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“A Modern-Day Lynching”: Outrage Grows over Killing of Trayvon Martin by Neighborhood Watch Patrol

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As details emerge in the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, whose killer has yet to be arrested, community leaders have helped build wider momentum into their calls for justice in the case. We speak with Shelton Marshall, president of the Black Law Students Association at Florida A&M University College of Law, who helped organize a protest on Monday calling for a federal probe into Trayvon Martin’s death and attended a meeting with local prosecutors. “As an African-American male, I felt as though it was my duty to step up,” Marshall says. “I have been afforded the privilege of being in a position where I can advocate for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.” We also speak with Rev. Glenn Dames, pastor of St. James AME Church in Titusville and former president of the North Brevard NAACP. “I think what we’re doing now is we’re making sure that we, in essence, bring his voice back from the grave,” Dames says. “And so, even from the grave now, we have become Trayvon Martin’s voice across the state, across the nation, even internationally.” [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMar 20, 2012Florida’s “Shoot First” Law Critiqued by Gun Control Advocates Following Shooting of Trayvon Martin
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk more about this law, what some call the “shoot first” law, not only in Florida but in other states, in a moment, but I wanted to go to Shelton Marshall before he has to leave. He is with the Black Law Students Association at Florida A&M. He’s joining us from Orlando.

Shelton, you were involved in a protest yesterday. Explain what it is you’re calling for, and describe the protest. Who came?

SHELTON MARSHALL: Well, we characterized our event yesterday more as a rally for justice. And our demands were to seek for the imminent—the immediate arrest of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. Our purpose primarily was to bring awareness to the situation. We felt as though, from the outside looking in, there was no transparency. In addition to that, there was continuous attempts to cover up or hide or lack disclosure in a lot of the evidence that was out there. And we, as law students, were concerned because we are the advocates of the day—today and attorneys of tomorrow. And if this injustice can be done today, what happens when we go out to the legal field and we want to practice, and we have clients we want to defend or we’re trying to prosecute on behalf of one of our clients, and we have these laws that inhibit us from doing so?

And one of the major things that we noticed yesterday was that this self-defense claim—we’re still wondering where this has come from, because self-defense is a defense to a murder. It’s not a all-end-be-all that remedies you from being brought up on charges. It’s your defense to claim self-defense in the event that you do engage in a murder or activity, but you’re still arrested, and you’re still charged. There was no arrest. There was no charge. And the public outcry has been so overwhelming because of this, because it can be anyone. This isn’t just a matter that affects the African-American community; it affects the community at large. And we need to recognize that and join in on the movement, because justice for Trayvon is justice for all.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the audio clips that we heard, these 911 tapes that are so chilling? And we didn’t play the half of them. The voice that the police are saying they are investigating, saying they don’t know whether it’s the voice of the shooter, Zimmerman, or the voice of Trayvon.

SHELTON MARSHALL: Well, I think that’s utterly absurd, but when—I listened to the tapes no more than twice. I couldn’t listen to it more than that. It was like you said: “chilling” was the exact word that I used when I posted after my immediate response. You hear someone crying. You hear someone, outlie, crying for help. And my thoughts are that if a man that weighs almost a hundred pounds more than a child comes to or, how do you say, pursues him with a gun in his pocket, why is he crying out for help? I just don’t understand that. But that aside, you hear a child’s cry for help. You hear a plea for someone’s life. Then you hear a gunshot, and then you hear silence. You hear the life exit from the body of a victim. That is what you hear in that tape. You do not hear a grown man pleading for his life, for his safety, because he’s trying to protect the neighborhood.

AMY GOODMAN: Shelton, you’re with the Black Law Students Association. You’re a law student at Florida A&M, a young African-American man. How has this personally affected you, your friends, folks at the protest yesterday?

