The Sanford incident


The embattled police chief of Sanford, Florida, Bill Lee Jr., stepped down on Thursday afternoon.  The previous night, he suffered a 3-2 vote of “no confidence” from the city commission, which called upon the city manager to fire him.  The call was echoed by Rev. Al Sharpton, recently arrived in Sanford to join local demonstrations.

The city manager, Norton Bonaparte Jr., said he’s waiting for a final report from an independent law enforcement review.  Meanwhile, protesters marched in both Sanford and New York City.  A protest was also held at the office of Florida Governor Rick Scott.  The New York march was dubbed “The Million Hoodie March,” and featured chants of “we want arrests.”

The reason for the unusual name of the march was that Trayvon Martin was wearing such a garment when he died.  On February 26, the 17-year-old Martin, a visitor from Miami, was returning to his father’s house in a gated community, after buying a bag of Skittles and iced tea at a nearby convenience store.  He encountered neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, 28, who used a cell phone to report Martin as a possible intruder to the police… and subsequently shot him dead with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, which he is duly licensed to carry.

Virtually every other fact in the case is a matter of heated dispute.  Zimmerman claims Martin attacked him, and he fired in self-defense.  Martin’s parents insist he would never have done such a thing, although witnesses report some kind of altercation occurred.  Martin’s father reviewed phone records to determine that Trayvon was talking to his girlfriend moments before his death – a detail the police did not discover, even though they had Trayvon’s cell phone in evidence.  The police say that Martin’s phone was locked, and they were waiting for a subpoena to access it.

Zimmerman had “blood on his face and the back of his head, as well as grass on the back of his shirt” according to the police report – but there are allegations that these details were added to the report after the fact, and some witnesses claim the initial police report did not accurately record their testimony. 

Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, has been accused of racism, a charge his father vigorously disputed in a letter to the Orlando Sentinel.  However, some of those who have reviewed the 911 tapes think they heard Zimmerman mumble a racial slur under his breath.  His father also denied that that Zimmerman shadowed Martin in his vehicle before deliberately provoking a confrontation, although in his 911 call, Zimmerman told the dispatcher he planned to follow Martin.  The dispatcher replied, “you don’t need to do that,” which the police say cannot be interpreted as “a lawful order that Mr. Zimmerman would be required to follow.”

There is even some question over whether Zimmerman is formally a member of the neighborhood watch, but his enthusiasm for the task is not in question, since the Miami Herald reports he has placed 46 calls to the police since January 2011.  The Washington Post quotes someone from the local homeowner’s association saying Zimmerman “helped solve a lot of crimes,” and caught at least one thief who was later arrested.  The Miami Herald counted 402 total calls to police from the gated community in the same time period, and tallied up “eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one other shooting in the year prior to Trayvon’s death.”

Much of the outrage stems from the failure of the Sanford police to arrest Zimmerman after the shooting.  Chief Lee described him as “squeaky clean,” but it turns out he had a felony arrest in 2005 for suspicion of assaulting a police officer.  According to the Washington Post, Zimmerman “avoided conviction by entering a pretrial-diversion program.”  Also, “a woman accused Zimmerman of domestic violence, but Zimmerman filed a petition of his own the following day.”  Further details are evidently unavailable at the moment, due to court injunctions.

On Monday, City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. released a letter explaining why Zimmerman was not arrested, citing the relevant Florida statutes:

When the Sanford Police Department arrived at the scene of the incident, Mr. Zimmerman provided a statement claiming he acted in self defense which at the time was supported by physical evidence and testimony.  By Florida Statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time.  Additionally, when any police officer makes an arrest for any reason, the officer MUST swear and affirm that he/she is making the arrest in good faith and with probable cause.  If the arrest is done maliciously and in bad faith, the officer and the City may be held liable.

Naturally, since Zimmerman had a concealed-carry permit, the case has been seized by gun-control advocates, with their typical hysteria and dishonesty.  Here’s Daniel Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, writing in the Huffington Post:

The gun lobby has made it clear that they consider Florida one of their great success stories since the introduction of that campaign — the realization of their vision of just about anyone being able to get a gun and carry it just about anywhere, emboldened by a “shoot first, ask questions later mentality.”

The shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is a heartbreaking tragedy. But make no mistake, it is not a surprise that it happened in Florida, the NRA’s closest thing to an armed utopia. In fact, much more so than any of the shills they had promoting their agenda in their big budget propaganda campaign, George Zimmerman is the embodiment of the gun lobby and its vision for America.

George Zimmerman is the NRA.

And now the NRA has made it abundantly clear that their vision is of an America that looks just like Florida, a nation where it’s easy for criminals and dangerous people to get, carry and use guns — a nation without any gun laws, where just about anybody can get a gun and use it anywhere. Their spokespeople use fear, bordering on paranoia to justify flooding our streets with armed and violent people, and the result is more tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s.

(Emphasis mine.)  Meanwhile, in the liberal disarmed utopias like Chicago and Washington, D.C., nobody ever gets shot.  Especially not black people.  And law-abiding licensed gun owners never, ever prevent violent crimes.

The White House has expressed condolences to the Martin family, but has thus far refrained from intervening in the case.  The Justice Department and FBI have both gotten involved, but a report in the Washington Post on Tuesday speculated that “it would be difficult to prosecute the case under federal law,” as the elements necessary for triggering hate-crimes laws may not be present:

Stephen A. Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University Law School, called the case “a difficult one for the Justice Department.”

“This may be somebody who is racially biased, but from the 911 calls, it looks as though, however misguided this guy was, he thought that Trayvon was involved in some kind of suspicious activity,” Saltzburg said. “Race may play a role, but I just think it will be hard to bring this as a federal hate crime, given the limited reach of federal hate-crimes law.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa issued a statement late Monday saying that in civil rights crimes, the government “must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which law forbids — the highest level of intent in criminal law.”

The Sanford pot is being stirred by an awful lot of people, and few of them have agendas that would be furthered by a restful, contemplative civic environment.  It’s a bloody mess.  There are serious questions to be asked, but not many people are asking them in a sober fashion.  No situation is so tragic that a platoon of opportunists can’t swing in and make it worse.

Update: Rep. Allen West (R-FL) issued a statement on the case, calling it an “outrage.”  He does want to ask those serious questions in a sober fashion:

I have sat back and allowed myself time to assess the current episode revealing itself in Sanford, Florida involving the shooting of 17-year-old Treyvon Martin. First of all, if all that has been reported is accurate, the Sanford Police Chief should be relieved of his duties due to what appears to be a mishandling of this shooting in its early stages. The US Navy SEALS identified Osama Bin Laden within hours, while this young man laid on a morgue slab for three days.

The shooter, Mr Zimmerman, should have been held in custody and certainly should not be walking free, still having a concealed weapons carry permit. From my reading, it seems this young man was pursued and there was no probable cause to engage him, certainly not pursue and shoot him….against the direction of the 911 responder.

Let’s all be appalled at this instance not because of race, but because a young American man has lost his life, seemingly, for no reason.  I have signed a letter supporting a DOJ investigation. I am not heading to Sanford to shout and scream, because we need the responsible entities and agencies to handle this situation from this point without media bias or undue political influences. This is an outrage.