This past weekend saw further escalation of nationwide demonstrations over the fatal February 26 shooting of a black Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a white neighborhood watch volunteer. Though in apparent self-defense, many are demanding the shooter, George Zimmerman, be arrested. In lieu of such action, some are vowing to apply their brand of street justice. Unfortunately, they have an ally in President Obama. Speaking before reporters outside the White House on Friday, March 23, Obama implied Martin was a victim of a racially-motivated murder and cover-up. His defining line – “You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” – very likely gave undeserved credibility to “civil rights” demagogues such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. A state grand jury is set to convene on April 10. And the U.S. Justice Department now has launched a probe.
Whenever a particular act or threat of violence in this country crosses racial lines, truth is usually the first casualty. More to the point, what has reigned over the past few decades is an unwritten rule enforced by the Sharptons and Jacksons of this country: Black crime against whites isn’t newsworthy; white crime against blacks is. What’s more, if a white is the alleged perpetrator, he faces a presumption of guilt, regardless of the evidence. What matters is fulfilling the larger assumption of black suffering in a white-dominated society. Facts, in this view, shouldn’t get in the way of this assumption. If they do, they must be ignored or distorted. This view, incessantly peddled by black activists, has become the coin of the realm in much of journalism, politics, law and academia. Even the Republican Party, supposedly opposed to official racial favoritism, is petrified of challenging this new orthodoxy. This orthodoxy has led to witch-hunt atmospheres awaiting any white defendant accused, even if falsely, of a crime against a black. Even if the defendant is exonerated – as in the case of the patently fraudulent charges brought against three white Duke University lacrosse players for their “rape” of a local black stripper in March 2006 – their finances and reputations may wind up permanently damaged.
The widespread negative reaction to the shooting in alleged self-defense by George Zimmerman of Trayvon Martin fits this pattern. It has reached a virtually hysterical pitch, most of all among blacks. To understand why this climate is poisonous, and why President Obama grievously erred in playing to it, it is necessary to get a grip on the shooting and what led up to it. Here are the key facts, according to ABC, CNN, the Orlando Sentinel, and “911” eyewitness police calls to police, among other sources.
It was a rainy evening, a little after 7 P.M., on February 26 in Sanford, Florida, a fast-growing city of more than 50,000 in Seminole County near Orlando. In recent years, Sanford had been experiencing a sharp upswing of burglaries and other crimes, enough of one at any rate to form a citizen anti-crime patrol. Zimmerman, a mixed-race white (his mother is Peruvian), age 28, served as a patrol captain. Like any person in his position, his understood that his job was to observe and report; i.e., he should let police handle any potentially dangerous situation. But under extreme circumstances, it is understandable why even this rule might be broken. And this was an extreme evening. Zimmerman, while driving his vehicle on an errand, came across a teenaged pedestrian whom he felt could be dangerous. His name was Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black high school student from Miami Gardens in Dade County. Martin looked to be at least 6’0.” And he didn’t look weak. He’d come up to Sanford with his father for a temporary stay with the father’s girlfriend during a 10-day school suspension – not his first either. Significantly, he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, or “hoodie.” It’s common knowledge that people who dress this way often have a crime to hide. In other words, quite apart from race, many people might have viewed Martin, hardly the “child” his supporters imagine him to have been, with a certain measure of suspicion.
George Zimmerman was suspicious when he saw Martin walk down the street, returning from a convenience store. His destination was the father’s girlfriend’s residence in a gated townhome complex, The Retreat at Twin Lakes. Zimmerman followed him. Once inside the complex, he observed Martin veer off the main street and onto a path between two rows of townhouses. Martin, aware he was being watched, began to run. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle, gave chase, but soon lost him. He then called a non-emergency police number to indicate this guy could be a suspect. The dispatcher asked, “Are you following him?” Zimmerman said “yes.” The dispatcher replied, “We don’t need you to do that.” An important distinction must be made here: The dispatcher was telling Zimmerman that he didn’t have to follow the suspect, not that he couldn’t. Zimmerman, though not in formal violation of a police directive had he continued his search, decided not to give further chase.
But if he couldn’t find Trayvon Martin, suddenly Trayvon Martin found him. From behind a building, the teen suddenly stepped directly in front of Zimmerman and asked him menacingly, “What’s your problem, homie?” Zimmerman responded, likely with more than a touch of fear, that he didn’t have a problem. Zimmerman then reached for his cell phone. Martin quickly responded, “You do now,” charged at Zimmerman, and then decked him with a sucker punch in the nose. The blow knocked Zimmerman to the pavement. Rather than be satisfied that he made his (highly illegal) point, Martin pressed his advantage. He pinned a prone, face-up Zimmerman, and slammed his head against the ground. When Zimmerman yelled, Martin told him to shut up and hit him again, and told him he was going to kill him. Zimmerman now had every reason to fear for his life. Fortunately, he had the means to save it. Zimmerman pulled out a handgun from his pocket and, after a brief struggle, fired a shot at close range, hitting Martin in the chest. “You got me,” Martin said, falling backward. When police arrived at the scene, they found Martin lying on the ground. He would die about 7:30 PM. Zimmerman was alive, but with a broken nose and a deep cut on the back of his head.