SHELTON MARSHALL: I would say that the impact of this has taken on a snowball effect. Initially, a lot of people have contacted me, like, “Is that really happening? Are you all, like—did that really occur in Florida? And like, can people get away with that?” And they thought it was something that was on like a reality—I mean, on some type of TV show rather than being reality. And it is—it’s disheartening to say that I live in an area where this can occur.

Initially, my thoughts were that it’s disgusting, that the behavior of the Sanford Police Department and the behavior of the community in relation to this case, that they did not see an issue with the behavior of the police department or the state attorney’s office in handling the matter. As an African-American male, I felt as though it was my duty to step up. I have been afforded the privilege of being in a position where I can advocate for those who do not—who are not able to advocate for themselves. And that is my responsibility as an African-American male who is in law school, because if I don’t stand for something, who will stand for them?

AMY GOODMAN: Are your teachers talking about this well? Are you discussing this in your classes? And what is your next step after yesterday’s protest? And are you satisfied about the FBI, Justice Department stepping in?

SHELTON MARSHALL: I would say that there has been chatter amongst campus about the matter. We are a very diverse campus. Although we attend what’s considered a HBCU law school, we still have a diverse group of individuals who have differing opinions on the matter. Has it been the upfront, foremost activity on campus? I would say no. And that’s why my organization and other entities on campus took hold of it to promote it, so it wouldn’t go by as just something of another black guy who just got killed, you know?

And as far as our next role within this movement, right now we want to serve as a supportive entity, to go to the local rallies that are already being set. We’re here not to distract from the movement, but to push if forward and support the rallies that we have on Thursday with Al Sharpton. There’s another event on Monday at the City Hall. And we have other local individuals who are doing candlelight vigils and services, in which we want to show up and show our presence. After these series of rallies that are going on in the next few weeks, we’ll probably convene to try to do a more national program to bring awareness at local colleges and law schools throughout America.

As far as satisfaction is concerned, like I stated yesterday after the meeting with the assistant state attorney for Sanford, Mr. Pat Whitaker—are we satisfied? No, because justice has not been served to Trayvon Martin and his family. Am I somewhat pleased with the national attention that has been brought to it? Yes, I do feel a little bit more comfortable that an outside organization such as the—such as FBI, Department of Justice, are taking a lead on this matter and doing their independent investigation outside of the state attorney’s office and FDLE, because there needs to be oversight in this matter. And one of the things that I was told yesterday that kind of—kind of put me back a little was that they felt as though the Sanford Police Department did a reasonable investigation in the matter. However, the state attorney’s office will have to supplement the information to get—to formulate proper charges against George Zimmerman. And that showed me that there was some type of lack or inadequacy in what was done in the preliminary matters as it pertains to the death of Trayvon Martin.

AMY GOODMAN: We see at the protest, and we’ve been showing images—for folks listening on the radio, you can see the images on our website at—students holding up Skittles. Can you explain, Shelton?

SHELTON MARSHALL: Well, the premise behind that—and in addition to the students from the college of law and my organization, we did have individuals from the local community. And what we’re taught in law school, from a theoretical perspective, is that in self-defense you need force for force. And force for force in this case was a pack of Skittles versus a nine-millimeter gun. So, in essence, you’re telling me, in Sanford, that a pack of Skittles is a deadly weapon that can warrant you being shot and it—and you can claim self-defense. In any other situation, that’s not true. You have to meet force with force. You had a larger male who was pursuing a young boy. And in addition to that, you had an individual with a nine-millimeter gun versus one without a weapon at all, a pack of Skittles. And it just shows you the disparity between the two—between the two concepts of, “Oh, I’m a grown man. I’m claiming self-defense,” versus a young child who says that “I’m just trying to walk home.” And it doesn’t match up. It doesn’t make sense. And for them to continuously try to make it sound as if self-defense is the ultimate claim here, it’s just ridiculous.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. I know you have to leave, Shelton. Shelton Marshall is president of the Black Law Students Association at Florida A&M. And we’re going to turn to the reverend in one moment, but I want to play now one of the witnesses of Trayvon Martin’s shooting who’s speaking out against the Sanford police. In a recent news conference, Mary Cutcher said police have ignored her testimony and rejected the police theory that it was Zimmerman screaming for help.

