Saturday, July 6, 2013

Questioning the Struggle

Trayvon was unarmed, and he was a U.S. citizen. He had every right to be with his father. He was killed because the defendant was armed. The defendant was a wanna-be police officer, and a racist. He was told to stay away until the police arrived. So this seems to be an easy case, but why are commentators claiming the prosecution has not proved its case?

July 3, 2013

Questioning the Struggle


One of the most riveting moments in the George Zimmerman trial this week was the playing of a police tape that showed Zimmerman re-enacting what he said happened the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

To say that there are inconsistencies between that re-enactment and Zimmerman’s verbal and written testimony elsewhere is to be charitable.

For instance, in an interview Zimmerman gave to the police the night of the shooting, he says of Martin: “I was walking back through to where my car was, and he jumped out from the bushes.”

However, in the video re-enactment, which took place a day after the murder, it’s clear not only that there are no bushes near the sidewalk but also that Zimmerman never mentions Martin’s jumping out from anywhere.

But what I find most interesting is the moment in Zimmerman’s police interview that night in which Zimmerman claims that after Martin asked if he had a problem, “I got my cellphone out to call 911 this time.”

Pay attention to that statement about his cellphone, because it’ll be important to my line of questioning.

Aside from all the other inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s accounts of the scuffle, the basic physics of the fight as he describes it are hard to make jibe.

In the re-enactment, Zimmerman says that after a verbal encounter, “I went to go grab my cellphone,” Martin punched him in the face, Zimmerman stumbled or was pushed to the ground by Martin, and Martin got on top of him. Zimmerman then says that he started screaming for help and tried to sit up, and that Martin then grabbed his head and slapped it on the cement. “He just kept slamming it and slamming it,” Zimmerman said.

It is interesting here, in the video, to watch Zimmerman’s hands. He demonstrates the slamming twice and both times he does so with clenched hands, as if Martin was holding something on the sides of his head — like his ears. But, as has been mentioned in the trial, there was none of Zimmerman’s blood or DNA under Martin’s fingernails and there were no injuries documented on or near Zimmerman’s ears. How could this be?

And if Martin “grabbed” Zimmerman’s head some other way, what way was that? His hair was buzzed short and it was raining that night, so presumably his head was wet. When Zimmerman was asked in a follow-up interview how Martin grabbed his head, he said he did not recall.

Furthermore, Dr. Valerie Rao, a medical examiner who reviewed Zimmerman’s injuries, testified Tuesday that the injuries on the back of Zimmerman’s head were consistent with just one strike against a concrete surface, not multiple ones. Rao went on to call Zimmerman’s injuries “insignificant” and “not life threatening,” and said, “If you look at the injuries, they are so minor they are not consistent with grave force.” She continued, “If somebody’s head is banged with grave force I would expect a lot of injuries. I don’t see that.”

If you believe Rao, the struggle simply couldn’t have happened as Zimmerman described it.

In the re-enactment, Zimmerman says that he tried to squirm his head off the concrete, and then he says:

“That’s when my jacket moved up, and I had my firearm on my right side hip. And, he saw it, I feel like he saw it, he looked at it.”

Zimmerman says it is at that point that Martin told him that he was going to die that night. Then Zimmerman says:

“He reached for it, but he reached, like I felt his arm going down to my side and I grab it, and I just grabbed my firearm, and I shot him. One time.”

This fight scene leaves me particularly incredulous, partly because of what Zimmerman is saying, partly because of the forensics and testimony and partly because of what Zimmerman demonstrates in the video — the idea that Martin, while straddling Zimmerman, would be able to see a gun that was presumably behind him, and the idea that Zimmerman would feel Martin’s hand snake across his body, pinch that hand underneath his arm and then reach for and retrieve the gun himself.

If Zimmerman’s hand was free enough for such a maneuver, were his hands not also free enough to try to push Martin off, or force Martin to release his head and not bang it against the concrete, or to hit Martin back (which he never says he does during the entire encounter)? Did Zimmerman’s mixed martial arts training provide him no defensive options whatsoever?

Something about this just doesn’t sound right. And, by the way, how was Zimmerman able to get around Martin’s leg, retrieve the gun and aim it at Martin’s chest so easily?

This is what happens when you try to make the fight fit Zimmerman’s telling. Things don’t make sense.

But what if we back up to the cellphone moment, before any physical encounter occurred, when Zimmerman and Martin had their first verbal exchange. What if we dispense with Zimmerman’s version, revisit the order of things and ask a different set of questions?

In the video Zimmerman looks to his right front pocket when he says he’s looking for the phone. That’s the same area as the gun, which he says he has on his right hip.

Is it possible that Zimmerman didn’t go for his phone but for his gun? And even if he doesn’t retrieve it, is it possible that he exposed it? (In the video, Zimmerman demonstrates that he can expose the weapon without even using his hands to lift his jacket.)

Is it possible that Martin first saw the gun when they were standing and talking? Is it possible that the physical struggle was about the presence of a weapon: between a man trying to retrieve it and an unarmed teenager who had seen it? In that scenario, is it possible that Martin could be on top of Zimmerman and still yelling for help? Is it possible that Zimmerman wasn’t using his hands to fend off Martin because he was using them to go for, control, or aim a weapon?

And, what happened to the “cellphone” Zimmerman said he got out just before a prolonged struggle? He makes no mention of putting it away. His key and flashlights were photographed in the grass, as was Martin’s cellphone. They didn’t hold on to those things. What about Zimmerman’s phone? Where was it when the police arrived?

(By the way, the night of the shooting Zimmerman says he got the cellphone out. The next day, during the re-enactment he changes that part of his story, saying: “I went to go get my cellphone, but my, I left it in a different pocket. I looked down at my pant pocket, and he said ‘you got a problem now,’ and then he was here, and he punched me in the face.”)

These are interesting questions to ponder, the answers to which might make what followed make more sense. But of the two people able to answer those questions, one will never take another breath and the other may never take the stand.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at

© 2012 The New York Times Company

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

No comments: