Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Tragedy of the Trayvon Martin Homicide: A Profiler's View

Trayvon Martin
by Pat Brown

When the news reports started rolling in on the homicide of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by Sandford, Florida neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, the first thought that went through my head was, "I hope justice prevails," but then my second thought was, "Oh, this is going to get nasty." I am already being proven right on my latter thought but as to justice being meted out properly, I am not sure the national emotional outburst over this case with its racial overtones is going to interfere with that. What makes so much of this case difficult is the murky waters of what really happened and who was justified in doing what and who was profiling who and who was profiling out of racism and who was not.

Let's take a look at how the first news reports (blithely paraphrased and made simple for impact) brought the incident to light (and the left and the right are general categories for the purposes of pointing out the issues, not for saying everyone is so "black and white" and absolute on the incident) :

The left: White dude chases down innocent black child and wastes him.
The right: Citizen protecting his neighborhood shoots thug while defending his life.

Then, more information comes out:

The left: Okay, not-totally White dude scares the crap out of innocent not-so-small teen and teen hits stalker in fear and then not-totally White dude shoots teen dead when all teen has is Skittles in his pocket.

The right: Okay, the citizen is a bit aggressive trying to keep his neighborhood safe and maybe shouldn't have followed the kid but he has the right to shoot someone who then becomes the physical aggressor and smashes in his nose and is on top of him beating him on the ground.

The left: Regardless of who did what first, George Zimmerman is clearly a racist because he profiled Trayvon Martin as up to no good for no reason other than he was black and wearing a hoodie and standing around and he said "f***ing coons" on the 911 call to the police, so it is a hate crime.

The right: Trayvon was suspended from school so he obviously is a troublemaker and he was acting shady in Zimmerman's neighborhood and Zimmerman never said "f***ing coons" on the 911 tape but "f***ing goons,"or "f***ing tools," or "f***ing cons," etc.

Whew! Okay, so what do I think? I think this is going to be a mess for a long time no matter how you slice it or view it. But, here is my profiler's take.

George Zimmerman
Let's start with George Zimmerman. He has got some issues that is for sure (read Gina Simmons previous Women in Crime post, Anger, Race, and Psychology in the Trayvon Martin Case)  but some of Zimmerman's black friends say he is all broken up about the shooting and isn't a racist. From what I have read, he is a wannabe cop, the neighborhood ninja, the overzealous protector of the community. My guess is he might qualify for a personality disorder and be more into his role as superhero than he is into being concerned about the welfare of the local citizens or being a racist of any sort. He clearly overstepped his bounds and should have left the approach of Trayvon up to the police unless he saw the young man attacking someone. In other words, causing another bodily harm is only acceptable if you are in fear of being severely injured or killed or someone else is likely to be severely injured or killed. Even with Florida Stand-Your-Ground laws which removes the duty to retreat and permits the citizen to fight force with force and still claim self-defense, you still can't actually be the one who is the aggressor because that makes you the perpetrator and not the victim.

Zimmerman was not in that position at the time he saw Trayvon walking away from him, so he clearly moved in on Trayvon, with or without his gun drawn, and Trayvon reacted either in self-defense or a fit of anger at being harassed without proper cause. I think Zimmerman's defense lawyer has his work cut out for him to prove that he in no way threatened Trayvon and Trayvon, if he punched him, did not do so when Zimmerman made a physical move on him or tried to draw his gun on him. Just because Zimmerman ended up on the ground at one point with Trayvon standing over him as one witness claims to have seen (and the supposed broken nose and damage to the back of Zimmerman's head could be the result of one punched that knocked him backwards and no further aggression), this doesn't mean Trayvon wasn't the defender and well within his rights to take Zimmerman down.

Alternatively, there is the possibility that Zimmerman followed Trayvon, not too closely and Trayvon turned on him, approached him aggressively, started cussing at him and then assaulted him at which point Zimmerman though he was going to die and pulled his gun from his holster/waistband and shot Trayvon. In this case, Zimmerman may have been stupid and annoying but if at no point did Trayvon actually have a claim to being in fear of being severely injured or killed, he would have no right to claim self-defense any more than Zimmerman if there was no immediate threat. Of course, Trayvon isn't around to speak of his emotions or Zimmerman's behavior at the time, so we will have to rely on direct and circumstantial evidence hopefully handled with a scientific objectiveness and not runaway emotion.

