By now you’ve probably heard the gut-wrenching story of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who was gunned down while returning from a walk to pick up snacks at a gas station by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchmen. Martin’s death was originally determined by authorities to be an act of self-defense, but outrage by the victim’s family and the general public have attracted enough attention for the FBI to open a formal investigation.
Details continue to emerge, including the account of a friend who says she was on the phone with Martin minutes before police arrived on the scene. The friend told the Martin family attorney, Ben Crump, that Martin told her he was being followed by someone and that he attempted to run before his assailant caught up with him, followed by sounds of a scuffle.
Several people in the Sanford, Fla. neighborhood heard the events unfolding and called 911. These tapes have been released along with tape of the 911 call Zimmerman himself made which has sparked further controversy. Some believe that Zimmerman can be heard on the tape calling Martin a racial slur under his breath. WFTV had an audio expert listen to the tape who believes that Zimmerman was actually saying “punks.”
While the content of the tape is up for debate, whether race played a role in this teen’s tragic death is a question that can’t be easily dismissed. A lot has been said about Zimmerman’s own ethnicity (hispanic) and whether this exempts him from the propensity to target another person based on the color of their skin.
Everything I have read about Zimmerman — the willingness to spend his weekends being a gun-toting neigborhood watchmen, the dozens of phone calls made to police in the last few months, the fact that he pursued Martin even after being explicitly asked not to by a 911 operator — has led me to believe that he is a deeply disturbed individual with a longing to play cops and robbers.
Was this crime motivated by the color of Martin’s skin? Would Zimmerman have been less suspicious of a white teen walking through a neighborhood at night carrying an iced tea and a bag of skittles? Only Zimmerman can ever truly know the answer to that question, but the fact that we as a nation still have to ask it saddens me deeply, but not quite as deeply as the senseless loss of another youth to gun violence.