The NY Times opens a campaign to bring racial justice to Florida. They may have landed on the right side of the issue, or not. Their lead:
Justice Department Investigation Is Sought in Florida Teenager’s Shooting Death
MIAMI — Nearly three weeks after an unarmed teenager was killed in a small city north of Orlando, stirring an outcry, a few indisputable facts remain: the teenager, who was black, was carrying nothing but a bag of Skittles, some money and a can of iced tea when he was shot. The neighborhood crime watch volunteer who got out of his car and shot him is white and Hispanic. He has not been arrested and is claiming self-defense.
Beyond that, however, little is clear about the Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, 17.
As criticism of the police investigation mounts, so too do the calls for swift action in a case with heavy racial overtones. Protests grow larger each week, and lawyers for the family are now asking the Department of Justice to intervene. The case also brings into sharp focus Florida’s self-defense laws, which give people who feel threatened greater latitude in defending themselves than most states.
We all know the script, and yes, former Presidential candidate Al Sharpton is on his way.
Let's press on with what the Times presents as fact:
The police in of Sanford, where the shooting took place, are not revealing details of the investigation. Late Friday night, after weeks of pressure, the police played the 911 calls in the case for the family and gave copies to the news media. On the recordings, one shot, an apparent warning or miss, is heard, followed by a voice begging or pleading, and a cry. A second shot is then heard, and the pleading stops.
“It is so clear that this was a 17-year-old boy pleading for his life, and someone shot him in cold blood,” said Natalie Jackson, one of the Martin family lawyers.
Two shots! Well, can we make that "two shots?" with a BIG question mark? [UPDATE: In a follow-up story, the Times does just that.] From other sources it seems clear to me that the shooter, George Zimmerman, provoked the situation by leaving his car and following the teen. However, there seems to be a real question, other than in TimesLand, as to how many shots were fired.
Here is the Orlando Sentinel:
Trayvon Martin shooting: Screams, shots heard on 911 call
Two shots and screaming can be heard in dramatic 911 calls released late Friday from the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
So far so good for the Times editorial process. But...
In one of the eight calls, screaming can be heard in the background as a woman tries to get help. That call is punctuated by two gunshots.
"You hear a shot, a clear shot, then you hear a 17-year-old boy begging for his life," said Natalie Jackson, another family attorney. "Then you hear a second shot."
It was the first time that anyone said two shots were fired that night.
And in an earlier version of the same Sentinel story run by an ABC news affiliate, this paragraph was included:
But three witnesses who have made public statements have been clear that they heard a single shot, and Trayvon was hit in the chest by a single bullet.
One shot is still one too many, but the narrative with a warning shot, the pleading and the cold-bloded execution relies on two shots.
So let's go to the tape. The Orlando Sentinel version is here; the first "gunshot" is at 24 seconds and the next at 41. I have downloaded it and converted it to MP3, which is here.
An obvious puzzle is the woman caller's non-reaction to the first "gunshot" at 24 seconds, especially considering her clear "There's a gunshot" reaction to the shot heard at 41.
A possible explanation - the woman recognized the first sound as something else altogether - a door slamming, the phone being bumped against a wall, or whatever - and paid it no mind. The second shot we hear is the first shot fired.
Eventually, some news service (presumaby not the Times) will hire audio experts to study the tape. In the meantime, I have employed some free software and some free time to offer some free analysis (and you get what you pay for.) Here, using Audacity, are waveforms of the two gunshots.
First, the waveform around 24 seconds:
If one of those sounded louder on the tape, it might be because it was louder. That said, the woman seemed to be moving around inside her home, so the sound quality could have changed. However, the notion that the first "gunshot" was actually something else would explain her non-reaction and the other witness accounts.
Well - nobody working as a CSI needs to fear for their job based on my effort. However, I would welcome and encourage a serious effort to establish just what we are hearing on this tape.
WORTH KEEPING IN MIND:
[Police investigator] Serino said Trayvon's father, Tracy Martin, listened to all of the 911 calls in the case before the entire family convened at City Hall to listen Friday night. When asked if the voice on one, a male calling for help was his son, told Serino no.
Police lied Friday, Crump said, when they said Tracy Martin said the voice crying for help was not his son. What Tracy Martin told police, Crump said, was that "he couldn't tell, that it was too distorted."
The audio has since been cleaned up, and now Tracy Martin has no doubt but that the voice is his son, Crump said.
As to just how cleaned up these tapes are, who knows? Is a gunshot so distinctive that it could be cleaned away? And there is still her non-reaction to the first shot.
FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE... As a casual consumer of self defense articles, I infer that warning shots are not encouraged. In the case at hand, there was a 17 second lag between shots, which is an age in the course of a backyard scuffle.
Ok, maybe Zimmerman shot with intent twice and missed the first time.
GETTING SOMEWHERE: This Miami Herald story from Thursday precedes the release of the 911 tapes. Two witnesses - Austin McLendon, the 13 year old dog walker and Mary Cutcher heard one shot. From Ms. Cutcher:
“This was not self-defense,” Cutcher said. “We heard no fighting, no wrestling, no punching. We heard a boy crying. As soon as the shot went off, it stopped, which tells me it was the child crying. If it had been Zimmerman crying, it wouldn’t have stopped. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting.”
She and her friend say they heard the sounds from a few steps away, where they were inside beside an open window.
The HuffPo details Austin's account:
Austin comes on the line [with the 911 dispatcher]: "I saw a man laying on the ground that needed help, that was screaming and then I was going to go over there to try and help him, but my dog got off the leash, so I went and got my dog, and then I heard a loud sound and then the screaming stopped."
The dispatcher asks: "Did you see the person shot? Did you know the person that was shot, or see the person with the gun?"
"No, I just heard a loud sound and then the screaming stopped," Austin replied.
The screaming stopped after the second shot, so how did he not hear the first while he was outside and nearby?
Let's hear from the chief of police:
“Mr. Zimmerman’s claim is that the confrontation was initiated by Trayvon,” Police Chief Bill Lee said in an interview. “I am not going into specifics of what led to the violent physical encounter witnessed by residents. All the physical evidence and testimony we have independent of what Mr. Zimmerman provides corroborates this claim to self-defense.”
To claim self-defense, someone has to show there was danger of great bodily harm or death, Lee said. “Zimmerman had injuries consistent with his story,” Lee said.
Zimmerman had a damp shirt, grass stains, a bloody nose and was bleeding from a wound in back of his head, according to police reports.
“If someone asks you, ‘Hey do you live here?’ is it OK for you to jump on them and beat the crap out of somebody?” Lee said. “It’s not.”
Was Zimmerman engaging in a bit of racial profiling when he started following the black teen? Was Martin engaging in a bit of profiling by feeling threatened by the large swarthy man?
I remain confident that if Zimmerman had not had a gun he would have stayed in his car and this would be a non-event. As to how the two of them interacted, I don't know, although I am sure Al Sharpton will explain it cogently.
IF YOU CAN'T TRUST THE AP:
Officials released a total of seven 911 calls. All of the callers described a single shot.
AND NOW THE TIMES COMES AROUND A BIT:
Ms. Alvarez has a new story. Her lead:
911 Calls Add Detail to Debate Over Florida Killing
MIAMI — It was raining the night of Feb. 26 when George Zimmerman, a crime watch volunteer, set out to patrol his neighborhood in his sport utility vehicle, as was his habit in recent weeks. Several break-ins had been reported in the area, and Mr. Zimmerman was especially alert.
He spotted a young black teenager wearing a sweatshirt, with the hood draped over his head. Mr. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic man, trailed him a bit. Then he called 911, the first of seven calls from Mr. Zimmerman and panicked neighbors that begin to flesh out the details in the death of Trayvon Martin, 17, whom Mr. Zimmerman shot. The police released the recordings to local reporters late Friday night after nearly three weeks of pressure from Trayvon’s parents and their supporters.
The 911 calls from a gated community in Sanford, north of Orlando, culminate with a faint voice in the distance crying and pleading for help. A gunshot is heard, and then silence. Mr. Zimmerman told the police that he had shot Trayvon in self-defense, after the two got into a fight and Mr. Zimmerman wound up on the ground. There have been no arrests in the case. The unarmed teenager, who carried Skittles and a can of iced tea, was walking to the home of his father’s girlfriend from a convenience store.
Big Skip and:
It is not clear from the audio whether one or two shots was fired. And, with the voice muffled in the distance, it is difficult to know which of the two men is crying out for help.
Yesterday we heard two gunshots, today it's one. I can't wait for tomorrow, and crickets.
Here is one more for the Unanswered Questions file:
Trayvon had no criminal record. He was suspended from his Miami high school for 10 days in February, which is the reason he was visiting his father. The family said the suspension was not for violent or criminal behavior but for a violation of school policy.
I have no idea what school he attended, but for flavor, here is a Southwest Miami High School discipline plan. Fighting is an automatic ten-day suspension; repeated minor offenses such as smoking or dress code violations can result in a ten dayer.