Don Roach: Trying To Make Sense Of The Zimmerman Verdict

Monday, July 15, 2013


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I’m struggling to make sense of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case as I’m sure many people are. I have a number of gut reactions at war with my respect of the justice system. And it’s a battle. So, what I decided to do Sunday was investigate as much of the public facts as possible in order to piece together why in the world a 17-year-old boy is dead.

Zimmerman should have stopped following Martin

Here is the text of a portion of Zimmerman’s 911 call (cursing edited out):

Zimmerman: [In reference to where he is] No you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left...uh you go straight in, don't turn, and make a left. [bleep] he's running.

Dispatcher: He's running? Which way is he running?

Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood.

Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he's heading towards?

Zimmerman: The back entrance...[bleep] [unintelligible]

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah

Dispatcher: Ok, we don't need you to do that.

Zimmerman: Ok

The key part of this is the exchange with the dispatcher where she tells him that there’s no need for Zimmerman to continue to follow Martin. He says ok and if it was just that then we wouldn’t be talking about this today. Instead, Zimmerman would be muttering under his breath what he said on the 911 call “These [bleep] they always get away”. And Martin would be talking with his dad about that night some creep kept following him. I mean Martin ran away from Zimmerman, apparently, threatened by some guy scoping him out.

Zeal, not racism, leads to Martin’s death

If that’s where this story ended it would be a funny little story to tell. Zimmerman continued talking with the dispatcher and gave him his location. At some point during this part of the conversation, he loses track of Martin.

Dispatcher: What's your apartment number?

Zimmerman: It's a home it's [redacted], oh crap I don't want to give it all out, I don't know where this kid is.

Dispatcher: Okay do you want to just meet with them right near the mailboxes then?

Zimmerman: Yeah that's fine.

Dispatcher: Alright George, I'll let them know to meet you around there okay?

Zimmerman: Actually could you have them call me and I'll tell them where I'm at?

So, the police are to call Zimmerman and he will tell them where he’s at. Why’s that if he’s supposed just stay in his truck and wait for them? In his zeal, Zimmerman got out of his truck and…well you can watch Zimmerman’s version of the events here. He talks about walking in a cut through and then doubling back because his phone was in his truck. He says at that point he was confronted by Martin who says to him, “You gotta problem with me?!” A scuffle ensued and he ended up killing Martin because he couldn’t just wait in his truck.

What would you do if you were Trayvon Martin?

Imagine you being in Martin’s shoes. You’re walking in a neighborhood you don’t know all that well, you just picked up some Skittles and a Mountain Dew, and some guy keeps following  you around. From Zimmerman’s 911 call it appears Martin walked up to Zimmerman. That makes sense, Zimmerman could have been someone he knew who was trying to get his attention. Martin then ran away. He ran away. Ran away.

Insert primal scream.

I just can’t believe we go from a kid running away from danger to him dead a few minutes later. But we did, and a jury just acquitted Zimmerman.

What’s interesting is the eye witness who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman and then a few minutes later saw him dead on the ground. He saw Martin with the upperhand and this aligns with Zimmerman’s version that he was on the ground at one point in the altercation.

So from Martin’s “You gotta problem with me!?” to Martin dead on the ground, Zimmerman claims to be the victim of an unprovoked attack by Martin.

Gimme a break.

Zimmerman stalked this guy for a few minutes. Martin ran away and then later sees him “seemingly” following him again. And so he tries to figure out what the problem is, gets into an altercation and is shot dead.

Shot dead.

He walked in the wrong neighborhood

Was it about race? I think Zimmerman’s profiling had a lot to do with race, but I don’t think the actual shooting did. Was this a hate crime? No, it was just one guy who thought he knew too much and ended up killing a kid. I don’t think Zimmerman hates black people. He just viewed Martin, judged him, and acted. It all led to Martin’s death, but it wasn’t hate.

Fear would be a more appropriate term. And that’s one thing we’re not talking enough about in this situation. Fear. Those that are afraid of black men in hoodies at night. Black people fearing that they’ll be profiled and in some situations the profilers win (as in this case).

And when we’re afraid we usually make bad decisions.

“He walked in the wrong neighborhood”. I heard some of my friends say this when Martin was shot. Most of them were saying it because if you’re black and walking in a neighborhood where you are known is the wrong neighborhood.

While it’s true from Zimmerman’s own words he profiled and judged this kid just by looking at him, it is also true that there were a string of robberies in the area prior to the incident. To me, Zimmerman wasn’t exhibiting racism when he shot Martin but he wrong judgments based on Martin’s appearance directly led to Martin’s death. Directly.

Does this happen if Martin was a white kid? A woman? I don’t think it does, but if you want to argue otherwise feel free. What I think we, as a country, need to own is our own bias when things like this occur.

And what we shouldn’t do is fall into the trap of ignoring race or saying that the only factor in this case is race. Two extremes that make it easy for us to miss some of the relevant issues. One relevant issue is this – why are young black men seen as perpetrators of crime if they are walking alone from a convenience store in a neighborhood that’s 20 percent black? Another relevant issue is what should you do when you see a “threat” in your neighborhood? And finally, if someone is following you and you’re alone, what should you do?

All good questions, but one thing we can’t do is allow our emotions to rule us. We can’t allow us to succumb to thoughts of “he walked in the wrong neighborhood”. If we do, we won’t learn anything from this. I’ve got 3 little black boys in my house who I hope don’t have to go through what Martin went through that night. Anger, vengeance, and retribution won’t bring Martin back or solve the issues we still face today.

So I choose a different route. My name is Don and I’m angry about Zimmerman being acquitted. I’m not going to be consumed by my fear. But we can’t sweep these issues under the rug any longer. Who else wants to join the conversation?


Don can be reached at [email protected].


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