Trayvon Martin and the Doom of the Republican Party
Like most things that happen in America these days, the Trayvon Martin case is turning into yet another hearse trundling the Republican Party to its doom in November.
Here's a brief outline of the facts. It's Feb. 26. Trayvon Martin is a 17-year-old black kid watching a big basketball game in the home of his father's fiancée in Sanford, a small-town outlier of Orlando, Fla. Sanford has a population of 55,000, about a third black. The fiancée lives in a mixed-race, gated community. At halftime Martin goes to the corner store and buys an iced tea and a bag of Skittles.
It's raining, and Martin has his hood up over his head and is talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone. On his way back, he is spotted by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a cop wannabe, self-appointed neighborhood crime watcher. Apparently, he has pestered the police station for months with reports of "suspicious 12-year-olds" walking through the neighborhood. Zimmerman — white dad, Latina mother — is wearing a red jacket and blue jeans. In his pocket is a Kel-Tec 9 mm automatic pistol.
Zimmerman calls the local station and says he's following a suspicious character. He describes Martin as black and says he's acting strangely and could be on drugs. The teenager starts to run, Zimmerman says. A 911 dispatcher asks Zimmerman whether he's following Martin, and Zimmerman says he is. The dispatcher says clearly that Zimmerman doesn't need to do that.
There's a lull in the transmission, and you can hear Zimmerman mutter clearly to himself, "These assholes, they always get away." On the call between Zimmerman and the 911 dispatcher, he also says "fucking coons." CNN says the words are indistinct, which they aren't. CNN also says the case is "complicated," which it isn't.
Later, the Martin family lawyer relays Trayvon's girlfriend's account of her last call with him. She says he told her that he was being followed. She says: 'Run.' He says, 'I'm not going to run; I'm just going to walk fast,'" The girl later heard Martin say, "Why are you following me?" and then another man — Zimmerman — saying, "What are you doing around here?" The girl thinks she heard a scuffle because his voice changes as if something interrupted his speech.
Mary Cutcher was in her kitchen making coffee that night with her roommate, Selma Mora Lamilla. The window was open, she said. "We heard a whining. Not like a crying, boohoo, but like a whining, someone in distress, and then the gunshot," she tells Anderson Cooper on CNN's 360.
They looked out the window but saw nothing. It was dark. They ran out the sliding glass door, and within seconds, they saw Zimmerman.
"Zimmerman was standing over the body with — basically straddling the body with his hands on Trayvon's back," Cutcher said. "And it didn't seem to me that he was trying to help him in any way. I didn't hear any struggle prior to the gunshot.
"And I feel like it was Trayvon Martin that was crying out, because the minute that the gunshot went off, the whining stopped."
The two women said they could not see whether Zimmerman was bruised or hurt. It was too dark.
"Selma asked him three times, 'What's going on over there?'" Cutcher said. "He looks back and doesn't say anything. She asks him again, 'Everything OK? What's going on?' Same thing: looked at us, looked back. Finally, the third time, he said, 'Just call the police.'"
The women, one white and one Latina, say flatly they don't believe Zimmerman's story of how Martin had suddenly attacked him, punched him in the face, broke his nose — and that when Zimmerman — larger than Martin — feels he's being overpowered, he pulls out the gun and shoots Martin through the chest.
(Later Zimmerman declined medical attention.)
Zimmerman takes his defense on Chapter 776.013 of the Florida criminal statute on home protection and the use of deadline force. Paragraph 3 states, "A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
This is what's colloquially known as the Stand-Your-Ground law. Thirty states, including my own state of California, have versions of this old-English legal concept of "my home is my castle." Since I live in a remote, rural area inhabited by well-armed people, not all of them on the side of the angels, I've read our statute from time to time trying to determine what exactly would be the circumstances under which — if an armed individual was heading for my house, 10 yards from the deck and showing no signs of slowing after my challenges — I could justifiably shoot him with my 12-gauge shotgun. It's always struck me as a really hard call. The state may have a Stand-Your-Ground law, but it really doesn't want people using it.
Not so in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, the son of a local judge, is not charged and walks away free. Outrage about the case builds across the first two weeks of March. By the third week, it's a national scandal. Political pressure forces the appointment of Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, to determine whether to charge Zimmerman. If she does so, it will probably be for second-degree manslaughter.
President Obama speaks on March 23 about the killing of Trayvon, saying, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon ... I think (Trayvon's parents) are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."
Two Republican candidates for their party's nomination to the presidency promptly bring out the hearse. Newt Gingrich states that Obama's comments are "disgraceful" and that "Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who'd been shot, that would be OK because it wouldn't look like him? That's just nonsense..."
Then Rick Santorum chimes in, stating that Obama should "not use these types of horrible and tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America." This unleashes Rush Limbaugh who says that Obama is using the case as a "political opportunity." Geraldo Rivera suggests Martin brought it on himself by wearing a hood.
At which point, the conservative columnist William Tucker has had enough. In the hard-right American Spectator he writes, "Republicans have no reason to intervene in this fight. Seventy-five percent of the public thinks Zimmerman should be charged with something. ... Personally, I can't wait until Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum get offstage so we can start running a presidential campaign that isn't based on trying to alienate the vast majority of Americans over irrelevant issues."
What is it that prompts Republicans to try so hard to alienate women, blacks, Hispanics, independents, and all those millions and millions to the left of the Tea Party that they'll need to beat Obama. Maybe they feel it's their last throw. All the demographics look unfavorable for any future Republican majority. So there is a desperate effort to get everything they can right now. Conning working-class whites with racism, sexism, anti-gay/anti-immigrant rhetoric, etc., has worked so well since Nixon that it's become an addiction.
I'd say the chances of George Zimmerman spending a day behind bars for killing Trayvon Martin are about the same as Sergeant Robert Bales doing time for killing those 16 Afghan villagers the night of March 11.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter Counterpunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.