Thursday, March 22, 2012
Demand justice for fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Sanford, Florida on 26 February 2012, by a volunteer neighborhood watchman. The killer, George Zimmerman, 28 years old, claimed he killed the unarmed teenager in "self-defense" and he has not been arrested or charged since the killing. This has reignited allegations of racism in the U.S justice system.
Trayvon Martin was reportedly shot dead on his way home from a convenience store. Before the shooting, Zimmerman, the neighborhood's volunteer watchman, called the police and reported a suspicious man in the neighborhood. According to a record of the call released by the police, Zimmerman the watchman told the 911 police dispatcher that the teenager "looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something". The watchman then followed the teenager and pulled the trigger after a scuffle. It is plausible to conclude that Trayvon Martin was suspected because of his looks.
Surprisingly or not surprisingly - depending on how you see it - the police accepted Zimmerman's claim that he killed the unarmed teenager in self-defense.
Zimmerman's self defense claim, in my opinion, does not meet the "proportionality" standard. Force used in self-defense must be proportionate to the threat or perceived threat of harm. Pulling the trigger in this case was unreasonable, unnecessary and amounted to disproportionate use of force against an unarmed teenager who had with no criminal record.
Letting George Zimmerman walk free after a cold-blooded killing adds weight to reports of racism in the U.S justice system.
Many people, me included, argue that if it was a person of African descent who shot an unarmed white teenager in "self-defense", the outcome would have been completely different. Unlike George Zimmerman, s/he would have been arrested without delay and charged for murder, and the prosecution would have most probably demanded the maximum penalty.
Some have argued (see opinion piece by Carolyn Edgar, a lawyer and writer in New York City, published on CNN on 19 March 2012) that Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, acted in self-defense. But the Sandford police chief, Bill Lee, reportedly characterized the victim as the aggressor and blamed him for "beating the crap" out of George Zimmerman before being shot in "self-defense". It is unclear whether the police chief would have blamed the victim if he was a white kid - killed by a black volunteer watchman.
In Florida, the use of force in self defense is permissible if the person claiming self-defense uses force as permitted by law.
In my opinion, from the "proportionality" standpoint, the use of lethal force by George Zimmerman is not justifiable, neither is it permitted under s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 of the Florida Statutes governing justifiable use of force. Hence Zimmerman does not have immunity from criminal prosecution or civil action. He should be arrested, charged and prosecuted. Failure to do so will set a dangerous precedent in Florida.
Following the reluctance of Sanford Police Department to bring George Zimmerman to book, the U.S. Justice Department announced on 20 March 2012 that it will investigate the killing. In the interest of justice, the investigation must be impartial and void of any form of racial prejudice, stigma or bias.
It is a shame and a blow to the credibility of the Sanford Police Department - and the U.S justice system in general - that the 2012 International Day for the Elimination of Racism was marked by accusations of racism and double standards in law enforcement.