On the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, sparking a debate on the Stand Your Ground law and fostering increased racial tension throughout the country.
STAND YOUR GROUND: A STUDY OF THE GEORGE ZIMMERMAN CASE A5
The case of George Zimmerman and his shooting of Trayvon Martin was in the news frequently, beginning with its occurrence in early 2012 and ranging through the trial in July 2013. Issues have ranged from pressure to arrest Zimmerman, to racial concerns, to whether Martin was a criminal or an innocent victim. The "Stand Your Ground" law has also been called into question, with opponents concerned that not having a duty to retreat before using deadly force may be leading to a "Wild West" mentality that could become a dangerous precedent for the country. Thoughts and opinions have often been presented in lieu of facts, and when the trial actually began the country waited on edge, expecting justice to prevail. The issue, of course, was that the idea of justice was different for many people. Some supported what Zimmerman had done, and others thought he was a murderer. Many waited to hear the facts presented, reserving judgment until more information was offered. The only thing that was confirmed was the basic outcome of the initial incident. On A7 the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, sparking a debate on the Stand Your Ground law and fostering increased racial tension throughout the country.
Life and Family
George Zimmerman was born in 1983 in Virginia (Trayvon, 2013). A8 He is a registered Democrat, Hispanic, and a Catholic (Trayvon, 2013). In 2009, Zimmerman and his wife moved to Sanford, Florida (Trayvon, 2013). They took up residence in a rental home in a multi-ethnic, gated community called The Retreat at Twin Lakes (Trayvon, 2013). He was working as an insurance underwriter at the time of the shooting. Zimmerman was also enrolled in the Criminal Justice program at Seminole State College (Trayvon, 2013). He was working toward an associate's degree and was in his last semester of schooling. A police interview with him showed that he was interested in becoming a judge (Trayvon, 2013).
Zimmerman had been in trouble with the law before. He had been charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer in 2005, when he was 21 years old (Trayvon, 2013). Because he entered a pre-trial diversion program, the charges were dropped. His ex-fiancée also filed a restraining order in 2005, stating that there was domestic violence occurring (Trayvon, 2013). A9 Zimmerman filed for a reciprocal order, and both were granted (Trayvon 2013). Since that time, Zimmerman had not been in trouble with the law until his arrest for the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Since Zimmerman was interested in criminal justice, he was part of the neighborhood watch program in his community. This program was created in September of 2011, in response to break-ins and other criminal activity in the neighborhood (Trayvon, 2013). Zimmerman was appointed as the coordinator of the program. There were 260 townhomes in the community, and in the time period between January 1, 2011 and February 26, 2012, there were 402 calls which resulted in police going to the community in some capacity (Barry, et al, 2012). Thefts and burglaries were common in calls for assistance from the area, and there was one shooting. Additionally, attempted break-ins resulted in many calls to police from worried residents who were starting to feel unsafe and nervous in their neighborhood (Barry, et al, 2012). Zimmerman himself called the non-emergency number for the Sanford Police Department seven times in the 18 months before the shooting, generally for suspicious people in the neighborhood (Barry, et al, 2012). In November of 2009, Zimmerman was legally licensed to carry a firearm (Barry, et al, 2012). While neighborhood watch volunteers are not encouraged to do so, carrying the weapon was not against any laws in the state.
Life and Family
Trayvon Martin was born in 1995 (Trayvon, 2013). His parents divorced in 1999, and he lived with his mother and brother in Miami Gardens, Florida (Trayvon, 2013). He was an A and B student in high school, and was a junior at the time of his death. Martin's father's fiancée lived in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, and Martin and his father were visiting her (Trayvon 2013). C1 This was an activity that had also occurred several times in the past.
Alleged Criminal Activity
At the time of the fatal shooting, Martin had been suspended from school. It was his third suspension that year. One was for graffiti, another for truancy and tardiness, and the third for a marijuana pipe (Trayvon, 2013). Despite these issues, he was not charged with any crime. There was no juvenile record on file for Martin, indicating that he had never been officially arrested or charged with any type of crime during his lifetime (Trayvon, 2013).
The Night of the Shooting
Time and Location
The shooting took place in The Retreat at Twin Lakes subdivision in Sanford, Florida, on the night of February 26, 2012 (Stutzman & Prieto, 2012). The estimated start time of the altercation was 7:09pm EST, with a gunshot recorded on the 911 call at 7:16pm (Stutzman & Prieto, 2012). The first police car was on the scene at 7:17pm, and Trayvon Martin was pronounced dead at 7:30pm (Stutzman & Prieto, 2012).
