The Two Dominant Narratives, their primary clashes with the evidence, and the big lingering questions.
Discussion of the Trayvon Martin case tends to fall into one of two contrasting narratives. While there are other narratives circulating around the edges, these two utterly dominate the discourse. Each comes in a variety of minor variations and degrees of extremity, and shift slightly over time, adjusting to one another and the appearance of new evidence. But for the sake of clarity, I shall ignore some of the subtleties at the moment and outline them in broad strokes.
1. TEAM T: “Trayvon Martin: profiled—>pursued—>slaughtered!”
Trayvon Martin was an innocent “kid” minding his own business, just walking back home from buying Iced Tea and Skittles for a young friend, when he was racially profiled by bigoted, angry, emotionally volatile, overzealous cop-wanna-be George Zimmerman. Zimmerman pursued Martin without just cause, despite the police ordering him not to do so, tracking him down and initiating a confrontation that ended with Martin shot dead. Proof of Zimmerman’s culpability is present in his own words, as recorded from his call to the police to report a suspicion person in his community. Zimmerman should have been charged with a crime immediately. That he was not is a travesty of justice and a sign of larger political problems.
2. TEAM Z: “George Zimmerman, American Hero”
George Zimmerman is a conscientious citizen, commendably volunteering his time to help reduce crime in his community. He called the police to report Martin acting suspiciously because Martin WAS acting suspiciously. He left his vehicle and pursued Martin in order to maintain visual contact with the youth when he ran between buildings. However, Martin eluded Zimmerman. Moments later Zimmerman began to return to his SUV to await the arrival of the police. Shortly before reaching the truck, Zimmerman was attacked by Trayvon Martin, who had doubled back in order to assault him. Martin was able to pin Zimmerman to the ground, beat him repeatedly in the face with his fists, and cause potentially fatal injury by slamming his head into the concrete of the sidewalk. Zimmerman had no choice but to unholster his 9mm pistol and fire at Martin. Subsequent inquiry into Trayvon Martin’s life has revealed him not to be the “innocent kid” originally presented by the media, but a dangerous “thug” with a history of involvement with drugs and violence. This is an open and shut case of obvious self-defense. The authorities acted properly in initially releasing Zimmerman without charge. His subsequent arrest and indictment are cowardly and unethical responses to political pressure. The current charges are wholly unjustified, a travesty of justice, and should be dropped immediately.
The Team T narrative has been offered explicitly by the Martin family’s attorneys, and implicitly guided most of the initial mainstream media coverage of the case. It has also been presented on left/liberal news and commentary websites. And, of course, it is well represented in the State of Florida’s Affadavit of Probable cause, and what we have been able to learn about how Special Prosecutor Angela Corey is preparing her case against Mr. Zimmerman.
The Team Z narrative, minus the attacks on Martin’s character, has been presented explicitly by a variety of surrogate spokespersons for George Zimmerman. Including the character assassination, and with relish, the explicit version has also dominated discourse in the right-wing blogosphere. A milder version has also served as the implicit guide to coverage by Fox news.
A notable exception is Zimmerman’s defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, who is keeping his powder dry, and hasn’t come anywhere near going all in on the Team Z narrative (in marked contrast to his predecessors Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig). O’Mara’s first statement as Zimmerman’s attorney was to extend sympathy to the Martin family for their loss, and to announce that he would not be trying the case in the press by trashing Trayvon Martin’s character. Very smart guy, that Mark O’Mara.
The problem is that NEITHER narrative is well-supported by the available evidence.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE TEAM-T NARRATIVE
The Team T is contradicted by the time and space evidence inherent in Zimmerman’s police call and the geography of the gated community where the incident occurred. The call makes it clear that Zimmerman did lose track of Martin. Combined with the facts established by the 911 call that recorded the fatal gunshot, minutes passed between the time Martin eluded Zimmerman and the time Martin was shot. It also makes clear that Zimmerman pursued Martin long enough to take him significantly farther from his truck than the site of the deadly encounter. So, whether or not Martin “doubled-back” for the purpose of assaulting Zimmerman, somehow both men wound up at a pot much closer to where the pursuit began, and farther away from Trayvon Martin’s destination, than they would have been at the point where GZ lost track of TM.
While the police call provides hard evidence that GZ did pursue TM, it does not provide any hard evidence about how the two men resumed contact minutes after Martin eluded Zimmerman. It also shows that the police operator did not give Zimmerman any kind of firm imperative command to “stand down” or cease his pusuit.
Operator: (hearing that Zimmerman is running) Are you following him?
Operator: We don’t need you to do that.
