Political Animal


March 24, 2012 2:39 PM Welcome to Phase 2 of the Trayvon Martin Debacle

By Jesse Singal

Well something like this was inevitable, I suppose, and it isn’t hard to anticipate the reaction from the usual suspects:

Trayvon Martin may have attacked a Neighborhood Watch captain before the man shot dead the unarmed teen in a gated community in Florida, an anonymous witness who spoke to police claimed yesterday.
The witness, known only as John, told Sanford police that he saw Martin on top of George Zimmerman shortly before the fatal shot that has led to a national outcry, including a huge ‘hoodie’ march in Philadelphia last night.
He recounted the details to Fox 35 News in Florida.
The witness told FOX 35 in Orlando that he saw evidence of a fight between Martin and Zimmerman, which could lend credence to the gunman’s claim that he was acting in self-defence.
‘The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: “Help, help… and I told him to stop and I was calling 911,’ he said.
Zimmerman was wearing a red sweater; Martin was in a grey hoodie.
He added: ‘When I got upstairs and looked down, the guy who was on top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.’
This account is drastically different from the portrait painted of Martin by his friends and acquaintances.

Really? It does?

“Friends of the slain 17-year-old,” the article continues, “say they cannot imagine him getting involved in a fight, and insist that he was not violent.”

But there are endless shades to the concept of “getting involved in a fight,” which range from picking out someone and beating them up for no reason to fighting back when cornered or provoked.

The fact that this anonymous witness thinks Martin was beating up Zimmerman is worthless once you factor in the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, especially in moments of chaos and physiological arousal. The human brain simply isn’t well-built to look out at a scene like the one John witnessed and quickly determine who is beating up who or the nature of the altercation.

So the evidence provided by John points to only one certain fact (and this is buttressed by the cops, who did say that Zimmerman had a broken nose when they got to him): there was a tussle between Zimmerman and Martin. On its own that tells us very little.

The 911 call indicates that Zimmerman decided well before the shooting that he thought Martin was suspicious, and had begun to follow him (against the advice of the 911 dispatcher). So we have a sequence like this:

1) Zimmerman calls 911 to report the “suspicious” Martin.
2) Zimmerman begins to pursue Martin.
3) ???
4) Zimmerman and Martin get in a fight.
5) Zimmerman shoots Martin.

Everything is speculation at this point, of course. But given what we know about Zimmerman’s penchant for heightened vigilance (46 emergency calls in the last six years) and the consensus view that Martin was a completely sweet, nonconfrontational kid (yes, he was suspended from school, but for tardiness), I just don’t see how this changes anything. As of now, there’s no reason to think Martin did anything that a reasonable person would consider likely to provoke getting shot.

(Necessary postscript: Even assuming that there was a tussle may strike some as premature, of course, but between the bloody nose and John stating he saw Zimmerman and Martin fightingfighting—it’s easy to misinterpret the reason for a fight, but harder to completely conjure from thin air the memory that a fight occurred at all—this seems plausible, at least for now.)

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • Texas Aggie on March 24, 2012 2:53 PM:

    Even assuming that this new report is somewhat accurate, when you have a little kid armed with a bag candy and a huge hulk that outweighs the kid by half again as much armed with a gun, who is defending himself? There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the kid was trying to keep from getting shot.

  • tcinaz on March 24, 2012 2:57 PM:

    Given the sequence of events as you note, and the statements made by Zimmerman himself, one is forced to wonder how Florida's "Stand your ground" law applies to Martin not Zimmerman. Is he not entitled to aggressively resist Zimmerman's assault? After running from the man, is Martin not entitled, as the law is used to defend Zimmerman, to defend himself? If not, why not? Has anyone got a legal opinion on this?

  • John B. on March 24, 2012 2:58 PM:

    This story is sheer baloney, of course, and quite at odds with the known cell phone conversations. It will be exploded soon the credulous media with an endless appetite for he-said-she-said controversy moves on. Then someone with a brain will cross-examine the NRA fantacist -- assuming he even exists -- and poof! Etch-a-Sketch that, please.

    Oddly, however, the silly story wouldn't excuse Zimmerman, anyway, even if it were true (which it isn't). Quite the opposite, in fact. If two people are tussling on the ground, each would have ample opportunity to determine the other is armed with nothing more than a box of Skittles.

    Weak brains and corrupt people in a panic invent stupid lies like this. Many such live in Florida.