The Police Investigation
Sanford Police made a complete investigation of the incident. The first officer to arrive at 7:17pm reported that Martin was face down in the grass, and was unresponsive (Sanford, 2012). Zimmerman was standing nearby. He stated that he was still armed, and that he had shot Martin. At that time Zimmerman was handcuffed and his weapon was taken by the officer (Sanford, 2012). That same officer observed that Zimmerman had blood on his nose and the back of his head (Sanford, 2012). His back was also covered with grass and was wet. Other officers arrived, along with paramedics (Sanford, 2012). CPR was performed on Martin, but to no avail. He was pronounced dead at the scene (Sanford, 2012). The body was taken to the morgue, but next of kin was not notified at that time, because Martin was not carrying identification (Sanford, 2012). Zimmerman was taken to the police station in Sanford and questioned for approximately five hours (Sanford, 2012). The weapon he was carrying and even the clothing he was wearing at the time of the incident were taken as evidence (Sanford, 2012).
Many people throughout the community called for Zimmerman's arrest, but the State Attorney's Office reviewed the case and said that Zimmerman had claimed self defense. There was no evidence that showed differently, so they had no cause to arrest him at that time. Still, an investigation continued into Zimmerman, his background, and the night of the shooting. Both the FBI and the Justice Department conducted separate investigations into what took place on the night of the shooting (Justice, 2012). Neighbors and coworkers were interviewed, and the 911 calls that were made by witnesses were analyzed by the police (Justice, 2012). These calls, along with the findings of the investigations, were eventually released to the public. The autopsy report indicated that Martin died from a single gunshot wound to the chest, and that he had THC in his bloodstream (Justice, 2012). However, the amount of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) was negligible and was deemed not to have played any role in his behavior on the night of the shooting (Justice, 2012).
Zimmerman's Arrest and Trial
On April 11, 2012, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). He pleaded not guilty and had bond set at $1 million. He bonded out with conditions that he submit to electronic monitoring, not have a passport or bank account, remain in Seminole County for his residence, and have a curfew from 6am to 6pm (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). The judge stated at the time that he did not feel that Zimmerman was any threat to the community. Six women were chosen to be on the jury, five of whom were white (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). The jury was also sequestered and not identified to the media. The trial formally began on June 24, 2013 (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). It went to the jury for deliberation on July 12th (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013).
The Verdict C2
On the 13th of July, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder, and also not guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). It was determined that he had acted in self defense, and that he had validly used the Stand Your Ground law. Since he had no duty to retreat and he feared for his life, his use of deadly force was considered justified (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). Both the GPS and bond requirements were revoked at that time, and Zimmerman was free to go (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). He may still be charged at the federal level, and may also be charged in a civil suit, so his legal troubles are not necessarily over. What, if any, further charges will be brought against Zimmerman are not yet known.
Racial Tensions C3
One of the main issues in the Zimmerman trial was that of race (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013). To say that racial tension is no longer a problem in the United State would be inaccurate. When high-profile cases such as the Zimmerman-Martin case appear in the media, race is one of the concerns that is discussed by analysts as well as reporters and individuals interviewed on the streets. Demonstrations and protests in major cities like New York and Los Angeles indicated some of the public's discomfort with the verdict. The opinions as to whether Zimmerman was guilty of a crime were divided down racial lines in many cases, although that does not indicate that every person judged the quality of the outcome based on his or her race. Those who had strong opinions about the verdict, though, often brought race into their discussions. This was a strong indicator that a great deal of racial tension still exists in the United States, and that it is brought to the forefront with high profile cases where the people involved do not share the same race or ethnicity.
The trial of George Zimmerman was polarizing for a large number of individuals in the nation. Some had strong opinions based on race, while others had opinions based on the way the investigation was handled overall. There will always be these kinds of opinions, and even with all the facts people will interpret things differently. The fact that Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin is a fact. Even Zimmerman readily admitted to the shooting. The issue was not whether Zimmerman shot Martin, but why he did so and whether it was justified. Even though a trial has been held and concluded, and even though Zimmerman was found not to be guilty of the charges against him, that will not hold up for everyone in the court of public opinion. How the rest of Zimmerman's life plays out remains to be seen, as does the potential for other charges brought against him in the future. The racial tensions that were brought to the surface from the incident and the outcome of the trial will leave the limelight in time, but they will remain a part of the culture and climate of the United States indefinitely.
Works Cited C4
Alvarez, C5 Lizette and Cara Buckley. "Zimmerman is acquitted in Trayvon Martin killing." The New York Times. 13 July, 2013. Web. 16 July, 2013.
Barry, C6 D, Kovaleski, S.F. Robertson, C. & Alvarez, L. (April 1, 2012). Race, tragedy and outrage collide after a shot in Florida. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-prompts-a-review-of-ideals.html?pagewanted=all.
"Justice C7 Department, FBI to probe Florida teen's death." CNN. 20 March, 2012. Web. 14 July, 2012.
Sanford C8 police initial report. (February 26, 2012). Retrieved April 7, 2012 from http://www.wagist.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Twin-Lakes-Shooting-Initial-Report.pdf.
Stutzman, R & Prieto, B. (March 17, 2012). Trayvon Martin shooting 911 calls. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved July 15, 2012 from http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-03-17/news/os-trayvon-martin-shooting-911-call-20120316_1_deadly-shooting-shot-man-reports
Trayvon Martin shooting fast facts. (June 25, 2013). CNN. Retrieved July 16, 2013 from http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts.