Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

MARCH 20, 2012 8:29AM

Trayvon Martin’s Deadly Skittles Run

Rate: 14 Flag


Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman.

It was getting dark in Sanford, Florida as 17-year old Trayvon Martin hurried back to his dad’s girlfriend’s home, Skittles and iced tea in hand, in the light rain.  He was in a hurry to reclaim his seat in front of the TV to watch the NBA All-Star game, slated to begin in just minutes, at 7:30 p.m.  He was nearly within the confines of the gated community where the woman lived when a man got out of a car, some 200 yards away and began to pursue him.  Trayvon never made it home that night. Instead, within minutes, shortly after 7:15 p.m., he took a 9-millimeter bullet to the chest at close range.  Trayvon, it should be mentioned, was black.

            The man who shot him, George Zimmerman, 28, alleged the minor had punched him in the nose and bashed his head against the sidewalk.  He told police, who arrived moments later, “It was self-defense.” Zimmerman is a local neighborhood watch “captain,” according to news reports.  He is Hispanic.

These few facts we know.  Trayvon died on the spot.  George Zimmerman was questioned by a narcotics (not homicide) officer and was released.  Zimmerman claimed it was self defense, claimed he felt threatened. The police, in their wisdom, felt nothing else could be done.  Florida, you see, is one of 23 states with a law on the books known as “Justifiable Use of Deadly Force,” “Stand your Ground,” “Make My Day,” “expanded Castle Doctrine,” or, my favorite, “Shoot First.”  Shoot first as in shoot first and ask questions later.  The law gives shooters like Zimmerman an amazing advantage.  Short a witness, no one remains to contest the claim of self defense.

            Florida statute Title XLVI, chapters 776.012 and .013 contains the relevant clauses:

776.012Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force.

776.013Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.

(3)A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force,…

A few readers may recall the language.  It is virtually identical to the language that appeared in a law passed by the Minnesota legislature in February, one that was vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton, who listed the concerns of law enforcement professionals as his reasons for the veto.  I wrote a call for a veto for Open Salon, “Veto the Minnesota ‘Shoot First’ Law” just two days after Martin was killed on February 26.  I had yet to hear of the case.

According to ABC News:

Sanford Police Chief Billy Lee said there is no evidence to dispute self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman's assertion that he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin out of self-defense.

"Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him," Lee said.

That is to say, under Florida’s Shoot First law, the police cannot take a known shooter into custody, a man who told 911 the following at 7:11 p.m., only minutes before the killing:

Hi, we’ve had some break-ins I my neighborhood and there’s this suspicious guy, near Retreat View Circle… This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something.  

He’s just staring, looking at all the houses. Now he’s coming toward me. He’s got his hand in his waistband. Something’s wrong with him….”

Dispatcher:  Is he white, black, or Hispanic?

He looks black…I don’t know what his deal is…”

Police tell Zimmerman they are on their way.  Zimmerman responds, “These assholes, they always get away.” Moment later, “Shit, he’s running…”  Dispatcher:  “Are you following him?” “Yeah…” “OK, we don’t need you to do that…”  Zimmerman got out of the car.

            Zimmerman, who possessed a concealed carry permit, was breaking every major rule of being in a neighborhood watch that night.  He was armed.  He was making his presence known to the person he was following.  He was mis- and pre-judging “suspicious” activity.  He pursued his target. He confronted his target.           

            According to ABC News, “Zimmerman left his car wearing a red sweatshirt and pursued Martin on foot between two rows of townhouses, about 70 yards from where the teen was going.”  Zimmerman caught up with Martin, “a fist fight broke out and at one point Zimmerman, who outweighed Martin by more than 100 pounds, was on the ground and that Martin was on top.”

            Someone was screaming help, Zimmerman claims it was he. A teacher cited as a witness claimed it was the youth.  Austin Brown, 13, walking his dog, also heard those screams, along with a woman who was on the phone to 911 as the altercation unfolded in her back yard.  Then a single shot rang out.

Insane Boundaries of Self Defense

When is a vigilante not a vigilante, but a victim?  Under Florida law, it seems to be when he pulls the trigger.  The notion that “standing one’s ground” includes the complex chain of events that unfolded in this case violates all notions of common sense, given the pursuit, and the animus of “these assholes always get away.” Zimmerman called 911 from his car.  He then left his car to follow an unknown person—a kid who was yards from his own home—to confront him in the back of some stranger’s yard.

            An astute blogger, Pat Carbonell, who writes the blog Lez Get Legal, wrote:

That Neighborhood Watch patrols are only supposed to observe and report is a well-known fact; it may be assumed that Trayvon Martin was aware of this. After Mr. Zimmerman left his vehicle, after calling in his report, he has said he approached Trayvon to talk with him. Even if he identified himself as a Neighborhood Watch member, Trayvon would have had no reason to believe him, as NW patrols are not supposed to confront anyone. If Mr. Zimmerman demanded that Trayvon give an accounting of himself, the young man had no reason to feel compelled to answer such questioning. If Mr. Zimmerman then gave any indication that he was trying to obstruct Trayvon from continuing on his way home, such as raising a hand or his voice, Trayvon would have been justified in feeling himself threatened, and under Florida law had a right to defend himself. Hence, the punch (or several punches) delivered to Zimmerman’s face.

Not only do “stand your ground” laws create a legal no-man’s land over the issue of presumption of perceived threat, and thus, innocence, thus reversing previous presumptions over the use of deadly force; they create unreal expectations in the minds of errant citizens.  Zimmerman was described by neighbors as being “aggressive and intimidating” in the discharge of his volunteer duties.  In 2005, he was charged with assaulting an officer—charges that were later dropped.  He demonstrably had vigilante and racist tendencies, and he felt he had the law on his side.  The fact is that he did have the law on his side, so much so that when one witness stated that she heard Trayvon screaming prior to being shot, the investigating officer corrected her, saying it was Zimmerman who was screaming, based solely on Zimmerman’s testimony. According to the New York Times, Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, heard the panicked neighbor's 911 call and swears it is her son's voice, "pleading for his life."

            Trayvon did not have the law on his side.  Though he in no way acted as if he were committing, or was about to commit, a forcible felony, he was stalked by a threatening looking man, a man who was much older and larger than him.

            Like Trayvon, citizens of the 20 states with “Shoot First” laws, do not really have the law on their side.  For people of color, “Shoot First” laws are a deadly threat.  We can sit back and watch Florida justice take its course, or we can advocate for an FBI investigation into the blatant destruction of Trayvon Martin’s civil rights—and his life.  A petition sponsored by the family is here.  More than 317,000 people had signed it as of the time I began this piece.  More than 425,000 signed by the time I finished it. The petition calls for a state investigation.  In my mind that is not enough, and that’s the message I have communicated to my Senator and Representative.  This is a landmark violation of the most basic principles of jurisprudence that should be used to discredit "Shoot First" laws for the presumptive miscarriages of justice that they are.


UPDATE:  The New York Times reported at 9:30 EDT on March 20 that the Justice Department will investigate the killing of Trayvon Martin. 


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"His dad's girlfriend's house"?????? His dad is married. That makes her his stepmom. Also, that makes it his father's home.
The detail was taken verbatim from the ABC News link in the article. It said, "Martin had been staying at his father's girlfriend's house during the night of the NBA All-Star game Feb. 26."
Thanks for this crystal clear rendering of the known facts of this tragic and maddening story. The fact that the petition got the attention of the DOJ is encouraging, though I feel like its the early 60s again, when the DOJ had to intervene in local police matters to see justice served.
I'll only repeat what I said elsewhere, and the assumptions I made in that comment sound remarkably close to what you describe in your post.

"The law protecting Zimmerman is fatally flawed. As I understand it, it has already led to the deaths of 11 people in Florida, 10 of whom were unarmed. This felonious excuse for a law attempts to justify acts that don't even rise to the level of vigilantism. There was nothing here to avenge except a pathetic little man's wounded pride.

That Zimmerman felt threatened can hardly be an excuse, since the evidence strongly suggests this guy was paranoid to begin with. And how is it that someone who assaulted a cop is able to get a permit to carry a handgun?

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Zimmerman, despite the order given him by the police operator, accosted Trayvon and demanded to know what he was doing in the (white) neighborhood? Certainly, Travmon had no duty to answer that question or otherwise respond to a belligerent white man who showed no identification establishing him as an authority figure.

And let's assume that Zimmerman, emboldened by the 9mm tucked in his belt pushed the issue and stepped into Trayvon's path and continued his belligerent demands. And let's suppose Trayvon, who in such a situation would be the one who was actually threatened, tried to push past Zimmerman.