MARY CUTCHER: My point was, is that I feel it was not self-defense, because I heard the crying. And if it was Zimmerman that was crying, Zimmerman would have continued crying after the shot went off. The only thing I saw that night—I heard the crying. We were in the kitchen. I heard the crying. It was a little boy. As soon as the gun went off, the crying stopped. Therefore, it tells me it was not Zimmerman crying.

AMY GOODMAN: That was witness Mary Cutcher. Reverend Glenn Dames is also with us from Orlando. He’s pastor of St. James AME Church in Titusville. He’s also president of the North Brevard Ministerial Alliance and former president of the North Brevard NAACP.

Can you talk about what Mary Cutcher is saying, and also your response so far to where this case has gone, from the killing of Trayvon Martin February 26—we’re talking about weeks ago—to the FBI, the Justice Department saying they’re stepping in to investigate yesterday, Reverend?

REV. GLENN DAMES: Glad to be here on Democracy Now!

Amy, I think it’s clear, just as Mary stated, that this is absurd. How can you say that it was Mr. Zimmerman crying for help, when Mr. Zimmerman was the one holding the weapon the whole time? He was also 80 pounds heavier than Trayvon. That’s absolutely ridiculous, and it’s sad. It’s a sad day when Sanford police dismiss a credible witness in this particular case as being non-credible and not taking seriously her claim. That tells me that this has become a botched investigation, sadly, by the Sanford Police Department. And as I speak to law enforcement individuals who are friends across the state, they tell me privately that this clearly lacks sufficient merit, in terms of the Sanford police investigation. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s sad, because Trayvon is now dead.

But I think what we’re doing now, Amy, is we’re making sure that we, in essence, bring his voice back from the grave. And so, even from the grave now, we have become Trayvon Martin’s voice across the state, across the nation, even internationally. People as far as Japan are tweeting and Facebooking about the tragedy of this particular crime. And so, we’re holding rallies. Of course, we had a major rally in—last Thursday in Sanford, and again on Sunday in Titusville, where we drew close to a thousand people, who demanded Mr. Wolfinger bring Trayvon’s killer, murderer, to justice, because, make no mistake about it, Mr. Zimmerman is a murderer.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Glenn Dames, can you talk about Sanford, give us a history of the community?

REV. GLENN DAMES: Sanford is a town in central Florida that, believe it or not, has a history of doing some things as such questionable investigative practices. And now they have met their match, because the community and the nation has declared that we will not stand for this anymore. This is modern-day lynching. And we have decided that we will not accept what Langston Hughes called “strange fruit hanging from the trees,” which was of course African Americans who were hung in that day and time from trees, publicly, for great outcry. And so now we’re making sure that this does not happen in 2012. And so, Sanford is a place that is now gaining national attention for a botched investigation.

It’s sad that—just the mere fact, Amy, that Trayvon’s parents had to file a missing person’s report on their son, who was sitting in the morgue, when Sanford police had the phone in their custody, that tells me that that’s insensitive and callous. How do you have a child? You have to know this is somebody’s child. You have the phone with you. You have experts. You could have traced the phone. You could have somehow found Trayvon’s parents to notify them—at least notify them of their son’s death. This is absolutely tragic that they could not be the first persons on the scene. His father lived in that particular neighborhood. Why was there not a canvas of every door? Every door should have been knocked on to say, “Hey, we have a young man who’s been fatally injured. Can you please help us?” They didn’t knock on any doors. They didn’t look for witnesses. And now you have a family that’s hurt, devastated and disappointment—disappointed in the Sanford Police Department. That’s absolutely ludicrous.

