"This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something."
George Zimmerman speaking with Sanford, Florida police dispatch.
That "guy" would be 17 year old Trayvon Martin. He was visiting relatives in Sanford and on the night in question decided to take a walk to a local convenience store. Because it was raining he put the hood of his jacket on. He was returning from the store when he was confronted by Zimmerman who was captain of the local neighborhood watch program.
What happened next has gone viral on the web. It has caused hundreds of thousands of people, including celebrities such as Spike Lee, Michael Moore, and Ice Cube to get involved, at least through Twitter and Facebook.
Zimmerman saw a young black man, hood up, "acting suspiciously." How he was acting suspiciously is a bit vague, unless you count every black kid on foot as suspicious. At about the same time, Martin, over his cell phone, told a friend that a strange man was following him.
Zimmerman, who is 28 and is, depending on who you listen to, either Anglo, or Hispanic, called 911 which is what neighborhood watch people are supposed to do. He reported Martin's whereabouts and told the dispatcher which direction he was walking. As things turned stranger and more serious Zimmerman told the dispatcher that Martin had begun to run. That, of course, is pretty much what any 17 year old would do when being followed on a rainy night by some guy he didn't know. There are, after all, a lot of crazy people out there.
Listening to the tape you can hear the surprise and concern in the dispatcher's voice when he asks Zimmerman, "are you following him?" When Zimmerman says yes, the dispatcher immediately tells him, "we don't need you to do that." In other words, back off and let the pros handle the situation.
Zimmerman ignored the advice. By the time it was over, Trayvon Martin was dead. He was shot to death by George Zimmerman who, thanks to the great state of Florida, was legally carrying a hand gun. Zimmerman says Martin attacked him, which on the face of it seems odd for a guy running from you, unless you had him cornered. He is citing Florida's "stand your ground" law as his defense. Apparently in Florida you can blow people away just because you have gotten into an argument with them.
The whole tragedy remained under the radar of the national media until radio hosts looking for a button to push began to tweet about it. Like so many other things now days in this age of instant information and more importantly, instant and verifiable public feed back, the shit hit the fan. Huge crowds have gathered both in real time and in that nebulous universe of virtual existence howling for Zimmerman's head. On line petitions are circulating. The chief of police has resigned. Trayvon Martin, victim and George Zimmerman, shooter have become the faces of all that is wrong with with race relations in America.
They have also become the latest example of how instantly a huge howling mob can gather venting their anger and frustrations. Facebook and Twitter have made traditional news sources seem as quaint and out of date as stage coaches. Via the web and Twitter not only do you get the news immediately, you can react to it, participate in it. You can become part of the story and who doesn't want to do that.
In this case it is hard to condemn the sudden and wide spread anger. The brutal truth is that, Trayvon Martin was holding a cell phone, a package of Skittles and a can of ice tea. George Zimmerman was packing a 9 millimeter.
Years ago my wife and I went to see a stand up comedy act by Thea Vidal. At the end of it she started talking about how brave white people were in the movies. "You know you all walk into haunted houses. You look into the dark to find some murderer. That is some brave stuff. It makes me wonder why, when you see two young black men coming toward you on the sidewalk, you cross the street."
Well obviously some of us don't. Especially those among us who are carrying 9 mils and want to be Wyatt Earp.
Lord, we still have so far to go. Sometimes I think we'll never get there.