  • Boronx on March 24, 2012 3:00 PM:

    Is there any interpretation of this where Zimmerman isn't the attacker and Martin the defender?

  • Jesse Singal on March 24, 2012 3:06 PM:


    Don't think we know enough to speculate as to who initiated the physical fight, but I agree that given how this fits into what we know, it's hard to come up with a story where Zimmerman wasn't at least the *provoker*.

    Maybe he struck first, but even if he didn't, if some weird guy started following me around and called 911 on me and I was having trouble shaking him, I can't say for sure how I would react...

  • Mimikatz on March 24, 2012 3:08 PM:

    It is equally plausible to assume that ZImmerman grabbed Trayvon's cell phone, based on what the girlfriend heard and Zimmerman's ex-girlfriend's statement that when he routed her up he grabbed her cellphone. And perhaps they scuffled for it. Or perhaps Zimmerman drew his weapon and Trayvon tried to get away and Zimmerman grabbed him and they fell, with Z hurting his face and so he shot Trayvon.

    There is no scenario where Zimmerman isn't aggressively pursuing Trayvon to begin with. Self-defense doesn't require someone to stand their ground when a sensible person would have retreated. It is a defense, not a mandate.

  • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on March 24, 2012 3:09 PM:

    FOX Nooze and the people who speak to same have little credibility.

  • left reach on March 24, 2012 3:10 PM:

    Trayvon's mother recognized her son as the voice of the person screaming for help on the audiotape.
    And if Zimmerman pounced on him during the attack, Trayvon had to help himself by fending off this larger person.
    And Zimmerman got out of the vehicle after being told not to pursue--and he did not call police again and describe a crime. That puts everything in doubt for Zimmerman.
    Trayvon's girlfriend told the family lawyer she advised Trayvon to run from the man. Picture a tackle from the armed chaser Zimmerman and an unarmed teen trying to save his own life.

  • Rick B on March 24, 2012 3:11 PM:

    Actually this entire story is a great advertisement for the gun lobby. What is both of them had guns? The first one to shoot would be the person who felt threatened and was defending himself under the (utterly ridiculous) stand your ground law.

    Think of the gun sales!!

    No, there is no possible way that an unarmed 17 year old talking to his girlfriend on the phone could have been the cause of this tragedy. Zimmerman is simply an insane frustrated cop wannabee looking for trouble.

  • mudwall jackson on March 24, 2012 3:19 PM:

    Weak brains and corrupt people in a panic invent stupid lies like this. Many such live in Florida.


    My guess is that many weak-minded, corrupt people live everywhere, including Oregon. But if you don't want to come here (Florida), that's fine. Our roads are crowded with too many people from out of state (including the guy who nearly ran me off the road the other night) who don't know where they're going, and the waiting time at our restaurants is way too long.

  • j on March 24, 2012 3:21 PM:

    What about the police report, did Zimmerman have any obvious injuries, surely a medical exam would have told if he had a broken nose, this would (should) have all been recorded at the time.

  • More shadowy legacy on March 24, 2012 3:26 PM:

    Don't forget this with regard to notorious Florida:

    From Freespeechtv 1/30/12
    Excerpt--"The Sunshine State's Shadowy Legacy"

    "...Recall that George W. Bush was declared the winner in Florida by about 500 votes, giving him the presidency. Recall also that Bush's victory was sealed by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that abruptly halted a statewide vote recount.

    In the election's aftermath, the press was concerned more with "healing" than digging into the facts of what happened. And then, after 9/11, it was considered unseemly to question the fundamental health of our democracy. The upshot is that we've never honestly grappled with the extent of the fraud that occurred in Florida in 2000.
    But the truth is that the state's GOP-controlled election was corrupt almost beyond belief.

    According to an investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, more than 50 percent of Florida's 180,000 "spoiled" ballots were cast by African Americans, though blacks constituted only 11 percent of the population.
    Put another way, ballots cast by African Americans were about nine times more likely to be rejected than ballots cast by the rest of the population. And "the disparity in the spoilage rates," according to the report, "is not the result of education or literary differences."

    That conclusion was confirmed by a task force assembled by the state's Republican governor, Jeb Bush.

    So tens of thousands of Florida voters were systematically disenfranchised in an election that turned on a few hundred votes. There is bipartisan agreement that this happened. And that was just one of many irregularities favoring Bush..."