Police, on the scene in response to a number of emergency “911” calls, took Zimmerman into custody for questioning. Following interrogation, they decided against arresting him. Sanford Police Chief Billy Lee had concluded there was no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s assertion of having acted in self-defense. First-person statements support this conclusion. Sanford Police Officer Timothy Smith indicated:
While I was in such close contact with Zimmerman, I could observe that his back appeared to be wet and 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…While the SPD was attending to Zimmerman, I overheard him state, “I was yelling for someone to help me, but no one would help me.”
An unnamed witness who was not a police officer corroborated this view. Here is one published summary of the account:
The guy on the bottom, who had a red sweater on, was yelling at me, ‘Help! Help!’ and I told him to stop and I was calling 911,” said the witness, who asked to be identified only by his first name, John.
John said he locked his patio door, ran upstairs and hear at least one gun shot.
And then, when I got upstairs and looked down, the guy who was on top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.
It’s hard to avoid concluding that Zimmerman acted in self-defense against a criminal assault, potentially a lethal one, by Martin.
Martin’s supporters, beginning with his parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, dispute this account. “That was bull,” said the elder Martin. “No way. At that point, I knew there was something terribly wrong.” Adding fuel to their fire was a video obtained by ABC News and shown on news outlets throughout the country showing Zimmerman in handcuffs being taken into police custody with no visible injuries or bleeding. Those who see this rather grainy footage as catching Zimmerman in a lie, however, overlook the possibility that he had received emergency medical treatment. Moreover, they ignore the fact that an enhanced video released yesterday showed clear evidence of trauma to the back of Zimmerman’s head.
Yet for the sake of argument, let’s assume that this wasn’t a case of self-defense and that Zimmerman’s wounds were superficial at best. The reality remains: Zimmerman hasn’t been charged with anything. And if he eventually is indicted, he deserves to be tried in court and not before baying, seething mobs. The whole point of a criminal justice system in any society is to marginalize vigilante passions, not cater to them. Public officials, beginning at the top, have a special responsibility to ensure an orderly procedure through which evidence can be introduced and explained.
By the time President Obama rendered his opinion on March 23, a campaign by Martin’s supporters to vilify Zimmerman was well underway and had reached fever pitch. Martin’s parents, family members and attorneys on March 8 held a press conference calling attention to the case. On March 14, the parents created a petition on the website Change.org calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. By March 21, petition had generated nearly 900,000 signatures. The attorney for the parents, Benjamin Crump, verified they had received a flood of media inquiries, in one particular day more than 400 media calls. On March 22, Sanford Police Chief Lee, under intense local pressure, announced he would “temporarily” step down. That day Martin’s parents met with officials from the U.S. Justice Department. And Reverend Al Sharpton conveniently had come down from New York to give an incendiary speech before thousands in Sanford’s Fort Mellon Park. On March 23, the day of Obama’s statement, students at about 50 schools across Florida staged a walkout in support of Trayvon Martin. By now, the Change.org petition had gathered a whopping 1.5 million signatures.
This explosive situation called for transcending hysteria, not tacitly endorsing it. President Obama, unfortunately, chose the latter. Here is one account of the president’s response to a reporter’s question:
“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” Mr. Obama said. “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”
“Obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Mr. Obama said, his face grim. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”
“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Mr. Obama said, pausing for a moment. “I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Stripped of his piety, the president was implying this was a murder and police cover-up very likely possessed of racial motives. His words at minimum implied that we need a special federal prosecutor to get the real story, and over the long run, yet another (rigged) “national conversation” on race.
Yet if Obama was of a truly objective cast of mind, he easily could have said that Sanford police from the start have been trying to get all relevant facts. He could have stated that rule of law, not rule by mob, is the way justice works in America. And he could have pointed out that Zimmerman is entitled to a presumption of innocence. At the very least, he could have refrained from likening Trayvon Martin to the son he never had. Unfortunately, he did the opposite.
There are, however, many black voices employing highly unguarded language. Several can be found on Capitol Hill. Last Wednesday morning, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., as an act of solidarity with Martin, wore a gray hoodie and sunglasses, and delivered a speech from the House floor calling for a full federal investigation. “Racial profiling has got to stop,” he said. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.” He then was escorted off the floor by the House sergeant-at-arms for inappropriate dress. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., called the shooting an “execution.” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., proclaimed, “I, personally, really truly believe this is a hate crime,” in a joint interview on CNN with Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. Cleaver, for his part, stated, “The issue is the low esteem in which black life is held, particularly black males.”
