Annette John-Hall: Horror of fatal Fla. shooting

Every time I hear Trayvon Martin's mother speak, I get a lump in my throat.

I hear the grief in Sybrina Fulton's voice. I see the pain in her eyes that look so much like her son's. She is living the nightmare that every mother - particularly those of black sons - dreads, yet that too many know all too well.

We teach our sons early in their lives how to avoid potentially deadly confrontations, knowing they will be judged and feared just because of the color of their skin. And we fight that ominous feeling they'll leave and never come back.

Targets - and victims - of racial profiling.

In this so-called enlightened post-racial era, you'd think we wouldn't have to go there again. But the death of Martin, 17, the unarmed Florida teen gunned down in February by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed Neighborhood Watch volunteer, has stoked national outrage and drawn the attention of the U.S. Justice Department.

Zimmerman, who claims he killed Martin in self-defense with a 9mm gun he was licensed to carry, has not been arrested or charged in Martin's death.

Even though the 911 tapes, which Martin's parents fought to get released, seem to tell a different story.

It sure looks like Zimmerman, 28, who, according to police reports is white but whose family says he is Hispanic, was racially profiling Martin as the teen walked through his own father's gated subdivision.

"[Martin] looks like he's up to no good, [like he] is on drugs or something," Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher as he followed Martin in his SUV. "These assholes. They always get away."

Martin's only mistake, it seems, was making a 7-Eleven run for a bag of Skittles and an iced tea and thinking he could get back to his dad's house in time to catch the second half of the NBA all-star game.

With overzealous gun-toting do-gooders like Zimmerman on patrol, who needs a Neighborhood Watch? I'd rather take my chances with the Klan.

 

A 'wannabe' cop

There's no doubt that Martin, like any other black male, would have plenty of safety issues to worry about had he lived in Philadelphia. But being followed, let alone shot, by a Neighborhood Watch member wouldn't be one of them, assures Douglas Evans, a trainer/recruiter for Philadelphia's Operation Town Watch Integrated Services.

Zimmerman's actions, Evans says, gives all town watches a bad name.

Even Bill Lee, the Sanford, Fla., police chief who temporarily stepped down yesterday, told reporters local law enforcement trains its Neighborhood Watch volunteers to be the "eyes and ears" for the police department. They are instructed not to take action themselves but to notify police.

Which is the exact same kind of training members of some 750 Town Watch groups throughout Philadelphia get to earn their certification.

Says Evans, a 14-year member of Town Watch in Germantown: "What the heck was [Zimmerman] thinking? Personally, I think the man should be arrested because he did everything wrong.

"If I have to give him a title," Evans adds, "he's a wannabe. A wannabe cop."

Evans says he's had to decertify some volunteers because of their renegade behavior.

"They want to dress like the police, they put lights on top of their cars like the police. . . . People want to have power and think joining Town Watch will give it to them."

I asked Evans what Zimmerman could have thought was suspicious about the baby-faced Martin, beyond the fact that the teen was black.

Was it, God forbid, because Martin was walking in the rain wearing a hoodie - which, in the mind of the profiler, is the identifying marker of evil of every black man in America.

"Look," says Evans, 59, "personally, I don't like hoodies. They're not my style. But I live near Chestnut Hill and I see white boys all the time in hoodies. You can't pass judgment on a person because of they way they dress. We talk about that in training all the time.

"As a black man, I'm more upset that [Zimmerman] hasn't been arrested."

As a mother, I'm upset about a lot more than that.

How about the fact that authorities bagged Martin's body and tagged it as a John Doe. Even though they had his cellphone and could easily have reached his father, who called it repeatedly when his son didn't come home.

It was three days before Martin's parents were notified of the death of their son - the teen who loved football, his little brother, talking to his girlfriend, and who clearly had parents who loved him unconditionally.

Discarded as a worthless stray.

Profiled even in death.

 


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or follow @Annettejh on Twitter.