From that point on, any further escalation by Zimmerman was -- or certainly should have been illegal. In most jurisdictions, he was already guilty of assault and any physical contact with Trayvon would make him guilty of battery as well.

But instead of returning to his vehicle as he had been advised by the police, he chose to escalate the confrontation. It's possible that words and blows were exchanged. But there seems to be no evidence or any real suggestion that Zimmerman was in imminent danger, and thus there was no need to "stand his ground".

In fact, the most telling evidence against Zimmerman are his own words -- "they always get away with it". Leaving aside the hateful aspect of who "they" are, this clearly indicates motive and intent to commit a crime, that is to take the law into his own hands.

At any point, Zimmerman could have just walked away. Had he done so, he would not be facing a real threat to his freedom, and if incarcerated, a likely real threat to his life, given the nature of this case.

But far more importantly, had Zimmerman done so, Trayvon could have walked away, too."
Zimmerman initiated the contact. The reasonable assumption is he provoked Trayvon's response, so that the response was to strike Zimm is assuredly a response to Zimm's physical contact. To assume Zimm merely asked Trayvon what he was doing and was attacked is absurd. I would bet the farm Zimm asked a question, the response was to dismiss him and that set him off. Whatever happened after that cannot be assigned to Trayvon's guilt in any way.
According to the letter of the law you posted, there is zero ability to make a "reasonable belief" claim that Trayvon's reaction to Zimm's illegal act constitutes an imminent use of illegal force. It was Trayvon's legal use of force to defend against what was already Zimm's illegal act.
The screaming stopped when the shot was fired. To say Zimm was the one screaming and in fear is exponentially absurd. It is absurd exclusively within the realm of degrees of absurd. Zimmerman should have been arrested, charged with the appropriate crime under the state's laws and a jury should decide what was "reasonable."
I'd dislike being his lawyer, arguing that a mere question provoked the response that resulted in a bloody nose. An unbiased jury would reject such a laughable claim. Zimmerman tried to "hold" him for the cops. Trayvon's history wouldn't indicate that he irrationally attacked, and Zimm's history would indicate the exact opposite.

Zimmerman's history shows he's a whack-assed wannabe cop. The "he had criminal law enforcement training" should point to the cause of his irrational act, not used to claim he was trained to act rationally. He obviously did not and should be taken off the streets and serve enough time to apply a modicum of justice and deter similar psychotic wannabes.

Zimmerman created the "threat" therefore it was not a threat, it was a reaction.
Zimmerman flat-out murdered Trayvon Martin.
Tom, We are absolutely on the same page. One small point: my understanding is that he conducted at least most of the 911 call from his SUV and was still sitting in it when the dispatcher told him not to follow Martin.
Paul, Yes, as I've said before, it's not gun nuts that worry me, it's nuts with guns. And as to your points, with Zimmerman acting in his volunteer capacity as a neighborhood watch volunteer, and contacting the police as such, he had no business, none, zero, nada, interacting with Martin in any way. But the fact that he was an armed neighborhood watch volunteer is ominous in the extreme.
Rather than shrilly engage in a diatribe on this topic, I'm with you. This is a tragedy and, arguably, a travesty. And there is a law "on the books" which apparently endorses it. There's something wrong with this that warrants scrutiny and a reassessment of a codified "social contract" which would permit this kind of debacle.
Here's a story from a symposium of the National District Attorney's Association that illustrates the insanity of the Florida law.

"The following is an illustration of the potentially serious problems
posed by changes in no-retreat laws. Imagine that a
nine−year−old girl is playing with her dolls outside her home.
In the house next door, a known drug-dealer, Red Rock, is selling
drugs when he notices a rival drug-dealer, Yellow Man, with
whom he had an earlier confrontation, coming down the street.
Red Rock retrieves a semiautomatic assault rifle to defend himself.
Shots are exchanged, and in the aftermath, the little girl,
once playing innocently, lies dead.
Both Red Rock and Yellow Man claim self-defense through
the unprecedented changes in the Castle Doctrine law. (Although
Red Rock was a criminal, a “prohibited person” can
possess a firearm for short periods of time in matters of self-defense.
So long as Red Rock did not own the firearm nor live in
the residence where the firearm was located, he could invoke
a legal defense under the expanded Castle Doctrine.)
If law enforcement cannot prove that Red Rock was engaged
in an unlawful activity and that his fear of imminent bodily harm
was unreasonable, he could claim self-defense. Likewise, assuming
Yellow Man could legally possess a weapon, he would
be justified in using a firearm in self-defense. This eliminates
any legal recourse, civil or criminal, for the violent death of an
innocent nine-year-old girl. Because the legislature provided
blanket immunity for “self-defense,” courts are faced with situations in which a deadly defense may be legally justified, even
if negligently or recklessly executed.
On the other hand, if the Castle Doctrine had not been expanded,
Red Rock would have been required to retreat to an
area—such as his home—that was safe. If he had done so,
then innocent bystanders would have been spared even if the
confrontation had occurred.
Would this shooting have been avoided if the Castle Doctrine
were not expanded? Perhaps not, but the family of the victim
would have legal remedies, and the two perpetrators could be
held responsible for their actions rather than using the Castle
Doctrine as a shield from the criminal and civil justice systems.
Sadly, this scenario is not fictional. It is based on a 2006
homicide case in Miami-Dade County."
In other words, Zimmerman would have been held immune if the 13 year old kid who almost walked back to see what was happening was shot, even if Zimm had been spinning around, shooting in random directions. The law is an abomination, signed by Jeb Bush.
Paul, "...courts are faced with situations in which a deadly defense may be legally justified, even if negligently or recklessly executed." Wow. Thanks for continuing to flesh out the ramifications of the law. You know, I would hope to hear from some of those who attacked so vociferously when I published my previous piece on the law.
Why,for heaven's sake,was there no one to help the boy?After all,he had been sreaming for help.If only one single person had walked over to the conflict,the boy might still be alive because the killer would have beenstopped in an instant.
It sounds like the "Wild West" and I guess it still is.
Thank you,Steve.
The two photos beside each other give a clear testimony about the boy and his killer.
Thank you for this. I have a feeling this will wind up a landmark case and perhaps one that offers something positive from this young man's tragic murder.
Just when ya think it can't get worse....

Even though he was the aggressor, Zimm can be coached to align his story with this section of the law--

776.041. Use of force by aggressor

The justification described in the preceding sections of this
chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the
commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself,

(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably
believes that he or she is in imminent danger of
death or great bodily harm and that he or she has
exhausted every reasonable means to escape such
danger other than the use of force which is likely
to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant;
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical
contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the
assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate
the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

Bada-bing, bada-bang. I'm beginning to wonder if this can even be called a law. It's certainly not a just law. Is there such a thing as an Un-Law? Inverse Justice law...NRA sell more guns law? Republican nutballs pandering to politics, not justice law?

Coincidentally, this law was supposed to reduce crime. Whether the law can be blamed or not, relevant crimes went up 42%
The fact that under this law you can bump someone off and if there are no eyewitnesses, you're scot-free just by claiming to have been threatened is reason enough to scrap this law. In this particular case it seems highly probable that Zimmerman went looking for trouble, created it and then got his jollies by shooting a black kid. And does anyone think if the shooter had been a bigger Afro-American with a record and the victim and smaller, white kid with a soda..well, do I really have to finish this sentence?
So many things wrong with this story. Thank you for shedding light on this horrific situation.
The shoot first laws are not a miscarriage of justice, they are simply laws that when applied in such a bent fashion by incompetent and possibly racist police allow for the miscarriage of justice. That's a big difference.
The only way to prevent this kind of violence isn't the elimination of stand your ground laws or the repeal of concealed carry or the outlaw of handguns or the outright banning of any weapons save for pocket knives.
The solution is obvious.
Do exactly what you're doing with getting attention to the petition and let the Feds do their job.
The laws work when they are made to work. Sometimes tragedy strikes in the form of nutjobs. Changing stand your ground laws won't stop that. Nothing will, save for perhaps a complete cultural shift of tolerance and peace amongst all.
Stand your ground laws make sense. Had I a 'Duty to Retreat' in Iraq I would have gotten my troops and myself killed.
Then again, I'm not sure Iraq is the best example. At least there I had body armor against people who wanted to kill me because of my race.
Well written at any rate, Steve. Good on you for drawing attention to the petition.
 Thank you for this perspective.

 This might also interest you. See Trayvon Martin: Defense a Pig-Sty Beneath a Racist Facade?

No argument with your perspective but the legal discussion misses the point. Under the Florida statute and the admitted facts, Zimmerman is toast. The above is self-explanatory. Suffice to say there is not one fact that permits him to hide behind the defense. Indeed, his own recorded admission do him in.

Thanks again.