Trayvon Martin Revisited

When the verdict for the George Zimmerman trial came out several weeks ago on the killing of Trayvon Martin, I passionately hopped onto the bandwagon of anger and frustration. Previously, I had signed the petitions calling for federal investigation into the case, I was shocked at the backwardness of the Stand Your Ground law, and I was flabbergasted at how long it took for Zimmerman to be arrested in the first place.

At some point, I realized I knew very little about Zimmerman himself and about the trial other than the media’s short media segments. I did a little research and that research has led me to change my mind on the case and question the media’s biased handling of it. This is extremely controversial and puts me at odds with many progressives (a label I’m usually happy to associate with), but I feel it’s important to lay out some of the facts and context.

The picture of Zimmerman often used on TV is several years old, and he looks more thuggish and overweight than his current picture (seen further below when I discuss the actual confrontation of George and Trayvon). Trayvon is shown a few years younger as a super innocent looking kid.

First off, what do we know about Zimmerman before the shooting? Was he a racist bigot? I was at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and there were many signs about Zimmerman saying he was.

We know that he was a leader/captain of the Neighborhood Watch for his neighborhood. What I didn’t see in TV media coverage was that there had been a string of thefts in his neighborhood, and that residents were concerned. As a leader of the Neighborhood Watch, it would make sense for him to keep an eye on things. And, a couple of years back, there was an incident where the son of a white policeman had beaten up a black homeless man and went largely unpunished because of his ties to the police establishment. There was a public meeting about the incident, which Zimmerman apparently put major effort into organizing and informing the black community about, and Zimmerman spoke boldly at it, criticizing the police and their actions in covering it up (accusing them of trying to be above the law). This leads me to think, no, he probably wasn’t a racist bigot.

In general, Zimmerman seemed to have a positive relationship with the police because he worked with them in conjunction with the Neighborhood Watch, sent them positive emails, and even received advice from them to “report suspicious persons”. I also don’t think he was so angry at the police that he felt he had to completely take matters into his own hands. He showed he could cooperate with them.

Zimmerman’s call to the police also provides insights. (This call and all of the 911 calls reporting the actual fight and gunshot are on the Wikipedia page. The page in general is excellent). In his call, Zimmerman is calm and collected. He expresses some frustration that the robbers in his neighborhood always get away (“these assholes always get away”) and didn’t say anything bad about black people. He only mentioned Trayvon’s skin color when asked, and responded very simply with “black” and had no malice or other intonations (that I heard…you can listen yourself). He also said that Trayvon was watching him and approaching him. Then Zimmerman says that Trayvon starts running, and you can hear Zimmerman get out of his car, and Zimmerman starts running as well. You hear noise and wind in the recording – which seems to correspond with Zimmerman running – and the dispatcher asks if he’s following the person. Zimmerman says yes, and the dispatcher says “Ok, we don’t need you to do that”. Zimmerman says “ok”. The noise/wind stops and Zimmerman catches his breath, with the dispatcher asking him more questions for another 90 seconds. It’s clear that Zimmerman isn’t pursuing Trayvon (there is no wind sound and his voice is just like at the beginning). The dispatcher says police are on the way, and Zimmerman asked that he be called directly by the arriving cop and the dispatcher said he had Zimmerman’s phone number and would make sure that happened. It is not proveable, but it seemed like Zimmerman was dutifully following the advice of the dispatcher and was waiting for the police officer to arrive.

As for what happened next, Zimmerman’s testimony was that he was returning to his vehicle when Trayvon approached him from the left rear (unseen), punched him in the face (knocking him down), then Trayvon got on top and began hitting him. But in media coverage of the case, it seemed like it was unclear who was on top. The evidence – no injuries on Trayvon other than the shot and a small slash on his knuckle consistent with hitting someone – and Zimmerman’s broken nose and gashes on the back of his head – to me shows that clearly Trayvon was on top.

George Zimmerman immediately after being taken in for questioning on the night of Trayvon Martin’s shooting. Notice also that he looks significantly older and slimmer than the previous picture which was mostly used on TV.

If Zimmerman instigated the confrontation, how would they even end up in a close-range fight on the ground with Trayvon on top, especially if Zimmerman could have drawn his gun before this happened?  Zimmerman was bigger than Trayvon and had practiced mixed martial arts fighting (although he wasn’t very good at it: he started in 2010 mainly for weight loss and was successful in that regard) so overall I think it seems unlikely that Trayvon would end up on top with no injuries at all if Zimmerman was the person who started the fight. These to me show that he was taken by surprise by a punch to the face, which is consistent with the medical record and his story. Zimmerman also testified that he only went for his gun when Trayvon saw it and started to reach for it. Then all of a sudden the confrontation was of lethal proportions for Zimmerman and he grabbed his gun first and shot Trayvon.  The sad thing is that without the gun present, the confrontation might have ended only with injuries (even if very serious ones) as opposed to death. (Also, the Stand Your Ground law wasn’t actually used in Zimmerman’s defense or by the police in their decision not to arrest him initially. It’s clear, of course, he was taken in for questioning. It’s not like they just let him walk away from the scene after killing someone.)

