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Did Trayvon Grab for the Gun?

The Million Hoodies March in Union Square, Manhattan, on March 21, 2012. By David Shankbone (own work) via Wikimedia Commons.

Remember Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teen who was killed last winter by a neighborhood watchman?

Well, the already twisty case just took another turn.

'He reached for it.'

That's what George Zimmerman – who shot Trayvon Martin to death one night last February – said when he reenacted the scene. What was he referring to? His gun.

Zimmerman had a gun in a holster around his waist. And his story was that Martin was reaching for it, trying to grab it.

But guess what? New tests show none of Martin's DNA on Zimmerman's gun.

More new findings:

  • On Zimmerman's holster was the DNA of Zimmerman and two other people – tests couldn't determine whether Martin was one of them.
  • Martin's blood was found on Zimmerman's jacket.
  • Zimmerman's DNA was found on a shirt Martin was wearing under his hoodie.

Remind me who these two people are?

First, there's 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. On the night of February 26, 2012, the high school junior was returning to his father's home in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, from buying candy and a drink from a local 7-Eleven. It was a rainy night, and Martin was wearing a hoodie.

IMG_2110

And there's 28-year-old George Zimmerman. He was working as a neighborhood watchman at the community where Martin's dad lived.

Zimmerman, George - Seminole County Mug

Remind me what happened?

Let's quickly recap the basic sequence of events:

Zimmerman spotted Martin, thought he seemed suspicious, and called the cops.

When Zimmerman mentioned following Martin, the police dispatcher said "We don't need you to do that."

Listen to the 911 call >>

What happened next exactly is not entirely clear and is a matter of dispute.

Shooting of Trayvon Martin map

Somehow there was a confrontation between the two.

It may or may not have involved Martin threatening, and even trying, to kill Zimmerman.

It definitely ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin, and Martin dying.

Why is it controversial?

The Trayvon Martin case raises a lot of hot issues and questions, like these:

What really happened?

There are so many questions here.

Did the events happen the way Zimmerman says they did? Martin's family and friends say he was nonviolent. If that's true, why would he suddenly threaten and beat on a neighborhood watchman?

Which was fighting to defend his life, and which was the trigger-happy aggressor? Which was calling for help?

Why does some of the witness testimony tell conflicting stories?

Exactly what really happened that night is shrouded in mystery.

Is justice being served?

Key events in Trayvon Martin case

Zimmerman was handcuffed and taken in for questioning the night of the shooting, but he wasn't charged with a crime - second-degree murder - until April – two months after that night, and after a huge public outcry that included an online petition signed by more than 2 million people and a "million hoodie march."

Trayvon Martin shooting protest 2012 Shankbone 27

Have the police and district attorneys investigated and pursued this case from the start as they would any other shooting? Can the families involved have confidence that justice will be served for both Martin and Zimmerman?

Is racism at the core of this case?

Was it racism that led Zimmerman to be suspicious of Martin – an unarmed black teenager walking home in the rain from a convenience store – and to pursue him that night? If not, what was it? Is there convincing evidence that Zimmerman was racist? (Some witnesses have said no, others say yes.)

And was it racism that delayed the charging of Zimmerman with a crime? If not, what caused the delay?

Has racism tinged coverage and commentary in the media, like when one TV host said the hoodie Martin was wearing was partly "responsible for his death"?

What are the rights to self-defense?

Florida has a "concealed carry" law, which means people can get a license to carry, and hide from view, firearms like handguns.

Florida also has a self-defense law known as "stand your ground." The provision is central to the Trayvon Martin case – it says people may use "deadly force" in a situation where:

"he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony."

It goes on to say a person can't lawfully use deadly force if he or she:

Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(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; or
(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.

Was Zimmerman's shooting of Martin justifiable? Depends on the circumstances of the situation, right? (His lawyer has already said he's not going to rely on "stand your ground," but rather on the general principle of self-defense.)

Which brings us back to today's revelation. So, Martin's DNA was not found on Zimmerman's gun. Tests on the holster were "inconclusive."

What does the finding really mean? Does it show that Martin wasn't grabbing for the gun? Or maybe he was reaching for it but never quite touched it? How might this finding affect both the prosecution's case and the defense's?

What's next?

Given how much attention the case has already drawn, the trial may well become a bit of a media circus, like the Casey Anthony murder trial.

No date has been set yet, but it may be several months before the trial begins.

If Zimmerman is convicted of second-degree (non-premeditated) murder, he faces life in prison.

The case has already divided the country. What will happen when the verdict comes?

The Kicker

Many teens have already taken action related to the Trayvon Martin case. Here are some more things you can do, depending on what you believe about this case.

Small:

Check out the Think Progress Hoodies for Trayvon Pinterest board >>

Join the Justice for Trayvon Martin Facebook group >>

Join the Justice for George Zimmerman Facebook group >>

Medium:

Find out what the gun laws are in your state >>

Discover how to organize a peaceful protest >>

Large:

Donate to the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation >>

Donate to the George Zimmerman Legal Defense Fund >>

Join the UN's Let's Fight Racism campaign >>

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

Holly Epstein Ojalvo

Holly’s mission is to inform, inspire, and empower engaged activists who will change the world. She was previously an editor at The New York Times and a high school teacher. She spent her brief 20’s slump at a mousepad factory. Holly earned a B.A. at Lafayette College and M.A.'s at U Delaware and NYU. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, daughter, and cat, Tomie Twotone. Follow: @heoj.

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  1. DougHerman says:

    Wow. That is a really comprehensive but easy-to-digest review of the facts and issues surrounding this case that has disappeared from the news for the past several months.

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