Okay, so right now, I am on the fence as to who was defending himself and who was the aggressor. I have to say since Zimmerman clearly escalated the whole incident and was armed at the time, it is my opinion he was far more responsible for the ensuing events than a seventeen-year-old kid who didn't see it coming.

I do want to stop and look at the issues of racial profiling and racism, both of which I think may have been blown way out of proportion in this case. Let me take you to an example that happened in my own son's experience.

I was visiting my friend, Jenny, at her home in a cul-de-sac. My son came to pick me up in my little red Mazda Miata convertible. He pulled in front of her house and was patiently waiting with engine running. All of a sudden, the woman from across the street comes straight towards the car, and standing in the middle of the street, she starts blasting an air horn and asking what he was doing there. My son was a bit taken aback as he had never had this happen before. Here was a white woman in her sixties dressed in a housecoat barking at him, a twenty-eight year old biracial young man dressed in a t-shirt, demanding that he tell her what business he had on her street. How did he react? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if many men of his age might not say "Bitch, this is a public street; mind your own damn business." Some might have even called her a racial slur.

My son said, "Ma'am, I am waiting on my mother who is inside visiting her friend, Jenny." To which the woman replied, "Oh, sorry, we have had a bunch of drug dealers and burglars around the neighborhood and I keep an eye out for anyone who doesn't belong." Then when I came out, she apologized to me as well.

My sons, David and Jeremy
Why did my son behave so politely? Well, first of all because he immediately recognized the woman in the housecoat as an overzealous neighborhood watch type of lady, the kind who shows up every month at the town council meeting and drives everyone nuts. Basically, it never really occurred to him that this white lady was dangerous or was being racist, just that she was a bit bats. And, truthfully, the lady wasn't being racist; I think she would have approached a white boy in a hoodie with the same zeal and not bothered to approach a fifty-year-old black man dressed in a suit with a Bible on his dashboard. She profiled incorrectly but not with any real racial bias.

I asked my son how he might have reacted if George Zimmerman was trailing him down the street. He had to stop and think about that. The first problem he had was that  Zimmerman wouldn't have been a uniformed cop in which case he would know he should be polite for a good reason if questioned. Nor would Zimmerman have on the uniform of the Guardian Angels who you know are out patrolling the neighborhood. And he wouldn't look like an old crazy lady, but a young crazy man, possible a psychopath will ill intentions, or an asshole looking for trouble.

What then if my son had turned on Zimmerman and said, "What the f*** is your problem, dog?" And Zimmerman got all loud and obnoxious and moved in on him. My son works as a bouncer and I can see him taking defensive action not realizing that the man had brought a gun to a fistfight. It is one thing to have a concealed weapon for the purposes of protecting oneself in a surprise attack but bringing hardware to a fight that should be with fists is a bit sneaky and dangerous and premeditated; almost rings of entrapment, some kind of set-up.

Okay, so I am still having trouble getting Zimmerman out of the wrong here, but let's check out the racist issue. I am not convinced this was racial in any way, that Zimmerman wouldn't have chased down a white teenage thug looking boy either. I didn't find his description to the police very racially biased...just a calm description of the "suspect" and a general term of "asshole" to describe people getting away with crime in the neighborhood. I didn't hear any spouting of racist slurs throughout his conversation with 911.

Of course, there is that bit he muttered under his breath during that call that has become the explosive "smoking gun" that is making this "clearly" a hate crime. Zimmerman is supposed to have muttered, "F***ing coons," and it sure does sound like that.

