(Several of Robles’s items mention witness complaints about the investigation. A March 13 article by ABC News’s Matt Gutman offers a more incendiary formulation, saying that an officer “corrected” one eyewitness’s account to make it more sympathetic to Zimmerman.)
That Herald article appeared nearly two weeks ago, though, and important new claims have since come to light. Gutman reported on March 27 that the local department’s lead investigator, Chris Serino, wanted to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter on the night of the killing. That same day, CBS’s Mark Strassman, in a useful article that sketched a brief history of the investigation, reported that Serino pursued the charge for two weeks. And a day later, TheGrio.com’s Joy-Ann Reid reported that Wolfinger took the unusual step of consulting with local police on the night of the killing, as the decision to release Zimmerman was being made.
The time is ripe for a reporter to deliver a current, comprehensive account of the investigation that knits these strands together; makes clear what’s known, what’s alleged, and what’s disputed about investigator’s actions; spells out what an ideal investigation would have looked like, and even advances the ball by answering some outstanding questions. For example: are there any police photos of Zimmerman that might show his injuries—or lack of injuries—more clearly than the grainy surveillance video we’ve all been staring at?
Stand Your Ground
One of the better pieces on the general nature and effect of Stand Your Ground laws—of which Florida’s is said to be one of the most broadly drawn—ran Saturday in The Wall Street Journal. Joe Palazzolo and Rob Barry reported that:
At a time when the overall U.S. homicide rate is declining, more civilians are killing each other and claiming self-defense—a trend that is most pronounced in states with new “stand your ground” laws.
So-called justifiable homicides nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, when 326 were reported, the story says. But the data have not been rigorously studied, Palazzolo and Barry reported, and criminal scientists don’t yet know whether the rise in ‘justifiable’ homicides “reflects killings that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, or if it reflects the fact that more killings might naturally fall into the “justifiable” category.
The story includes interesting stats on race and fatal killings, too. In most killings the killer and the victim are of the same race. In most killings in which the two are of different races, the victim is more often white. But in so-called justifiable homicides, the victim is more often black.
The local context is helpful in understanding what happened in this case. Unsurprisingly, the Florida press has done best at supplying this context, though Mother Jones and The Daily Beast have also run stories that are worth your time.
One of the oldest incorporated cities in Florida, Sanford is 20 miles northeast of Orlando. According to the 2010 census, the city is home to 54,000 people—57 percent white, 30.5 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic.
Mother Jones’s Weinstein has the record on Sanford’s sad, storied, and far-too-recent history of racial tensions. Though many American cities share a strained racial past, Weinstein makes a compelling case that Sanford’s is particularly interesting, and that it lingers. This is a community whose founder had notions to send American blacks to the Congo; which incorporated, in ungenerous fashion, a neighboring black community in 1911; that chased off Jackie Robinson in 1947; and whose police force, in recent years, has come under attack for racial profiling and mishandling the investigations of several crimes involving black victims. This AP story has more on current dynamics between the police and blacks in the community.
Reuters has a fascinating story on how Sanford’s part-time mayor, Jeff Triplett, has found himself at the center of a national firestorm and how some of his decisions—particularly to release the 911 calls from the case—have been controversial with the city staff.
Florida papers have also reported that Sanford has spent $5,000 on crisis communications in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case.