Trayvon Martin: beyond the speculation & towards the truth

Tom Clement

Senators and Representatives donning hooded sweatshirts. Student protestors rattling bags of Skittles in unison. Social networks and blogospheres erupting with demands for action.

“We want arrests … shot in the chest,” chanted thousands of protestors on March 31 in Sanford, Fla., reported Reuters.

This group, along with countless others across the nation, cried out for justice in the name of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy who was shot in the chest and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, on Feb. 26 in Sanford.

The facts may easily lead to sensationalism — Martin was unarmed and black; Zimmerman is Hispanic and had previously faced assault and domestic abuse charges. In addition, the killing took place in Sanford, which has had a history of racial animosity. However, the criminal justice system does not allow room for speculation.

“The public will react first and then think when it comes to this case,” said senior Casey Mann, a criminal studies and psychology double major. “The public wants to think what they want and ignore how the justice system works. You have to account for all of the facts of this case.”

We may never know what happened on Feb. 26, but we can reveal the way that the law should have worked given the situation.

“It concerns me that the people of the public are hollering for (Zimmerman’s) arrest,” said Jerry Joplin, professor of justice and policy studies. “That’s just nonsense. Let’s holler for an investigation.”

The integrity of the initial investigation has come under fire. ABC News reported that an officer at the scene “corrected” an eye witness and that a narcotics detective, not a homicide detective, first interviewed Zimmerman.

ABC News also released surveillance footage of Zimmerman exiting a squad car and entering the police station. Police reports and Zimmerman’s testimony state that Zimmerman sustained a bloody or broken nose in addition to scrapes on the back of his head. On the footage, there is no evidence of blood on Zimmerman’s face or shirt.

Additionally, recordings of a neighbor’s 911 call captured cries for help moments before the gunshot that took Martin’s life. Zimmerman asserted that he was the one screaming; however, two independent forensic experts determined with “reasonable scientific certainty” that the voice on the tapes is not Zimmerman’s, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“The problem is that the police and the prosecutor have not been forthcoming,” said Joplin. “They could solve this thing in a heartbeat — they could step in there and say, ‘We have investigated this and this is our finding’ … but the police messed around so long that the FBI is moving in now.”

Another problem made evident by this incident is the role of the Neighborhood Watch and similar types of “privatized police.”

“A neighborhood watch program should be vetted by the police department, and then the police department should make it very clear: you do not carry weapons,” said Joplin. He added that currently, “we don’t know how to regulate those private organizations to make sure they would maintain standards of law enforcement that we would like to see in the public sector.”

Even though the Neighborhood Watch does tell its members not to carry firearms, Zimmerman has a concealed carry permit and had his firearm when he spotted Martin.

“And the big thing that private police can do is that they can profile,” added Sanjay Marwah, assistant professor of justice and policy studies. “And they assume that profiling is acceptable and legitimate, and that’s the problem.”

The federal government now leads the investigation, and a grand jury will convene on April 10 to determine if there is enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman. But, the outcome may not be the swift justice that the public demands.

“(With) the nature of the publicity that’s being given to this case, it’s going to be very difficult to see any outcome as being satisfactory,” said Marwah. “It’s going to be incomplete justice for most parties, if not all.”

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