I listened to those two words over and over and I still had problems with turning "coons" into "goons" or into anything else nonracist... until I asked myself if there could be any less objectionable thing he might have muttered offhandedly at that moment, and I came up with "F***ing cones." In other words, when he parked and exited the car in chasing down Trayvon and he might have hit or stepped on a road cone, those two words might be just a normal expletive one might let out at that moment. So I listened over and over again and it does sound more like "F***ing cones" to me. How will we know? I would guess the crime scene photos ought to let us know if there were traffic cones at that location or any other object or possible circumstance to influence Zimmerman into saying something that sounded like "coons." If not, interviews with everyone possible is necessary to find out whether Zimmerman was the type to ever say use such ugly derogatory racist language or not.

So, until I learn absolutely that Zimmerman has uttered racial slurs in his past, I will not assume he is being racist. A possible aggressor, a troublemaker, a bad profiler, an annoyance, a fool, and a dangerous whack job, but not necessarily a racist.

Let's not forget that there are youths of all races and cultural backgrounds that trouble our neighborhoods. In my own town, there are some bratty kids who play in the streets and dance in front of cars and make nasty comments when we slow to drive by. We have had break-ins in my town and there are signs of gang activity here. My town has become much thuggier looking in recent years, with young men and women of all colors in hoodies and other clothing that makes many citizens raise an eyebrow as to the character of the young people within them. Regardless of the right to dress as one pleases, certain clothing sends certain messages and it behooves parents to make sure their sons and daughters don't look or act like criminals when walking about the neighborhood just to be on the safe side. But, back to the issue at hand, at this point (unless Zimmerman is proven to be a racist or that Trayvon chased him down and assaulted him), I think George Zimmerman was "gunning" to be a hero and Trayvon ended up being the unsuspecting victim of Zimmerman's overactive zealous power trip. We shall see how it all plays out; let's just hope it is on the evidence and not the result of a bunch of political, personal, and emotional issues. The tragedy of the killing of Trayvon Martin is bad enough, but I hope we don't add to that, the tragedy of fueling racial division if this case turns out not to be about racism at all.

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Anonymous said...

I think George Zimmerman "was" an overzealous, superhero type of twisted personality. I find it a bit of a stretch to think that Zimmerman muttered "**cking cones" on the 911 tape. We don't know, but if Trayvon Martin became "mouthy" with Zimmerman when approached, or even possibly "initiated" a physical fight, he appears smaller in size than Zimmerman and clearly did not threaten him with a visible weapon because he didn't have one. I heard Trayvon yelling for help on the 911 tape. A "mouthy" person can make a mild temmpered person's blood boil with anger, yet we each have a responsibility for our own behavior, choices and actions. I have had a hooded white male walk through my front yard who didn't belong. I kept an eye on him as he kept on walking. I didn't run out my front door like a wildcat with a gun looking to slaughter. The same person was later caught peeping in my neighbors windows as well as mine. It was frightening but several of us called the police. It turned out to be a neighbor boy about Trayvon's age who had some mental disabilities. His parents kept a closer eye on him and it never happened again. My grandson is biracial. I am concerned for his future because I believe Trayvon's death "was" a combination of his race and clothing that caught Zimmerman's attention. Regardless of the exact details, I just can't see this situation as anything but murder.

shyloh's poetry said...

Pat, you have some handsome boys there. I love your logic. And I have to agree with you on your well written article. I wish everyone would stop and think before spouting off their "feelings"

Dana said...

Did George Zimmerman identify himself as the neighborhood watch at any time? Was he wearing any type of shirt or jacket that said "neighborhood watch" ? Not that you would be able to see it in the dark any way but still I wonder.

In the Fort Worth neighborhood, the watch people drive in well marked vehicles. Their own car with a magnetic sign they share. Of course inside of a complex you would be on foot so you wouldn't have a sign.

I'm still on the fence too but I was jumped on and beat up by a woman who it turns out had 2 previous convictions for assault and she was only 23 yrs old. I can tell you that when she jumped on me all I could think of was "if she gets me on the ground she could kill me by either banging my head or stomping it." I truly felt I could die and if I would have had a gun that night I wouldn't have hesitated to shoot her. Doesn't matter what color she or I am. If you are in fear for your life it's a whole new ballgame. That said ... was Trayvon in fear for his life? Is that why he jumped Zimmerman?

