Douchebag Decree: Sanford Police Department

Douchebag is too flippant a word to describe what happened in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighbhood watch member with a history of racial profiling shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old. Zimmerman claims he acted in self-defense, but witnesses and 911 calls—and the fact that Martin was carrying a can of Arizona tea and bag of Skittles, Zimmerman was carrying a loaded 9mm—say otherwise. Martin is dead, Zimmerman is still free, and the Sanford Police Department is showing only a sliver of accountability today with the Chief of Police temporarily “stepping aside.”

The Sanford Police Department, the precinct where Martin was killed, has grossly mishandled the case…and seems intractably committed to their version of the events. Only today, almost a month after the shooting, has Chief of Police Bill Lee “stepped aside” (what does that even mean?)And there’s a strong doubt that any of this would have happened had the Internet and local organizing not swelled and called them out.

They delayed releasing the 911 calls, saying in a press release, “specific information is contained in those recordings which is vital to the integrity of the investigation.  Should it be revealed, the information may compromise the integrity of the investigation prior to its completion.” Of course, once the tapes were released (on Friday night, natch), they proved exactly that—this investigation was clearly compromised, but the department is to blame. 

And it was ABC, not the police department, who spoke to Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with Martin when he was accosted by Zimmerman.

Most of all, the Sanford PD has been defending their inaction because of the “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows residents to use deadly force without backing down, and has made many shootings difficult to investigate since its passing. Zimmerman trailed Martin is his car and approached the 17-year-old—which is a stretch for self-defense in this case. And when gun-rights organizations and the very authors of the Stand Your Ground law are questioning the Sanford PD—that’s saying something.

In addition to taking cover behind the “Stand Your Ground” law, the Sanford PD has shown a stunning lack of respect for Martin and his family from the beginning.  Instead of calling around or checking Martin’s cell phone, he was tagged a John Doe at the morgue, where the body waited for three days before his father was notified. They ran a drug and alcohol test on Martin’s corpse, but didn’t bother to do the same to Zimmerman. (Or even bring him in for questioning after shooting someone to death.)

If their (in)action doesn’t condemn the Sanford police enough, Chief Bill Lee’s Jr. statements show what kind of person he is. While Trayvon’s family was grieving and the country was outraged over another senseless murder of a black youth, Lee made it about his department: “The hysteria, the media circus, it’s just crazy. It’s the craziest damn thing I’ve ever seen, and it’s sad. It’s sad for the city of Sanford, the police department, because I know in my heart we did a good job.”

More unbelievable was when he suggested Trayvon Martin was at fault for his own murder: “We are taking a beating over this. This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too.”

Right… maybe Trayvon should have thought twice about being black in a state with loose gun laws? (It probably won’t surprise you that this police department has a history of protecting its own when it comes to white men attacking black men). 

A local demonstration featuring black activists holding up a sign that read Justice For Trayvon

But the truth is that this is bigger than Sanford, Zimmerman, and even Martin. America has a long history of vigilantism against black and brown folk, from 19th century lynchings to the 2009 murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores. And it’s not just self-appointed “freedom fighters” who do this, but law enforcement officers—the people we’re asking to be accountable for Martin’s murder (think Oscar GrantAiyana Stanley Jones). And stricter gun laws won’t change the fact that our “justice” system only values the lives of black men when they’re in prison. The odds have always been against black men like Trayvon, as they are against poor people, sex workers, people who are trans or gender non-conforming, immigrants, people who are all of the above, people who are assumed to be any of the above—and they will continue to be.

And at a certain point you have to wonder why we’re even holding this police department accountable. As Low End Theory asks, “In appealing to the power of the police to arrest, and to the power of the courts to sentence Zimmerman, we also make heard a message that we might otherwise hesitate to send: namely, that we believe that these institutions—the police, the courts, the law—are institutions capable of delivering the justice we want…To what extent are we willing to appeal to a white supremacist police force as if it were capable of delivering justice for Trayvon?”

