Rush to judgment dividing US in Trayvon Martin murder case

Sat, Mar 31, 2012, 01:00

AMERICA:For some George Zimmerman is a murderer; for others he is just a regular neighbourhood watch volunteer who fired in self defence

IF YOU are a Republican and watch Fox News, you probably refer to the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, nearly five weeks ago, as a “tragedy” and believe George Zimmerman, who shot Martin in the chest, was a “neighbourhood watch volunteer” who fired in self defence. Most likely you support the “stand your ground” gun law under which police refused to arrest Zimmerman.

If you’re a Democrat who gets your information from MSNBC, you call Martin’s death a crime and may have joined the million people who signed an online petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, or marched in the dozens of rallies – 20 last Monday alone – across the country this week demanding “Justice for Trayvon”. You regard “stand your ground” laws as a licence to kill.

Zimmerman’s family say they have received death threats. A group calling itself the New Black Panthers has offered $10,000 for Zimmerman’s arrest.

Conservative commentators accuse the “liberal media” of hyping the case because Zimmerman is white (albeit with a Peruvian mother) and ignoring black-on-black crime.

CL Bryant, a conservative black preacher, has called the liberal black preachers Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who are campaigning for Zimmerman’s arrest, “buzzards circling the carcass of this young boy”.

The diametrically opposed versions of reality extend to the image of the slain 17-year-old. For Jesse Jackson, Trayvon Martin was a civil rights “martyr” like Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and Dr Martin Luther King jnr.

The novelist Tom Wolfe wrote in The Bonfire of the Vanities that every young person who dies unjustly and prematurely is retroactively transformed into an honours student who would have become president.

Based on interviews with Martin’s mother and grandmother, Charles Blow of the New York Times described him as a sports-loving, all-American boy who liked hanging out at the mall with his friends, eating hamburgers, French fries and brownies.

Trayvon earned extra money painting houses and washing cars and baked cookies for his little girl cousins when he babysat them, Blow wrote.

The right puts more store in the Miami Herald’s report this week that when he died, Martin had been suspended from school because he was caught with a ziploc bag containing traces of marijuana.

It was Martin’s third suspension from high school in a year. The previous time, when he was caught spray-painting obscene graffiti, the Herald reported, a school guard found a screwdriver and 12 pieces of jewellery, including wedding rings, diamond earrings and a watch, in his rucksack.

None of this indicates that Martin was doing anything other than walking home in the rain on the night of February 26th, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying Skittles sweets and iced tea, when Zimmerman began following him.

“They have killed my son,” Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton said, “now they are trying to kill his reputation.”

Liberals portray Zimmerman as a self-appointed vigilante who was suspicious of blacks. In television interviews, his father, brother and two African- American friends described Zimmerman as a “colour-blind” do-gooder who had tutored poor black kids.

“He is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, for depression, for insomnia,” Joe Oliver, one of the friends said.

“He cried for days after this happened . . . He’s extremely remorseful.”

Zimmerman’s father, Robert, a Vietnam veteran and former magistrate, appeared in silhouette in his Fox News interview. Referring to Barack Obama’s remarks on March 23rd, in which the president said: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Zimmerman said: “I never foresaw so much hate coming from the president . . . ”

Obama had spoken of the need for “soulsearching” about the case.

In Zimmerman’s account of events, as leaked by the Sanford police to the Orlando Sentinel, the shooter claimed the 17-year- old punched him in the face, knocked him over, sat on top of him and repeatedly slammed his head on the concrete before Zimmerman pulled his 9mm pistol from its holster and shot Martin in the chest.

The police report said Zimmerman’s nose was bleeding, he had a swollen lip and lacerations on the back of his head.

Friends and relatives said Martin broke Zimmerman’s nose.

No medical records have been released and Martin did not go to the hospital emergency department.

One wonders how Martin, who weighed 140lb, could overturn Zimmerman and hold him down.

Zimmerman weighs well over 200lb .

The lead homicide investigator on the case, Chris Serino, had wanted to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter on the night of Martin’s death.

The prosecutor – who has since been replaced – said there wasn’t enough evidence.

For the record, Serino filed an affidavit that night saying he didn’t believe Zimmerman’s claim of self defence.

ABC News obtained the police video of Zimmerman arriving in handcuffs at the Sanford police station, about half an hour after Martin’s death. Zimmerman and the police officers who accompany him appear to be relaxed, even chummy.

There is no visible trace of blood or a broken nose, although when ABC zoomed in, there appeared to be abrasions on the back of Zimmerman’s closely shorn head.

The case has conferred new symbolism on the hooded sweatshirt.

The Fox News journalist Geraldo Rivera provoked outrage when he said: “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters, particularly, to not let their children go out wearing hoodies.”

Preachers and parishioners in hundreds of US churches wore hoodies last Sunday.

Christine Quinn, who is likely to be the next mayor of New York, wore a hoodie to speak on the steps of City Hall, demanding a “full and impartial” investigation. “Trayvon Martin is all of our brothers, is all of our sons, is all of our nephews.”

Bobby Rush, a black Democratic representative from Chicago, took off his suit coat when he reached the podium in the House of Representatives to reveal a grey, hooded sweatshirt.

Pulling the hood over his head, Rush said, “Racial profiling has to stop, Mr Speaker. Just because someone wears a hoodie doesn’t make them a hoodlum.”

The sergeant-at-arms was called to stop Rush because he had violated the house dress code.