I wrote earlier that I sometimes walk our oldest son to school, and watch him until I just can’t see him anymore. It’s one of the quirks I’ve developed as a parent. (Another, which we’ve both developed, is that every night at bedtime we tell our children that we love them. For my part, I always wanted that to be the last thing they heard from us at the end of the day.
I think I my lingering and watching as our oldest son goes off to school, until he’s out of my field of vision and out of my reach stems from the same thing. I wrote a while back that being committed to the people we love means realizing how vulnerable our loved ones are every time they step out of the door to go to work, school, or even to the corner store -- and how powerless we are to protect them once they leave the safety of our arms and step out into a troubled world.
In some part of my mind, I realize that on any given day that lingering look could be my last. So could the words I say.
And so, we come to the night of February 26th. We know Trayvon was in Orlando, visiting his father and soon-to-be-stepmother, at their home in gated community, in Sanford, FL. We don’t know what words passed between him and his family when he stepped out the door. Perhaps reassured them that he’d “Be right back,” with some candy for his little brother. Perhaps, even though it was supposed to be a short trip, someone said to him, “Be careful.”
What we know is that Travon Martin, a kid who had never been or been in much trouble, stepped into a world of trouble.
We know that he left the home to walk to a nearly convenience store, reportedly to buy some Skittles for his younger brother (which were found on his body after the murder). On his way back, he was spotted by 28-year-old George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, who has been described both as “white” and “hispanic” was the apparently self-appointed leader of the neighborhood watch. According to news reports, he wanted to be a police officer. In 2005, Zimmerman was charged with battery against a police office, but the charge was later expunged. Zimmerman had another brush with the law when a woman filed domestic violence complaint against him. Zimmerman filed one of his own the same day.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.
Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?
Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s [unintelligible], he was just staring...
Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area...
Zimmerman: ...looking at all the houses.
Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.
According to police reports, at this point Zimmerman was following Trayvon in his car. Zimmerman was also armed with a 9mm handgun. From the 911 transcripts, we know that the 911 dispatcher advised Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon.
Dispatcher: Are you following him?
Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that.
We know from the events that followed, that Zimmerman did exit his car, and continue following Trayvon Martin on foot. As Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin said, much of what happened next is known only by George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Trayvon can’t tell his story, but we have the recordings of Zimmerman’s 911 calls, and the 911 calls of neighbors.
According to Zimmerman’s story,at some point after he exited his car Trayvon turned and confronted him, asking “What’s your problem?” From there, Zimmerman claims that Trayvon attacked him from behind, as he was headed back to his car. The two scuffled. One witness claims to have seen them on the ground. A 911 caller said they were “wrestling.” On the 911 tapes, we hear a frantic cry for help. At least one shot rings out, after which there are no further cries for help.
Police arrive to find Zimmerman with his nose and the back of his head bloodied. They find Trayvon Martin lying face down in a patch of grass, dead from gunshot wound to the chest -- just 70 feet from home. Zimmerman tells police that he shot in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him. Police accepted Zimmerman’s story at face value, saying there was no evidence to contradict his version of events, and did not arrest him. Sanford Chief of Police Bill Lee said that police did not have enough evidence to arrest Zimmerman and charge him with manslaughter.
Zimmerman was released.
Trayvon’s body was taken to the medical examiner’s office -- presumably the Skittles, ice tea, $22 dollars, and cell phone he carried were taken as evidence -- and marked as a John Doe. His parents thought he was missing. His father called the Missing Persons Unit, but got nothing. Then he called 911. The police asked him to describe Trayvon, and then two officers came to the house to show him a picture of his son -- that is, a picture of his son’s dead body. He then called his boy’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, to tell her their son was dead; had been shot and killed.
One more family grieved, and buried the son who had just stepped out the door and was supposed to “be right back.” Did they watch him walk out the door? Did they watch from a window as he walked up the street, until he was out of sight? I probably would have, but who could have known that would be their last look at Trayvon? Who would even have expected that a trip to the corner store could end the way it did?
At another time, that would have been the end of the story. But that wasn’t the end of the story.