    A state with *too many* irregularities.

  • jjm on March 24, 2012 3:37 PM:

    I wonder why blacks aren't out shooting whites -- after all, clearly whites like Zimmerman constitute a serious threat to the life and limb of any African American, who should therefore legitimately be able to 'stand his ground.'

    The fact that African Americans are NOT threatening whites, not walking around armed to the teeth to try to get whites in the position where they can be killed with impunity shows who are the civilized people in Florida, and it ain't the Zimmermans of this world....

  • TCinLA on March 24, 2012 3:39 PM:

    "tcinaz": don't you know that the "Stand Your Ground" law if for white people to defend themselves against all those ni**ers???

  • jason on March 24, 2012 3:40 PM:

    A little kid? He is 6'2. He is 17. Those pictures the press is showing is of him as a child. Look at pictures of him now. He isn't a little kid.

  • jason on March 24, 2012 3:44 PM:

    The media in this country is so biased it is a joke.

    Take for example Jena Six case where six african americans brutally attacked a white kid and left him unconscious and with brain damage.

    The media made the six african americans out to be the victims. Then they got off with a slap of the wrist and the main instigator after that took a guy's head and slammed it into a table and was arrested again.

  • T-Rex on March 24, 2012 3:52 PM:

    ijm: On one occasion, black people did show up with weapons to defend themselves against possible aggression by whites. That was in Philadelphia, during the '08 elections, when several members of the New Black Panthers showed up holding night-sticks (OOOOOH! WMD!) and stationed themselves outside a polling place to watch for any signs of voter intimidation -- you know, the sort of thing that had been so well documented in Florida in 2000, for example. The result, of course, was a s***-storm that has lasted every since, with whites shrieking about the horrible threat they posed to democracy. Guess "stand your ground" didn't apply in that case.

  • Kathryn on March 24, 2012 3:55 PM:

    This bloody nose, now a broken nose just surfaced about three or four days ago, several weeks after the assault. Suddenly a witness appears, Zimmerman has had close to a month to consider his defense. Did the original police report document injuries to Zimmerman, did he seek medical attention? This new witness,other witnesses (saw a young teen who witnessed some of altercation on cable a about a week ago) and Zimmerman need to be questioned, especially Zimmerman, by experienced and competent investigators. Personally, I will be surprised if inonsistencies large enough to drive a truck through do not surface in Zimmerman's story. It's criminal that he's been free all this time to work on justifing his actions.

  • MuddyLee on March 24, 2012 3:56 PM:

    If you've ever been on a jury (3 times for me), you know that eye witness testimony, sworn in and on the witness stand, can be confusing and contradictory. Without formal charges and a trial, with prosecution and defense, you can't determine what happened. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee a trial will get it right either, but the pre-trial speculation and 24 "news" channels won't come close.

  • Betsy on March 24, 2012 4:02 PM:

    Has it not occurred to anyone yet that accordingto Florida law if you are stalked and threatened by a man with a gun you CAN STAND YOUR GROUND AND DEFEND YOURSELF even if it is with your bare hands against someone much bigger than you?

  • g on March 24, 2012 4:35 PM:

    one is forced to wonder how Florida's "Stand your ground" law applies to Martin

    Maybe you're only allowed to "stand your ground" legally if you can kill the other guy. If you're unarmed, tough shit.

  • windshouter on March 24, 2012 4:46 PM:

    I gotta wonder about those who are convicted of first degree murder in Florida. Couldn't they have just provoked a fight and gotten away with it? Can you hire a person to provoke your target and shoot them?

  • Anonymous on March 24, 2012 4:47 PM:

    No, now he's a dead kid, you fucking troll. What does Jena have to do with it, except in your foul mind?

  • left reach on March 24, 2012 4:56 PM:

    Charles M. Blow just tweeted:
    "And for all the ppl who say the pics we've seen of #Trayvon are old: wrong! I saw picks taken 2 weeks before shooting. He has a baby face."
    about 2 hours ago

  • martin on March 24, 2012 5:06 PM:

    Umm, did this anonymous witness ever get around to calling 911 like he said he was going to? Surely those tapes would have surfaced by now.

  • Josef K on March 24, 2012 5:14 PM:

    From jason at 3:40 PM:

    A little kid? He is 6'2. He is 17. Those pictures the press is showing is of him as a child. Look at pictures of him now. He isn't a little kid.

