George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26 is gaining national attention; and for good reason. Adam Weinstein has a primer of events and recordings of several calls to placed to 911, including Zimmerman’s. Here is a clip from Zimmerman’s call (full transcript):

Dispatcher: Yeah we’ve got someone on the way, just let me know if this guy does anything else. Zimmerman: Okay. These assholes they always get away. When you come to the clubhouse you come straight in and make a left. Actually you would go past the clubhouse. Dispatcher: So it’s on the lefthand side from the clubhouse? Zimmerman: No you go in straight through the entrance and then you make a left…uh you go straight in, don’t turn, and make a left. Shit he’s running. Dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running? Zimmerman: Down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood. Dispatcher: Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards? Zimmerman: The back entrance…fucking [unintelligible] Dispatcher: Are you following him? Zimmerman: Yeah Dispatcher: Ok, we don’t need you to do that. (emphasis added)

Zimmerman appears excessively suspicious and he never gave the dispatcher a solid example of wrongdoing by Martin to warrant  suspicion. The Sanford Police appear to have accepted Zimmerman’s version of the event uncritically:

“Mr. Zimmerman’s claim is that the confrontation was initiated by Trayvon,” Police Chief Bill Lee said in an interview. “I am not going into specifics of what led to the violent physical encounter witnessed by residents. All the physical evidence and testimony we have independent of what Mr. Zimmerman provides corroborates this claim to self-defense.”

To claim self-defense, someone has to show there was danger of great bodily harm or death, Lee said. “Zimmerman had injuries consistent with his story,” Lee said.

Zimmerman had a damp shirt, grass stains, a bloody nose and was bleeding from a wound in back of his head, according to police reports.

“If someone asks you, ‘Hey do you live here?’ is it OK for you to jump on them and beat the crap out of somebody?” Lee said. “It’s not.”

The police chief supports the claim that Martin initiated the confrontation even though Zimmerman indicated to the 911 dispatcher that he was pursuing the unarmed teen. There is some evidence of an altercation before the shooting, but Martin had as much right to defend himself as Zimmerman and he had a very good reason to fear the man who shot him.

Leave aside the racial angle for a moment—Trayvon Martin was black—the state of the law in Florida is seriously distorted. Not only is there no duty to retreat in a public place before shooting someone; if this case is typical, Armed Floridians can start the trouble and still get away with murder. Emily Bazelton at Slate quotes a Florida prosecutor saying (before this shooting occurred) “The ultimate intent might be good, but in practice, people take the opportunity to shoot first and say later they had a justification. It almost gives them a free pass to shoot.” It would appear that he is correct, although the Federal Government is now investigating the case.