As a former federal prosecutor and a former attorney general, I want to talk about the Trayvon Martin story because it disturbs me as a prosecutor, and it deeply disturbs me as a mother of a teenage son. Let me say a word first as a prosecutor.
You've heard of this story -- Cenk Uygur, Keith Olbermann and others in the news media have covered this -- Trayvon Martin was the 17-year-old Florida high school football player who was shot and killed last month. He was visiting with his father and family friend in a gated community. He was walking back to the home from a convenience store in the rain in the early evening three weeks ago, carrying skittles and a can of iced tea.
Trayvon's killer, George Zimmerman, was the volunteer "watchman" for the gated community. That night, as Zimmerman followed Trayvon, he called 911 because he thought the teenager in the hoodie was suspicious. Zimmerman is 28-years-old, a criminal justice major, who had called the Sanford police department 46 times since he took on the role as guardian for the community.
Zimmerman claims that in shooting Trayvon he acted in self-defense based upon a 2005 law called "Stand Your Ground."
Here's what the law says:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity, and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
This law is part of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)'s cluster of pro-NRA bills that shot through legislatures in the past few years. Florida's law was the first and 17 states now have a version of this law, many with virtually identical language.
The way the bill is written, in order for the defense to work, the prosecutor has to rebut Zimmerman's claim that he acted in self-defense.
Basically, the prosecutor has to prove that it was unreasonable for Zimmerman to believe that Trayvon Martin was about to kill him or greatly injure him.
Officer reports reveal that Zimmerman claimed he was jumped from behind by Trayvon and he acted in self-defense.
Here are the five main pieces of evidence that address the likelihood of that defense:
- The call from Zimmerman to law enforcement, and the officers telling Martin not to pursue. Zimmerman whispers what many have described as a racial slur under his breath.
- There is a 911 call where you can hear a voice yelling for help and a firearm shot.
- Trayvon's father identified his voice on that 911 call on Al Sharpton's Politics Nation program on MSNBC.
- The account of the girlfriend, who says Trayvon told her by cellphone that he was being followed.
- Trayvon was not armed and weighed between 75-100 pounds less than Zimmerman.
The evidence that we know of -- the public evidence -- establishes that Zimmerman was the pursuer, and not the victim.
So, without having heard directly from Zimmerman himself or knowing any other evidence, it seems to me it is 'probable' that Zimmerman's "Stand Your Ground" defense will not fly. Based just upon what we can see from the public record, Zimmerman should be arrested.
There's something even more troubling about this case to me, as a parent.
I keep looking at the pictures of the baby-faced handsome young man. His voice on that 911 tape crying for help is agonizing for any parent to hear.
I have a wonderful teenage son too. He wears hoodies, carries his cell phone and likes skittles. If this were my son, by god ...
But let's face it, this would not happen to my son. This happened to Trayvon Martin because he's black.
My heart breaks for Trayvon's parents. Imagine it were your son on that 911 tape, begging for someone to help.
Would you be satisfied with George Zimmerman being a free man?
The Sanford police department needs to take action.
And in fact, in the last hour, the Sanford city commission voted 3 to 2 that it had no confidence in Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. They can't fire him, so now Lee needs to take the next step and resign.
If the Sanford police department or the state does not take action, a much larger power -- the U.S. Department of Justice -- hopefully will.
NAACP President Turner Clayton said today that the Department of Justice had already taken a first step, with Eric Holder "summoning" Sanford's mayor and city manager to Washington.
One thing is for sure: this is not the end of this story.