FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

White Sheets Surrounding Florida Teen’s Slaying

by LINN WASHINGTON, JR.

In March 1799 authorities in North Carolina found no fault in a teen fatally shooting a black man after confronting that man about his being on a public road.

In February 2012 authorities in Florida found no fault in a man fatally shooting a black teen after confronting that teen about his being on a public road.

How authorities in Sanford, Florida have handled the fatal February 26th shooting of 17-year-old black teen Trayvon Martin by a town watch operative in Sanford, Florida is sparking outrage nationwide.

That slaying does raise the specter of race-tainted inequities that have roiled through American society since before the formal inception of the United States.

Police in Sanford, outside Orlando, quickly accepted the claim of George Zimmerman, 28, that he shot Martin in self-defense while he was allegedly
losing a fight with the younger, physically smaller teen. Zimmerman is a three inches taller and is nearly 100-pounds heavier than Martin.

Zimmerman called 911 telling police he saw Martin acting suspiciously. Police told Zimmerman not to confront Martin but he rejected the police orders. A scuffle ensued where Zimmerman shot Martin with a 9mm pistol.

Zimmerman is a self-appointed town watch captain and wannabe policeman with a checkered past. Neighbors have reportedly complained about Zimmerman’s aggressive behaviors. He’s called police 46-times in the past year in his town watch capacity. In 2005 police charged Zimmerman with assaulting an officer but dropped charges.

Federal authorities are now investigating the fatal shooting of Martin by Zimmerman who Sanford police cleared without doing any background check on Zimmerman who was once arrested for assault on a policeman or conducting tests to see if Zimmerman was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the shooting as some contend citing the sound of Zimmerman’s voice on 911 tapes.

Martin, when killed by Zimmerman, was walking back to a relative’s home after buying a bag of candy and a can of ice tea from a convenience store. Martin, a well-respected high school student, had no criminal record.

The shooting of Martin, however, raises an issue as equally contentious as racism – the propriety of Florida’s controversial 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law which turned self-defense law on its head by removing the duty to retreat before using deadly force against an alleged attacker.

That law additionally allows the use of deadly force against unarmed persons.

In May 2010 a Florida man successfully cited the “Stand Your Ground” law following his shooting of another man during a fight at a beach where he shot that man in the back of the head as that man was getting out of the water.

Since this law’s approval Florida authorities have cited it in finding legal justification in nearly 400 homicides according to media accounts. Almost two dozen other states have adopted similar laws.

This law, backed by the National Rifle Association, allows the use of deadly force under the loose standard of if a person “reasonably” believes their life is in danger.

Police and prosecutors in Florida opposed changing traditional self-defense standards warning the looser “Stand Your Ground” standards were ripe for abuse creating what critics termed a shoot-first/ask-questions-later environment.

In the Trayvon Martin incident legal experts are wrangling over whether Zimmerman surrendered immunity protections in the “Stand Your Ground” law because he was the aggressor refusing to follow police orders to not confront Martin.

What riles many is the Sanford police refusing to arrest Zimmerman and letting courts sort out his self-defense claim during a trial. Some raising self-defense claims under “Stand Your Ground” faced trials while police and prosecutors accepted some claims eliminating a trial.

The Sanford police quickly accepting Zimmerman’s self-defense claim does raise the race-tainted stereotype of the dangerous black brute that reflexively causes whites to fear for their lives.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee embraced Zimmerman’s claim that he was forced to fire on Martin because Martin was beating him badly and no one was responding to his cries for help.

Lee contends Zimmerman’s injuries are “consistent with” his story apparently finding no fault in Zimmerman disregarding police orders and confronting the smaller Martin who was doing nothing wrong.

Lee’s police are drawing verbal fire for reportedly badgering witnesses to alter their accounts in favor of Zimmerman’s version.

Martin’s father and the local NAACP head are among many voicing the sentiment that Sanford police would have reacted differently if Martin had shot Zimmerman under the same circumstances.

Florida, like many places in America particularly the South, has a sordid history of race-based inequities.

Incidents in Florida are mentioned frequently in the 1951 petition an interracial group of Americans sent to the United Nations charges the federal government with committing “Genocide” on African-Americans.

The “New Acts of Genocide” addendum to that 1951 petitions lists racist incidents from Florida more than any other single state.

Those incidents include a Florida sheriff fatally shooting one black prisoner and wounding another and “racist terrorists” killing a NAACP leader and his wife by bombing their house. That petition decried federal and Florida state officials for failing to act in those murders.

That “New Acts” section also cited whites legally excluding blacks from one Seminole County, Fl town, about 15-miles from Sanford, “to prevent Negroes there from voting and from receiving fire, sanitary and public health services.”

Sanford absorbed the all black town of Goldsboro in 1911, quickly renaming streets bearing the names of black pioneers according to historic accounts.

The mass disenfranchisement of thousands of blacks by Florida election officials during the 2000 presidential election won barely by George W. Bush remains a stinging point among blacks.

Florida’s then Governor Jeb Bush, George’s brother, later acknowledged his roles in that voter suppression. Jeb Bush backed passage of the “Stand Your Ground” law calling it a “good, common sense anti-crime” measure.

The murder of Trayvon Martin shares similarities with the 1799 North Carolina shooting. Both incidents involved the killing of blacks on questionable provocation and white authorities loosely applying laws to clear the murderers.

In that 1799 incident the Supreme Court of North Carolina acquitted the teen who had confronted a black man on a public road. The teen told that man to get off the road or he would shoot him with a shotgun.

That man walked to the other side of the road where the teen blocked him again. The teen shot the man after “the negro shoved him with some violence to the other side of the road” according to the court record…that exhibited shades of the black brute stereotype.

NC’s Supreme Court ruled the shooting manslaughter not murder – a crucial ruling for the teen because NC law barred punishment for manslaughter in the “malicious killing of a slave.” Incidentally, NC law at that time deprived free blacks of rights just like slaves.

“There is enough evidence of probable cause here to arrest Zimmerman,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family. “Race is the elephant in this room.”

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He lives in Philadelphia. 

More articles by:

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

February 21, 2018
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein’s on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail