By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
You can hear a faint voice cry “help.” You can hear the booming sound of a gunshot.
You can hear the alleged shooter tell a radio dispatcher, minutes earlier, that he had spotted “a real suspicious guy” who “looks like he’s up to no good,” then add, “These assholes, they always get away.”
The dispatcher asks: “Are you following him?”
“OK, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher says.
That advice went ignored.
The release of 911 recordings makes many things clearer about the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
The 17-year-old black youth from Miami, visiting his father in a gated community in the central Florida city, was taking a break from watching the NBA All-Star Game on the night of February 26 when he was killed by a neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, a Latino, has claimed self-defense in a scuffle with Martin. He has not been charged with any crime.
The tapes, released over the weekend under public pressure, indicate strongly that it was Zimmerman who instigated a confrontation with the teen, who was carrying nothing more dangerous than a bag of Skittles, just purchased from a nearby 7-Eleven.
Florida was the first state to have adopted a “stand your ground” gun law, making it legal for residents to use deadly force against a threat without first having to back down from the situation. Since the law’s passage in 2005, the state has seen a spike in justifiable homicides and police officers say it’s made it much more difficult to charge shooters with a crime.
Taking Florida’s lead, 16 more states have adopted similar laws, which are far more lenient than the usual “Castle Doctrine,” which allows people to defend themselves in their homes.
But a “stand your ground” law says a person is justified in defending against a “reasonable” threat. But will juries find it reasonable for an alleged shooter to claim his life was threatened when it was he who initiated the confrontation — following an admonition not “to do that”?
Zimmerman apparently had a reputation for playing cop a little too seriously. According to Huffington Post reporter Trymaine Lee, “Zimmerman had been the subject of earlier complaints by residents of the gated community in which he and Martin’s family lived.”
At an emergency homeowner’s association meeting earlier this month, “one man was escorted out because he openly expressed his frustration because he had previously contacted the Sanford Police Department about Zimmerman approaching him and even coming to his home,” a resident wrote in an email to HuffPost. “It was also made known that there had been several complaints about George Zimmerman and his tactics” in his neighborhood watch captain role.
The tapes can be heard here:
Call 1: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good.”
Call 2: “I just heard a shot right behind my house.”
Call 3: “There’s just someone screaming outside.”
Call 4: “I just heard gunshots.”
Call 5: “Someone’s yelling two doors down from me, screaming, hollering, ‘Help! Help! Help!’ ”
Call 6: “I think someone’s been shot.”
Call 7: “I can’t believe someone was killed.”
Call 8: “My brother says someone got shot behind our house.”