Juvenile Justice

Published — March 20, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Racial profiling blamed for black teen’s shooting in Florida

Martin Family Photo/AP

Shooter ignored police request, went in pursuit of boy


It’s any parent’s nightmare: Getting a call with the news that your child has been killed. So it’s not hard to imagine the anguish being experienced by the parents of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Deeply disturbing information is emerging about the course of events leading up to a man’s Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon, a Florida high school student, after the man called police and then failed to heed a dispatcher’s request for him not to follow a “suspicious” person.

“We don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher in Sanford, north of Orlando, replied when George Zimmerman, an aggressive neighborhood-watch volunteer, told the dispatcher he was following a “black male” who looked like “there was something wrong with him.”

Trayvon was black, unarmed, wearing a “hoodie.” His shooting and the aftermath — no arrest of 28-year-old Zimmerman — has triggered outrage nationwide. Late Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation into this case, which has exposed a current of distrust and fury at police in Sanford.

There’s also talk about the risks black youths, especially, face because of racial profiling, whether it’s by authority figures or ordinary citizens. Trayvon was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s home in the same complex where Zimmerman lives, and was walking back from buying some snacks.

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken on cases regarding allegations of racial profiling, and under the previous administration of President George W. Bush, the Department of Justice issued guidelines warning against “racial stereotypes” by law enforcement.

We don’t know the whole story, but we know enough about Trayvon’s death to know it’s tragic — and that some feel racial profiling resulted in murder.

Trayvon had a bottle of ice tea and a bag of Skittles when he was shot; Zimmerman’s breathless call to police described him as a guy “up to no good” who appeared to be looking through windows.

The Miami Herald has a series of richly detailed stories about how frequently Zimmerman called police in the area, whose residents say they have been concerned about thefts.

The stories delve into Zimmerman’s eager role as watchdog, which, it now appears, led to him carrying a gun and following a young man, confronting him and ultimately using his weapon to shoot the boy dead.

Just moments before, while on the phone with police, Zimmerman had told the dispatcher, in a tight voice: “These a**holes always get away.”

There seems to be no dispute that Zimmerman followed Trayvon, in his car and on foot.

Police say Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and that Trayvon had attacked him from behind. So far, to the outrage of many, the Sanford police seem to have given Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt.

Witnesses who called in to police when they heard someone crying for help, however, believe it was the boy who cried out — and that his pleas abruptly stopped when a shot was fired.

This week more stories broke that Trayvon was talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone just moments before he was shot, a claim that phone records support.

The girlfriend said Trayvon told her someone was following him, and that she told him to run. The boy said he thought he had lost the man. Trayvon’s last words, according to her account, were, “Why are you following me?”

Then she said she heard a voice say, “What are you doing here?” A pushing sound followed, the girl said, and she lost her connection.

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