In the days and hours leading up to witnesses fingering him as the vigilante triggerman in the shooting death of unarmed high school teen Trayvon Martin, self-appointed crime watch captain George Zimmerman went door-to-door in his gated Sanford community imploring residents to be on the lookout for young black males he demonstratively denounced as outsiders and “a–holes” who “always get away.”
Audio tapes released this weekend from at least eight related 911 calls made on the damp, dark evening of Feb. 26, when Martin died of a gunshot blast to the chest, further call Zimmerman’s judgment and motivation into question, including a testy exchange he engaged in with a non-emergency police dispatcher, who unequivocally instructed him to cease with tailing the 17-year-old victim throughout the neighborhood, an order he blatantly chose to ignore.
“My son was crying for help, and he still shot him,” said Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, upon listening to the tapes and hearing a voice believed to be his son terrifyingly muttering “No, no” as a gun-toting Zimmerman apparently approached.
In still another call, Zimmerman, 28, describes the baby-faced Martin as “looking as if he’s on drugs or something and up to no good.” When police arrived, they found the lifeless Martin laying face down, carrying only a bag of Skittles and a can of ice tea.
“How is it that this man is free to roam the neighborhood armed and loaded?” added the elder Martin. “How can you claim self-defense when you are the aggressor?”
Trayvon Martin was murdered as he returned home that night after walking to a nearby convenience store to purchase candy for his younger brother. As he made his way to within steps of his father’s home, a trailing Zimmerman jumped from his vehicle to confront the unsuspecting teen face-to-face. Still, police have yet to arrest or even charge Zimmerman in the shooting, and now Martin’s family is calling for the FBI to take the lead in the investigation.
“For some reason, he felt that Trayvon, the way that he was walking or appeared, seemed suspicious to him,” said Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee. “He called this in and was told a police officer was on the way to check things out.”
In the last year, records show Zimmerman has made at least 46 such calls to police, leading family attorney Benjamin Crump to speculate that the volunteer watchmen suffered from a twisted sense of entitlement that seemed to give him a false sense of authority when it came to policing the gated community neighborhood now heavily populated by blacks.
“The Sanford Police department claims it’s still investigating,” said Crump, “but, I’m not sure what there is to investigate. What’s suspicious about this kid? That’s what the family is crying out, that our kid is like any other kid. The neighborhood watch was supposed to protect him, not kill him. He was a victim of racial profiling. I’ve already written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that he get involved.”
On the night in question, witnesses tell police a brief scuffle between the two quickly ensued after Zimmerman confronted the teen and, though he was outweighed by more than 100 pounds, at some point, Martin easily began to get the better of his hot-headed tormenter.
“He was chasing and following him, and my son was afraid,” said Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother. “He didn’t know who this stranger was. He was yelling for help, and no one could help him. He saw his life being taken away from him. How can this be right? … How can this be fair?”
Making matters all the more perplexing for the family is the manner in which the Sanford Police department has conducted its investigation. Just three days after Trayvon’s murder, at a March 1 emergency homeowner’s association meeting, one man was escorted out of the gathering after he vehemently complained about his own encounters with Zimmerman and how the SPD always seemed a step too slow in reeling him in.
In an email sent to the Huffington Post, the resident added “it was also made known that there had been several complaints about George Zimmerman and his tactics. On at least one occasion, he confronted and trailed me (a Black resident) all the way to my home.”
Clouding things even more was the presence of Chief Lee, the detective initially assigned to oversee the investigation, sitting front and center at the aforementioned homeowner’s meeting and idly looking on as the tenant complaining about Zimmerman was hastily shown the door.
Since then, a source inside the Sanford Police department has told ABC News that a narcotics detective and not a homicide detective was the first to speak with Zimmerman and that the detective incessantly concentrated on questioning Zimmerman instead of requiring him to tell his own story, an approach that is often times thought to be leading, as opposed to investigatory.
Still another officer allegedly corrected a witness after she told authorities she heard the teen cry out for help. The officer told the witness, a long-time teacher, it was Zimmerman who screamed for assistance and not Martin. ABC News added it has since spoken with the teacher directly, and she confirmed that the officer corrected her when she told him it was Martin she heard plead for help.
“I heard the crying, and if it was Zimmerman that was crying, Zimmerman would have continued crying after the shot went off,” said Mary Kutcher, who heard all the commotion and gunshots from her nearby apartment. “I feel it was not self-defense.”
To date, the SPD has yet to test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol, a procedure that is typically standard policy in most homicide investigations, despite another former resident’s claims that Zimmerman and the entire team of volunteer patrolmen were made up of “drunks, trouble-makers and lunatics.”
Sanford police Sgt. David Morgenstern said the department stands by its investigation but welcomes help from any outside agency. FBI agent David Couvertier said the agency has been in contact with Sanford police and is monitoring the case.
“We are committed to having somebody review this to see if we made a mistake,” said Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett. “If we made missteps and there is something there, we will act accordingly.”
Several Sanford residents who spoke to reporters Friday said they think there would have been an arrest already if the shooter had been Black and the deceased had been White. They said Blacks and Whites in this city of 53,000 residents were pretty much in agreement that an injustice had been done with no one arrested, and that there was no racial divide in how the case is being perceived. The city is 57 percent white and 30 percent black. It has a median household income of almost $42,000.
“It’s just about … to be able to take somebody’s life in 2012 and not even go to jail for it, that is just sad. No matter, for any color. Not just Black or White. Any color,” Ladonna Williams, 38, who is Black, said as she shopped at the Seminole Towne Center shopping mall, more than a mile from where the shooting took place.
And yet, over the weekend it was the family of George Zimmerman who took to the pages of the Orlando Sentinel to complain about how it’s their son who has been victimized.