Would there be these protests if Trayvon had banged Zimmerman's head so hard it killed him and Trayvon was still free? I think not.

I wish the regulars hadn't slithered out from under their rocks to get involved in this. Shame on "rev" Al and Jessie.

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Anonymous said...

Pat, great atricle. I felt the same way you do from day one. In my opinion, Mr. Zimmerman did not set out that night to kill an black person. This was a man who wanted to be in law enforcement and was tired of all the break in's. I also, to this day still do not hear a the word "coons". I think Zimmerman was the aggressor and Trayvon was was a teen who wan't going to back down. I think an arrest should have been made and then muddle through the evidence. I will reserve judgement utnil more evidence and facts of this case come out.

Katprint said...

Does your profiling take into account Zimmerman's prior known history of violence against others?

According to the Orange County, Florida, Circuit Court Clerk's office, on 7/16/2005, George Zimmerman was charged for felony resisting an officer with violence and battery on a police officer.

Additionally, on 8/9/2005 Veronica Zuazo filed for a domestic violence restraining order against him. - follow link at bottom to court records, search criminal and family law records.

Pat Brown said...


Did you read the part where I discussed a personality disordered individual with a power issue?

Actually, I was not using backgrounds of either individual in this particular look, something, as I point out, must be taken into consideration later when the evidence is fully examined and charges laid, if any, and then a defendant in court.

What I was trying to urge was people to not jump to conclusions of hate crimes and who is guilty of what until more evidence is unearthed and analyzed.

Wearing a hoodie doesn't make you a criminal nor does it prove you are a criminal with criminal intent at that moment. Being concerned about a guy in a hoodie doesn't make you a racist. Let's wait and see who was what and who did what.

Anonymous said...

I think Martin was stalked, harassed then murdered by a weirdo.
However, one of the worst things to come out of this other than the actual murder was the actions of Mr. Spike Lee. He tweeted the address of Zimmerman. Except that it was actually the home of an elderly couple. This has caused them lots of trouble. When is someone going to call Lee on his racist behavior?

shyloh's poetry said...

Living in Chicago for many decades. HA! The norm was hoodie's and baggy pants. I moved back to my home town about two years ago. A far cry from Chicago. If I don't see young guys wearing hoodie's or baggy pants I am shocked. To me clothes have nothing to do with "this" night. I feel Zemmerman stalked this boy because he wanted to be a wanna-be-hero. It's not a crime to wear a hoodie, it's not a crime to be walking down a sidewalk when it's raining. If that was the case. Why do hundred's of people get caught out in the rain while walking? This entire case is very hinky. Zemmerman is right along with Casey Anthony. The most hated and wanted man in America. He may very well have to hide for the rest of his life. He clearly was out to cause problems if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

As a Washington DC resident,I would've thought you'd be familiar with the Common Law, & US Constitution's, 2nd Amendment rights of self-defense, which CLEARLY Zimmerman was exerting to defend his life against the aggressor, Martin. But, then, the biracial Harvard Law-educated President has conveniently dismissed knowledge of the US Constitution several times recently (just ask the US Supreme Ct Justices about Obama's recent comments on an active case of theirs), as has MSNBC's narcissistic, unethical "journalist" & racial tension - inflamer, Al Sharpton, his racist militia, gun-toting-voter-intimidators from Philly, the "New" Black Panthers, & his special racist-inflaming pal, Jesse Jackson.
Martin's family admitted that they only wanted "an arrest" "not a conviction", so that they & their ambulance-chasing personal injury atty, Crowley, could sue in civil court for $$$$$ - big Payday ahead, is all they wanted. Checkbook Journalism wasn't paying them as well as what they could get from FL Taxpayers via civil suits.
You should review the "right of self-defense", Pat, & focus on the words: "lawful homicide". There is such a thing, & this is a classic case protected by law. Pass it on to Al & Jesse, & their unlawful militia posting bounties on US citizen's heads. jmho
-fellow DC resident