Zimmerman: OK (continues running for over 10 seconds anyway)
Most early ‘mainstream media’ (MSM) accounts of the story included soundbites of this section of GZ’s police call, ending at that point. This clearly leads to the impression that GZ continued his direct pursuit of TM, caught up to him, and initated the confrontation. But that didn’t happen. Sometime during GZ’s continued running after his OK, he lost sight of Martin. He stops running. He stops describing events. He just exchanges information with the police operator, and arranges how he will meet the officer when the officer arrives.
The prosecution and many Team T commentators are arguing that the fact Zimmerman left his SUV, armed, in order to pursue Martin, establishes his responsibility, in legal terms, for the events that followed. That strikes me as patently absurd. Once GZ has lost sight of TM, he’s just a guy walking around his neighborhood, which he has every right to do. He is carrying a gun, but he has been granted a concealed carry permit by the State of Florida. So, however unwise the granting of that permit may have been, Zimmerman has every legal right to be carrying his pistol as he walks around the neighborhood where he has every right to be.
Nor is the fact that he left his vehicle significant in any way. He had been surveilling Martin from inside the vehicle. The situation could have unfolded in a way that he could have pursued Martin in the vehicle, and in this purely hypothetical scenario, Martin could have even gotten inside the vehicle somehow, placed Zimmerman in reasonable fear of losing his life, leading to Zimmerman to acting in self-defense without ever opening his car door.could even have gotten inside.
In order to establish that Zimmerman bears culpability for starting the fight by pursuing Martin, the prosecution would have to establish that GZ discovered where TM and gone, and resumed pursuing him AGAIN. There is witness testimony to that effect, most importantly in the statement from DeeDee (W8), the young woman having a cell phone conversation with Trayvon Martin throughout the moments leading up to the struggle, but also in the statement of W2, who saw one figure chasing another on the ‘alley’ sidewalk leading into the beginning of the struggle. These statements may or may not hold up under cross examination, and they are nowhere as defintive as facts derived from the physical evidence itself, as the recording of Zimmerman’s pursuit on the police call would have been, had it led directly to the confrontation, which it did not.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE TEAM-Z NARRATIVE
The specifics of different versions of the Team Z story have their own time-space inconsistencies with the facts established by GZs police call, the subsequent 911 calls and the geography of The Retreat at Twin Lakes. But these are far more subtle than the issue I discussed above for Team T. The problem for Team Z is not physical evidence, but the utter lack of substantive support for their theory of the encounter.
Most importantly, there is no credible evidence that Trayvon Martin had any history of violence, any tendencies toward outward displays or anger or aggression, or any motive to attack George Zimmerman. It is also highly counter-intuitive to suggest that a young man running in fear from an intimidating-looking stranger would suddenly decide that hunting the man down for the purpose of attacking him was a desirable course of action.
The Team Z blogosphere has tried to address this problem, and done so with great vigor, with endless ‘Trayvon was a thug!’ assertions. However, their failure to come up with anything dispositive outside of the realm of their own fevered and virulently racist imaginations only serves to bolster the case that attacking Zimmerman is just not the kind of thing one would expect Martin to do.
To be sure, Team T originally presented a sanitized innaccurate image of Trayvon, based on numerous photos of an innocent-looking smiling boy taken several years ago. I think this is understandable. Most parents tend to think of their children in somewhat idealized terms, based on images from when they were younger than whatever actual age they are at the moment. Your 9 year old is still your baby, your 15 year old is still your 9 year old, and so on. Moreover, the task of the Martin family attorneys was to draw attention to the case, and generate public pressure to have it re-opened. In this, they are essentially conducting a propaganda campaign, not creating a legal case, and they have no responsibility to tell the WHOLE truth. And as African-Americans, they certainly could have concluded that presenting Trayvon as he actually was would open him to exactly the kind of character attacks he has now received, to the detriment of the goal of getting the investigation re-opened.
So we now know that Trayvon Martin was not a perfect child. He had ‘issues’ and ‘attitudes’, all of a kind extremely common among boys his age. What have his detractors been able to establish definitively?
a. He used marijuana.
b. He owned a fake ‘gansta grill’ dental piece.
c. He liked rap music.
d. He photographed himself flipping the bird to the camera.
e. He was having enough problems in school to have suffered three suspensions, one for possession of trace amounts of marijuana.
f. He was a close observer to a ‘fight club’ style boxing match between two other students outside his school.
g. He and his friends used a measure of ‘gangsta’ lingo on their social media pages.
That’s it. Not a single piece of evidence or testimony to an act of aggression, to any sort of aggressive tendencies, or even any outwardly directed anger. Against this are multiple statements from people who knew Martin that he was soft-spoken, good-natured, more withdrawn than outgoing, a “Mama’s Boy.”