Hard as it is to believe, these are voices of moderation compared to those of top black “civil rights” leaders. Jesse Jackson, just back from a foreign policy mission in Geneva, Switzerland, declared in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “Blacks are under attack.” He elaborated: “Our disparities are great. Targeting, arresting, convicting blacks, and ultimately killing us, is big business.” Making the jump from a single incident to systematic genocide is a stretch even for the hyperbole-prone Jackson. Al Sharpton, in his speech in Sanford, declared: “We came for permanent justice. Arrest Zimmerman now! That’s what this rally is about.” It’s noteworthy that Sharpton, now a full-time news anchorman for MSNBC, is creating as well as reporting on a news story. Some might call this a conflict of interest. Worse yet was Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Minister Farrakhan, apparently not technology-averse, sent this ominous Twitter message to followers: “Where there is no justice, there will be no peace. Soon the law of retaliation may very well be applied.” In another tweet, he stated, “Let us see what kind of justice will come for his bereaved family and our bereaved community.” By any reasonable definition, Farrakhan’s statements constitute incitements to murder.
Other statements have been even more inflammatory. The New Black Panther Party is offering a $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman’s death, and for good measure, has circulated a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” poster. It’s hard to see the humor; the group’s leader, Mikhail Muhummud, has declared, “God dammit, he should be fearful for his life.” A new Twitter account, “KillZimmerman,” shows a photo of Zimmerman with a bulls-eye superimposed over his head. The page reads, “This Page Is 4 Da Ppl Who Believe Zimmerman Should Be Shot Dead In the Street.” Here is one of its messages: “Every1 is going to die one day sum ppl deserve to die today.” Another group, New Black Liberation Militia, has announced it is sending members to the Orlando area to “attempt a citizen’s arrest” of Zimmerman. A t-shirt featuring a photo of George Zimmerman framed by the words “Pussy Ass Cracker,” is now available for purchase. And black filmmaker Spike Lee (“Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X”) re-tweeted to followers the home address of George Zimmerman – or so he thought. The address turned out to be that of an elderly Florida couple, Elaine and David McClain, who have a son living at home named William George Zimmerman, an entirely different person than George Zimmerman. This case of mistaken identity triggered a barrage of hate mail to the couple, who had to flee temporarily for their own safety. Though Lee since has apologized and settled with the couple’s attorney for damages, that doesn’t erase the fact of his intent to incite.
George Zimmerman – the real one – is now in hiding, along with his family. He obviously has good reason not to be found. He does, however, have people in his corner. That includes family members speaking from undisclosed locations. On March 28, his father, Robert, appeared on television to assert that Trayvon Martin had threatened to kill his son and beat him to the point where his son had to use his gun. The next day, George Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Jr., appeared on CNN and asserted that medical records will prove that his brother was attacked and that his nose was broken. A black man, Joe Oliver, who describes himself as a close friend of George Zimmerman, appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and said that his friend fears for his life. Finally, Zimmerman’s attorney, Craig Sonner, told ABC News that evidence will come out in court that his client had suffered a broken nose and a head injury before pulling out his gun.
The question now arises: Has President Obama provided moral cover for the public hanging jury? It’s entirely possible. What’s more, even if he hasn’t, he has refused to denounce the murderous sentiments. And he hasn’t repudiated his March 23 statement. A federal investigation, announced by the Justice Department two weeks ago, is now in the beginning stages. The FBI, the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida plan to conduct a joint review of all evidence and take “appropriate” action. With Attorney General Eric Holder leading the charge, federal prosecutors have every incentive to “discover” a crime committed by Zimmerman. Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott has asked state officials to assist in the investigation. On March 22, Scott also announced the appointment of State’s Attorney Angela Corey, 4th Judicial Circuit, as special prosecutor in the case, effectively replacing Norman Wolfinger.
In a larger sense, President Obama implicitly has endorsed the black demagoguery that has made reasonable discussion of race in this country almost impossible. Rather than repudiate hustlers like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Maxine Waters, he appears eager to join them. For him, as for the more noisy voices, white-on-black crime, even if the “crime” is an apparent act of self-defense, is a national problem. Black-on-white and black-on-black crime — each far more common — barely register on their radar screen. In Sarasota, Florida last week, a 17-year-old black youth, Shawn Tyson, was found guilty by a jury of murdering two young white British tourists, James Cooper and James Kouzaris, last year. Tyson had attempted to rob the pair, but then shot each through the heart when they said they had no money. Just before opening fire, Tyson said, “If you ain’t got no money, I got something for you ass.” When Obama can send his sympathies to the families of Cooper and Kouzaris, his sympathies toward the late Trayvon Martin might ring halfway true.