What can you do? Sign the petition, support your local demonstrations (and if you’re white, don’t make it about you, and don’t co-opt the message). But even if Lee steps down, even if Zimmerman is arrested, we need to look beyond Sanford—at ourselves, our systems, and our assumptions—to make a sea change that matters. 

Previously: Ernest Perce V, Slavery Billboard Defender, Liz “Women in the Military Should Expect to Get Raped” Trotta

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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3 Comments Have Been Posted

Your aritical on Sandford Police /travon/and Zimmerman

I think you are amazing, I could have never said it better altho you said everything I was feeling, my heart goes out to the family, and especially his mother, it take's a long time and a lot of prayers to grow a son, no matter the color, or race, I didn't know the body laid in morgue for three days. I'm so sad, for his screams and no one came, that hurts most of all, imagine when he realized he was going to be killed, with out mercy, wouldn't you feel mad for a dog. this was a kid, I use to tell my boys about being black, and how different they would be treated, and my middle son who use to tell me I was racist, mom this is not the past, until a group of whites jumped on him because a white woman made a pass at him, I use to tell him no this is not the past, unfortunately , we knew where we stood, and and you don't.

Purposeful Misapplication of Law => Police Abuse

An effective justice system is essential to civilized society.

A justice system that abuses it's authority is worse than no justice system at all.

Police and prosecutors are shielded from consequence of misdeeds through a collection of immunity laws. Laws strategically fostered and supported by law enforcement, judiciary and the incarceration industry.

Political support for these laws is derived from citizen's irrational, but ever present risk bias (a psychological consequence of being a human); which is exploited by politicians trading fear for votes.

Police hate Citizen Gun Ownership.

Police hate Citizen Gun Use Rights.

What better way to undermine a law they hate, than to purposefully misapply it. They are making strategy decisions, and everyone else is thinking tactics.

The purposeful misapplication of the law in the Trayvon Martin case is having its intended effect. Erosion of support for a perfectly sensible law that protects a citizen from legal jeopardy when faced with confrontation that necessitates self defense.

Purposeful misapplication of law is common and the police experience no negative consequence (think false arrests at occupy rally's, and wiretapping charges against citizen's video tapping police conduct... and often misconduct).

Police are shielded by laws and their cozy relationship with local prosecutors from their continued wrongdoing.

Citizen's need to see this for what it really is, it is an ABUSE OF POLICE IMMUNITY.

The Correct Inferences Are:
- Police victimize citizen's
- Police do not want citizen's to have the ability to defend themselves.

The Correct Response:
- Eliminate laws that shield police and prosecutors from purposeful misapplication of law
- Enact laws that define purposeful misapplication of law A FEDERAL CRIME.
- Demand that enforcement of purposeful misapplication of law is carried out vigorously.
- Citizen's should arm themselves with personnel surveillance and legal weapons (clearly the police are NOT your friend, and should NOT be treated as such).

When law enforcement complains, "There's no respect for law enforcement", the loud clear unified response needs to be, "you'll get it when you earn it !!!".

Many will say, well we have to cooperate on the little things, how will they do their jobs? But that's the difference between playing The Long Game... (which is what law enforcement and the incarceration industry is doing) and the typical citizen response, The Short Game, which is a little like putting a band-aid on a little cut while they're chopping your legs off.

I happened to be channel

I happened to be channel surfing a couple of days ago and landed on Sean Hannity's Fox News program. While Hannity was going full speed idiot with his whole "George Zimmerman was just defending himself and this is all about race-baiting" pile of bull, Dierdre (sp) Imus (Don Imus's wife) was making the cogent argument that if Zimmerman really was defending himself, that there should've immediately been a grand jury investigation into that evening's events and, if the grand jury could find viable proof of the "self defense", then so be it. The thing is, that hasn't even happened. No grand jury proceedings has begun, no real criminal investigation started, etc., and that's a grand miscarriage of justice. At this point, all we can hope for is that the feds can take over this case, with the FBI taking over the investigation and the Department of Justice moving forth with criminal proceedings on a federal level, probably as a hate crime (since hate crimes are federal offenses).

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