AMY GOODMAN: Unless, Reverend Dames, they thought that the boy was a stranger, that they assumed, the police assumed, that he did not come from the gated community.

REV. GLENN DAMES: How sad it is. I wonder why. Could that be because of the pigmentation of his skin? How dare he be a resident or have family in that gated community? How dare he? Because the color of his skin, clearly, he now is not a resident. Why was that not a first thought? Why did they not assume that he couldn’t be there? That’s a sad day, a sad commentary, when you have a police department who would assume a young 17-year-old black boy a stranger.

Well, we’re here to say Trayvon is not a stranger. He is our son. He is our brother. He is our cousin. He is our family. And you know what? We believe in family, especially in this nation, because we are all brothers and sisters. And so, people of all hues have come together to say that Trayvon, regardless of his color, is our brother, our nephew, our cousin. He is our family. And you know what? We’re speaking up for our family member, Trayvon Martin.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring attorney Jasmine Rand back into this, who works with the firm that’s representing Trayvon’s family. Can you talk about the state attorney and what he said yesterday, Jasmine?

JASMINE RAND: Yeah, I think the most astounding part of the meeting with the state attorney, to me, yesterday, when we initially sat down to talk to him and we asked him whether or not there was going to be an arrest made, he said that he was continuing the investigation of the Sanford Police Department to see if there was any evidence, enough evidence to prove a claim of self-defense. And when asked whether or not it was his job to prove self-defense or if that was the job of the defense attorney, he told us, “Well, no, that’s not really my job. My job is to prosecute.” And it wasn’t until later in the conversation, when I asked him if he planned on pressing any charges, and if there were to be charges pressed, what those charges would be, he responded to me, “Manslaughter.” You know, the fact that he did not begin the conversation by saying, “I’m continuing the investigation to see whether or not there’s a claim for manslaughter,” he began the conversation by saying, “I’m trying to prove whether or not there’s a claim for self-defense” — his choice of words, I believe, are indicative of his mindset and indicative of what we’ve already seen from the Sanford Police Department, that they are investigating this case with a lens of trying to prove self-defense instead of investigating this case—investigating the case in a fair, impartial manner to see whether or not there is the possibility of a murder or a manslaughter charge. So, that was alarming to me.

The other thing, the other aspect of our conversation that was alarming to me was that when asked about race, you know, the state attorney just brazenly shook his head and wouldn’t even address the issue. He said, “We’re not talking about that.” But what we heard was George Zimmerman talking about race. You know, we heard him say twice that Trayvon was black. You know, we heard him use expletives. We heard him say, “These blanks always get away with it.” You know, some people have said that they heard him use the term “coon” on the audio tape, which is a very obvious racial slur, you know, against African Americans. And we also heard the neighbors come forward and say that, “Yeah, in this particular neighborhood, we look for young black males to be committing criminal activity.” And that’s exactly what George Zimmerman did that night. He found a young black male that he did not recognize, assumed that he did not belong there, and he targeted him, and he sought him out. So, to say that, you know, “We’re not going to discuss race in this manner,” in such a brazen term, State Attorney, that is your job. You’re prosecuting, and one of your jobs is to look and see if race did play into this, if race was a factor. So, you know, I was disappointed and disheartened by my conversation with the state attorney. And my fear is that we’re going to see more of the same from the state attorney that we’ve seen from the Sanford Police Department.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Jasmine Rand, for joining us, head of the civil rights division at Parks & Crump Law Firm. We’re going to break. Reverend, I’d like to ask you to stay on with us. We’re also going to go to Washington, D.C., as we leave Tallahassee, to talk with Caroline Brewer, who’s director of communications at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, to talk about the law in Florida that the police have invoked to say that the shooter, George Zimmerman, should not even be arrested. This is Democracy Now!, a special on the death of Trayvon Martin. Stay with us.

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Florida’s “Shoot First” Law Critiqued by Gun Control Advocates Following Shooting of Trayvon Martin

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