    Was, jason. He was 6'2". He was 17.

    Now he's dead, killed in the middle of the night by a person carrying a gun and their irrational fears.

    He will never turn 18, will never vote, will never be able to contribute to society, will never be able to do the ten thousand things you and I take for granted.

    He is dead.

    Now, did you have an actual point to make, or are you simply here to moan at the supposed unfairness of Zimmerman's situation?

  • lb 22 on March 24, 2012 5:24 PM:

    Just heard some gun organization pratt on Cenk's show refer to this and state that the shooting was clearly justified, because even though Zimmerman was the aggressor, and the fight was about Martin defending himself, once he got the better of Zimmerman, Martin was obliged to stop and run away, but since he didn't (this guy knew a lot about an incident he didn't see) Zimmerman had the right to kill him in self defense because he feared for his life. You would think that would prove that Martin didn't have Zimmerman under control, but I'm clearly looking at things backwards. I guess a robber is allowed to kill you now if you fight back and look like you are going to win, its in the constitution.

    Ultimately his argument seems to be that in any interaction between a white and black person, only the white person gets rights.

  • Tom Maguire on March 24, 2012 5:54 PM:

    Phase II? They are recycling a news report from Feb 27, 2012, the day after the shooting.

    And re "Even assuming that there was a tussle may strike some as premature, of course..."

    Seriously? People listen to those 911 calls and come away with the idea that maybe there was *not* a scuffle? Then a lot of confused people were calling in imagining that they heard people yelling.

  • exlibra on March 24, 2012 6:45 PM:

    I expect that the B that Trayvon carved on Zimmerman's cheek -- which the witness had seen so clearly -- has healed without a trace by now?

  • Steve P on March 24, 2012 8:07 PM:

    These things are usually sorted out at the trial, when the results of the investigation into the shooting are presented in open court for all the world to see.
    So . . . what?
    No trial?
    No arrest?
    Was there even an investigation?

    Oh yeah. Florida.

  • E.Hatt-Swank on March 24, 2012 9:10 PM:

    Re: Betsy @ 4:02pm :

    Yes! This is an excellent point and one which hasn't been emphasized enough in my opinion.

    We have to remember that Zimmerman was not a cop or any kind of legitimate authority figure (except perhaps in his own mind). As far as Trayvon likely knew, he was just some weirdo stalking him with ill intent, maybe a serial killer, maybe a kidnapper, who knows. Why the f*ck wouldn't he defend himself?!

    I saw a good segment about this on CNN with Jeffrey Toobin, who pointed out quite effectively that this is f*ckin' America, and you are not obligated under any circumstances to answer questions from any self-appointed "neighborhood watch captain", or even a police officer for heaven's sake. Just the fact that Zimmerman wouldn't let it go when the 911 responder told him not to follow Trayvon, I think, tells us all we need to know about his state of mind and intentions.

  • labman57 on March 24, 2012 9:50 PM:

    In the courtroom, there is no such thing as an anonymous witness ... which no doubt explains why Zimmerman, his lawyer, and the local authorities that sanctioned his behavior will do everything in their power to prevent charges from being filed against this racist vigilante.

  • g on March 25, 2012 12:12 AM:

    It appalls me that there are people living in America today that truly believe that a 17 year old child should live his life expecting that at any moment he might be under suspicion of crime, and must therefore carefully calibrate his every actions, including the manner in which he walks home from a convenience store - in order to avoid being killed.

    Seriously - in what country other than the most war-torn do we expect our children to perform this mental calculation on a daily basis?

  • JerryR on March 25, 2012 2:17 PM:

    Two people get into a gun battle....... the one that lives to tell the story gets to claim the "Stand Your Ground" defence...... no wait that was Dodge City in the 1800's or did they have to check their firearms at the city limit.

  • emmakable on March 25, 2012 4:58 PM:

    "The human brain simply isn’t well-built to look out at a scene like the one John witnessed and quickly determine who is beating up who or the nature of the altercation."

    This is the stupidest thing I've ever read. One can't witness a fight, see who's on the top punching and who's on the bottom, then go inside and call 911 and tell them what you just saw? Honestly, this is your argument?
    This witness is anonymous only in the case of the media, not to the police who spoke with him and realized his account is consistent with Zimmerman's injuries. This is why Zimmerman wasn't charged. I'd be anonymous too to twatty media types if real racists and hate groups were out putting bounties on people's heads.