So to me, the evidence gives Zimmerman a lot of credibility. I have a hard time piecing together the story portrayed on TV of Zimmerman pursuing and confronting Trayvon as a vigilante and/or racist but ending up on the bottom with injuries while Trayvon had none other than the bullet wound and the knuckle cut. The police also stated that with the evidence and story they had, they believed Zimmerman and that he also passed a stress or lie-detector test. (I don’t necessarily give lie detector tests any credibility). But what’s clear is that they didn’t arrest him because they believed him, not because it was a huge conspiracy or cover-up.

One lesson from this, as Sam Harris’ post on guns and gun violence also shows, is that the presence of a gun in any confrontation actually increases the overall chances of fatal injuries. Once it’s known that a deadly weapon is present in a confrontation, usually both people instinctively “click” into the psychology of a battle to the death.

The other lesson is that we need to carefully weigh evidence and not jump to conclusions. I certainly jumped to conclusions because the only coverage of this I saw on TV was biased toward Zimmerman as a racist who pursued Trayvon with ill-will and shot him down in cold blood.

Statement on Syria plus extra info


As I mentioned in a previous post, I was at a conference meeting of an interfaith young adult network associated with Religions for Peace (the largest interfaith non-profit).  With the potential for a US strike in Syria coming up just after our meeting, we’ve worked together to put forward a statement.  We’re still rushing to finalize it, but here it is so far, in draft form:


As a network of young adult interfaith leaders in North America associated with Religions for Peace, we call upon the United States not to engage in military operations or strikes in Syria.  We condemn the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and are deeply concerned about the injustices committed, but the addition of a foreign violent actor will not help.  Our deepest traditions and values, as well as our domestic and international histories, suggest that violence will only create further violence, suspicion, and fear.  With numerous polls showing US citizens do not support military intervention and an already troubled reputation in foreign affairs, the United States does not need to join yet another armed conflict.

As our Jewish brothers and sisters embark on their High Holiday season, a season of introspection and awe, we call upon Congress and our President to listen to and reflect on the voices of the present and the past that have called for a just peace without violence.  As we conclude celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we ask our Congress and our President to honor the work of peacemakers like Dr. King and others by considering alternative ways of realizing a just peace through negotiation, reconciliation, and the nonviolent empowerment and aid of Syrian citizens.

As young adults representing diverse religions traditions –  Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism – we recognize that there are narratives in many of our religions that call for conflict resolution through violence.  As young people of a new generation we challenge this approach and its history of failure.  The best of all our traditions calls us to see other human beings as equals, emphasizing universal human dignity and our interconnectedness. This perspective prohibits the betrayal of that human dignity with acts of reactionary violence. We join with other religious leaders calling for peace, including Pope Francis in his interfaith call for a day of fasting on Saturday, September 7 for peace and solidarity with the people of Syria.

We affirm the values of human dignity and shared security based on trust, reconciliation, and justice.  We pray for the leaders of all nations to have wisdom and courage to seek a just peace in Syria and to address the root causes of injustice and conflict there and everywhere.  We also commit ourselves to work toward this end within our religious and political systems and traditions.


Here are some further resources and information about the Syrian conflict that may be helpful.  (I just found these today!)   This talks about the Chemical Weapon Convention and how it has procedures for penalizing and dealing with a state that uses chemical weapons.  Why is the US pursuing its own actions instead of following established international law on the matter?
This points out that there are other accounts and stories of what happened in the Aug 21 chemical attacks in Syria, as reported by freelance journalist(s) who were there and interviewed doctors and rebels who were there.  One of the questions it brings up is why would the Assad regime use chemical weapons in a struggle it’s basically winning, when this would only attract more international pressure and even attacks against them?   This is the article written by a freelance journalist in association with a group called MintPress News started by Mnar Muhawesh, a Palestinian-American shown in the picture below.

Mnar Muhawesh

These articles at least shed some light on the weaknesses of American intelligence, past misuses of intelligence and omission of contradictory evidence, and the existence of alternative evidence not part of the US narrative.

They also bring up the point that Saudi Arabia may be supporting certain parts of the rebels with weapons and potentially the chemical weapons and that these rebels may be associated with Al Qaeda.

An Iranian friend of mine at school was telling me about how Saudi Arabia has wanted to overthrow the Assad regime, and how there’s a theory of the Shi’a Crescent that could explain some conflict in the Middle East.  (I’m not sure if it’s actually true or even provable, but it’s a real theory in Middle East studies and has its own wikipedia page).  The wikipedia page shows that four neighboring countries have Shi’a majorities, whereas overall Sunni Islam has a large majority.  The idea is that Sunni countries want to disrupt this “crescent” of Shi’a dominance, and one way to do that would be to topple Assad at the head of a Shi’a regime.   This paper is long, but the first few paragraphs of the conclusion are straightforward and interesting:

So I’m no expert in foreign policy, but I found these articles to provide some additional information and I think that’s a good thing.