt in the rain, was “real suspicious.”
George Zimmerman, a White 28 year-old member of a citizens patrol group in Sanford, Fla., admits he shot the youth in self defense but has not been charged in the killing, according to CNN.
On the Sanford 911 tape Zimmerman, who told the dispatcher there had been break-ins in this gated community, said, "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something," “These assholes always get away.” Zimmerman told the 911 operator.
Martin had no record of disciplinary problems as a student and no police record. In contrast, Zimmerman had been arrested in Orange County, Fla., in 2005 for resisting an arrest with violence and assault on a law enforcement officer, according to the Huffington Post.
Seven 911 tapes were posted on the Huffington Post web site March 16 of Zimmerman’s initial call together with subsequent calls from neighbors who reported gunshots and a fight between Martin, who was found to be unarmed, and Zimmerman, who is 100 pounds heavier.
The tapes came from the Sanford Police Department and had been posted on the city’s web site, which shut down after a surge of access attempts and citizen comments about the handling of the shooting.
The release of the tapes followed a chorus of calls for the tapes by Martin’s family, which had filed a lawsuit pursuing the recordings, and civil rights groups.
Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network was among those calling for the release of the tapes. In addition, there are growing calls for Zimmerman’s arrest. The New Black Liberation Militia, a Black, self-styled survival group, announced March 16 that it plans to arrest Zimmerman and hand him over to federal authorities.
Two weeks after the shooting, the matter was turned over to Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger.
"Trayvon Martin and his family, interested persons and the public-at-large are entitled to no less than a thorough, deliberate and just review of the information provided, along with any other evidence that may or may not be developed in the course of the review process," Wolfinger's office said in a statement, according to CNN. "We intend to honor that commitment."
Authorities say Martin was walking back to his father's home in the city from a local convenience store around sunset when Zimmerman spotted the teen and dialed 911 to report a suspicious person. Dispatchers urged him to wait for authorities to arrive, but Zimmerman followed the teen and during a confrontation says he shot him, according to police.
When police and emergency medical officials arrived at the scene, Martin was pronounced dead with a gunshot wound in his chest. Police later found that the teen was carrying cash, candy and a container of iced tea.
Zimmerman admitted to the shooting and claimed he reacted in self defense.
"When you add it up, it just doesn't even make sense," Ben Crump, Martin family's attorney told CNN. "Trayvon Martin, a kid, has a bag of Skittles. (Zimmerman) had a 9 mm gun. Martin didn't approach George Zimmerman, Zimmerman approached Trayvon. So how can he now assert self defense?"
The Huffington Post reported that local residents have complained about Zimmerman's tactics as a neighborhood watchman in the past.
Police said they have little evidence to counter Zimmerman's claims and, on March 13, Wolfinger said he will decide whether to prosecute. Law enforcement officials estimate their decision will take several weeks.
"What occurred here is tragic and horrific," James Davis, a 64-year-old Sanford resident told the Orlando Sentinel. "Every American citizen should be outraged." Davis and many others in the Sanford community believe Martin was shot because he was Black.
The killing has sparked uproar in Sanford's African American community, according to residents who say there has been a historically strained relationship between Blacks and police.
"There has been tension between the Black community and the police for a long time," Turner Clayton, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP told the Huffington Post. "It's hard to swallow. The police department claimed that they didn't have enough probable cause [for an arrest], and that all the evidence seems to point to self defense. Of course, we don't believe that for a minute."
The NAACP sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for a Department of Justice investigation.
Meanwhile, the story has made nationwide headlines. The Martin family and attorneys have held numerous press conferences outside of the Sanford Police headquarters and posted a petition demanding a thorough investigation on Change.org that has garnered nearly 208,837 signatures, as of March 15.