Sorry, but the use of intoxicants by teens is hardly unusual or predictive of any sort of criminal behaviors. Teens are also well-known to compensate for their real-world powerlessness by role-playing the part of bad-asses in their imaginations, from ‘thuggish’ gansta rappers (as much beloved by groups of well-to-do WASP male students at “highly selective” liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, as in urban high schools in Florida, btw), to comic book characters like The Hulk, The Punisher, Iron Man ad infinitum. The vast majority of people who have watched fights with enjoyment are not fighters themselves by any means. And they pay big money for the priviledge, while Trayvon was just availing himself of a free show.
Team Z is quite fond of circular reasoning, stem from an unquestioned faith in the Team Z narrative. How do you know Martin was a thug? Because he attacked Zimmerman. How do you know he attacked Zimmerman? Because he was a thug.
Team Z is also prone to producing totally unwarranted “proofs” of Zimmerman’s innocence, and/or Martin’s guilt of unprovoked assault via faulty assertions based on physical evidence and cherry picked testimony. To Team Z, John (W6), is a paragon of credibility, while Mary Cutcher and Selma More Lamilla are nothing more than skeezy fame-whores, fabricating nonsense so they can see themselves on TV. To Team Z, the fact that Zimmerman received injuries in the fight is proof of every Team Z claim about how the fight started, and what happened as it progressed. To Team Z, the fact that the altercation took place on the North end of the sidewalk, fairly close to the ‘T’ is proof that Trayvon Martin doubled back for the purpose of delivering a beat-down to George Zimmerman.
All of this is ludicrously biased, and totally ignores other plausible explanations for the physical evidence and the testimony.
First, ALL of the witnesses, those that would seem to support the Team Z version, those that would seem to support the Team T version, and those who didn’t observe enough to support one narrative or another, have displayed significant inconsistencies, either between different statements they made to investigators, or more tellingly between their statements and what they reported in their 911 calls. So, no one’s word can be taken as gospel here.
Second, the person who gets the best end of a fight is not necessarily the person who started it. The difference between a beating and a fight is that a beating is one-sided, and a fight has give-and-take, shifts of advantage. Zimmerman could have started the fight, say by shoving Trayvon as DeeDee suggests, then found himself getting pummeled, and then used his superior weight to wrestle his way into a reversal. Martin could have been on top at one point, and Zimmerman been on top at another. None of the witness testimony is dispositive on who started the fight or whether there were shifts of advantage during it’s course. In the rain and darkness, most of the witnesses could not get a good enough view of the figures to tell who was who. John (W6) has maintained that he saw Zimmerman on the bottom, with Trayvon punching down at him. Leaving questions about John’s veracity to the side for the moment, what we do know is that after making this observation he retreated inside his home to a point where he could not see the remainder of the struggle, and he did not call 911 until well after the gunshot went off. So had Zimmerman achieved a reversal, John would not have been there to see it.
Third, Team Z totally rejects the idea that any plausible explanation might exist for Trayvon Martin to have traveled back closer to George Zimmerman’s truck, other than that he intended to find Zimmerman and attack him. In fact, several other plausible hypotheses have been put forward. There is little substantive evidence to back most of them, but that’s not the point. There’s little substantive evidence to back the assault scenario, and the Team Z argument for it is ‘there’s no other explanation!’ That would be a strong argument if it were so, but it’s not. If other possibilities could be ruled out, based on evidence and logic, then you get somewhere by the process of elimination. This is how the scientific method works: to make a claim of causation A—>X you not only have to build evidence correlating A to X, but apply “controls” to rule out the possibility that X could have been caused by B, C, D, etc. The burden shifts, you can’t eliminate on speculation, you need proof. Trayvon Martin could have moved closer to Zimmerman’s car because: a) he thought Zimmerman was a predator and did want him to know where he and his family lived, especially given that no adults were home at the time, only his father’s fiance’s 14 year old son; b) he thought Zimmerman was up to no good in general and wanted to get his license plate number, c) having eluded Zimmerman, he thought the incident was over and that Zimmerman was long gone, and just took a stroll up the sidewalk to clear his head and continue his conversation with DeeDee before having to reconnect with Chad Green to deliver the Iced Tea and Skittles, d) having eluded Zimmerman, and thinking the incident was over, he could have been continuing his conversation with DeeDee on Brandi Green’s back porch, only to see Zimmerman suddenly appear at the South end of the sidewalk, causing him to move away from Zimmerman toward the North.
Both narratives have the appeal of being simple direct explanations. Digging into the evidence reveals that the events that led to Trayvon Martin’s death were anything but simple and direct. The big lingering questions then are:
1. What happened in the roughly 4 minutes and 30 seconds between the time George Zimmerman lost sight of Trayvon Martin and the time he fired the gunshot that killed the young man?
2. Where exactly were the 2 men, moment to moment, from the point where Zimmerman made his call to the police, to the point where the conflict began?