Protests win arrest in
Trayvon Martin killing
Vigilante ‘Stand Your Ground’ law pushed back
March 31 action in Sanford, Fla., one of many demanding arrest of George Zimmerman.
BY DEAN HAZLEWOOD
AND NAOMI CRAINE
SANFORD, Fla.—After weeks of protests here and around the country, George Zimmerman, who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin here Feb. 26, has been arrested and indicted.
Angela Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to the case by Gov. Rick Scott, announced April 11 that she has filed charges of second-degree murder. In her announcement, Corey sought to deny the impact of the mobilizations in towns and cities, large and small, in unraveling the weeks-long attempt by local cops and prosecutors to cover up the killing and vigilante circumstances surrounding it, and their refusal to initiate a grand jury investigation or make an arrest.
“We do not prosecute by public pressure or petition,” Corey asserted.
“This is just the beginning,” Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin, said at an April 11 news conference in response to the indictment. Members of the Martin family are listed as among the speakers at a “Stand Our Ground for Justice” town hall meeting April 19 at the Beulah Baptist Institutional Church in Tampa and an April 26 community forum at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Corey took over the case March 22 after the local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, stepped aside amid mounting protests. ABC News reported March 27 that one Sanford police investigator wanted to charge Zimmerman right after the killing occurred but was overruled by Wolfinger’s office.
“They brought charges because people demanded it, not because they wanted to,” Michael Mills, an unemployed worker in the neighboring town of Maitland, told the Militant. He and nearly every other person Militant correspondents spoke with in working-class neighborhoods here April 14 said it was time there was an arrest.
“Trayvon even tried running away,” Mills said. “How could [Zimmerman] be defending his ground?”
‘Stand Your Ground’ laws
Florida is the first of 25 states that in recent years have passed some version of so-called Stand Your Ground legislation. The Florida law sanctions the use of deadly force in public in order “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” even if there is a clear option to simply walk away.
The Florida law was enacted in 2005. That same year two security guards here killed 16-year-old Travares McGill. The two did not identify themselves as security guards when they shined a blinding light into the parked car McGill was sitting in. They fired six shots as a panicked McGill tried to speed away. Authorities dropped charges filed against the two by a grand jury, citing the state’s just-passed Stand Your Ground statute.
Protests demanding the arrest of Zimmerman have also pressed for repeal of such pro-vigilante laws. In several states some version of Stand Your Ground is now before legislatures. About 100 people rallied in Boston April 12, the day after the indictment, calling for the defeat of such a bill in Massachusetts.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, which was a major force pressing for Stand Your Ground bills across the country, announced April 17 it was withdrawing its sponsorship of that and other law enforcement legislation it was involved in. The move came after major corporate sponsors such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, and the Gates Foundation began, under growing public pressure, to disassociate themselves from ALEC. Legislators in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin have started calling for repealing the laws in their states.
Corey filed a court affidavit at the time of Zimmerman’s arrest. It states Martin was walking back from a convenience store to the townhouse where he was staying in the gated community of Retreat at Twin Lakes “when he was profiled by George Zimmerman. Martin was unarmed and not committing a crime. Zimmerman … observed Martin and assumed Martin was a criminal.”
During a recorded 911 call, “Zimmerman made reference to people he felt had committed and gotten away with break-ins in his neighborhood. Later while talking about Martin, Zimmerman stated ‘these a--holes, they always get away.’” The document says that Zimmerman disregarded a police dispatcher’s instructions not to follow Martin.
“During this time Martin was on the phone with a friend and described to her what was happening,” said the affidavit. “The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn’t know why. Martin attempted to run home but was followed by Zimmerman. … Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.” Shortly thereafter Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest.
In an initial court appearance April 12, a judge ruled there was probable cause to proceed with the case. Zimmerman pleaded not guilty.
Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s attorney, has said he expects self-defense will be a key part of his defense.
In response to a request from O’Mara, Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler ruled April 12 that documents related to the case would all be sealed, barred from public inspection. Prosecutor Corey consented to the order. Numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, the Tribune papers, the Associated Press, the Miami Herald, CNN, and others filed suit April 16 to reverse the decision.
“There’s a lot of anger that’s now coming to the surface,” said Rhea McAuley, a sculptor in Orlando who has taken part in many of the rallies in Sanford, in a phone interview. “There’s a long history in Sanford, which didn’t start with Trayvon Martin.”