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Consider the bizarre tale of a love that smothered what should have been a careful criminal investigation in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Sybrina Fulton had already given birth to one son out of wedlock in 1995 when she married the father of her second son, a former gang member named Tracy Martin. They named the new baby Trayvon. Four years later, Tracy and Sybrina were divorced. From all accounts, although Tracy left the home, he maintained a father-son relationship with Trayvon and his older brother.
Sybrina worked as a community organizer in the Housing Department for the city of Miami. Tracy worked off and on as a truck driver.
Moving to Sanford
Fast-forward 13 years to 2012. Little Trayvon, no longer so little, is encountering problems in high school. After he received a ten-month suspension from school, Sybrina sent him 200 miles away to stay with his father and the father's fiancé in Sanford, Florida, presumably in the hope of enrolling Trayvon in the local school there.
On the night of February 26, 2012 while returning from a Skittle-and-watermelon-drink run to a 7/Eleven in the pouring rain, Trayvon was shot to death by an overzealous town watchman, George Zimmerman. His body lay in the morgue for two days, as his father did not report him missing until then.
What exactly happened on that fateful night hasn't been established. In the state's rush to pin Zimmerman down as a gun-toting bigot, the local police investigation was halted and a special prosecutor was appointed.
What was everyone's hurry? A mother's (justifiable) indignation got in the way of the police inquiry because it wasn't proceeding fast enough.
A day after Tracy Martin claimed his son's body, he showed up at the Sanford Police department and demanded to know why his son's killer hadn't been arrested— a reasonable request from a grieving parent under the circumstances, but totally beyond the scope of his boundaries.
He was told that the police were proceeding with the case. Zimmerman remained free after questioning under the "supposition" that the shooting was a case of self-defense. But the investigation remained open.
This slow and deliberate pace isn't unusual. Homicide investigations sometimes take years to evaluate properly. But when Tracy Martin informed his ex-wife of this situation— her baby was dead and his killer was still free— Sybrina decided to take matters into her own hands.
Politicians pile on
She hired a lawyer, and the lawyer alerted the press. Protest marches were held. Protesters donned hoodies to express solidarity with Trayvon's clothing choice on his last night. Zimmerman was declared guilty of homicide of an innocent teen. Politicians, in an election year, proclaimed Trayvon Martin a martyr to racism.
In the process, most significantly, the Sanford Police Department was relieved of the case. The police chief was fired and the state took over. All further discovery into the events on that February night in 2012 was halted. Zimmerman was arrested for second-degree murder a mere six weeks after the shooting. Justice by popular opinion had prevailed, at least in the short term. The only thing left was to go through the motions of a trial.
This is when the runaway train of a lynch mob encountered the technical requirements of due process of law. Lacking substantive evidence to disprove Zimmerman's claim of self-defense, the special prosecutor was deprived of a substantial case to present. For lack of verification, reasonable doubt oozed from every theory the state advanced. So Zimmerman was found not guilty.
What happened before Trayvon Martin was shot? We'll never know. When you bypass a legal throughway for a short cut to justice— even with the best of intentions— you just might run off the road.♦
To read a related commentary by Maria Thompson Corley, click here.
To read a response, click here.
To read a related commentary by AJ Sabatini, click here.
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