My hoodie is black. These days I only have the one — a gift from my friends at Rock 92 given back when I used to do an on-air spot once a week for the “Two Guys Named Chris” show — but there was a time when I had a closet full of them: ones with team logos and the Nike swoosh, zippered ones with thermal lining that I used to wear with my denim jacket because I was too cool to wear heavy coats, a maroon one from my high school and another I got from the community pool where I used to work summers.
I was a teenager then, roughly the same age Trayvon Martin was when he was shot to death by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla.
The case has gained crazy traction in the media, where trickles of information both mitigating and aggravating have been flowing forth nearly every day in the month since Martin was shot, and on Facebook, where calls for justice inundate my news feed from just about every corner of my friend list.
The outrage is plain to see, but the facts are maddeningly incomplete. We know for sure Martin, a 16-year-old black kid, was in his hoodie, walking through the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community, where his father’s girlfriend lives, one month ago. We know Zimmerman was on watch that night, legally armed with a Kel Tec 9mm PF semi-automatic handgun, and that he called 911 at around 7 p.m. We know that Zimmerman had made 20 calls to 911 since 2010 — this Feb. 26 call was the third of 2012 — to report behavior he deemed suspicious: an open garage door, a house with a lot of different cars pulling up, people he didn’t think lived in the subdivisions he patrolled, a dumped trash bin, a loose pit bull, tripped alarms, loiterers, kids playing in the street. We know Zimmerman followed Martin through the neighborhood, against the advice of the 911 operator.
We know that Zimmerman, 28, has a 2005 arrest for pushing a lawenforcement officer. The only other blemish on his record is an accusation for domestic violence that remains murky. I would consider his criminal record to be fairly clean.
We know that Martin was serving a school suspension for possessing a marijuana baggie. This also says nothing to me about the case. Besides being fond of hoodies when I was a teenager, I have something else in common with Martin: I, too, was suspended from high school for a marijuana-based infraction.
We know there was a scuffle at the scene before Zimmerman shot Martin — Zimmerman’s lawyer has said the man had a broken nose and abrasions on the back of his head. And we know police did not arrest Zimmerman due to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which stipulates that citizens are legally allowed to defend themselves “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” but not if they provoked the fight.
The question in my mind is who the Stand Your Ground Law protects here: Zimmerman, who invoked it in his slaying of the teenager, or Martin, who was being followed by an adult with a handgun through an unfamiliar neighborhood on the way back from the candy store.
Maybe they were both right. Maybe they were both wrong. It’s not for me to say — a grand jury will examine the facts, and we’ll all move on from there.
But I know that if the situation were reversed — if Martin was the one with the gun, and he used it because he felt threatened by Zimmerman — then he most certainly would have been arrested.
I am angry about this case, but I want to be reasonable. I want to have all the facts before I condemn Zimmerman, before I exonerate Martin, which is where my instinct tells me to go.
I need more information. Besides the hoodie and my own youthful infractions, my other connection to this case is an old college friend, Brady Lessard, who was my roommate for a time down in New Orleans and went on to become the mayor of Sanford from 2001 to 2005.
I called him this week to see if he had any insight. I hadn’t talked to him in decades, and it was good to hear his voice.
Lessard is out of politics — he works for an engineering consulting firm in Sanford, where there is a street that bears his name — but he still has enough instinct not to go on the record about this case.
But he did defend his city, saying, “This is not the backwater, hick town the media is portraying us as.”
He said more information is forthcoming. I’ll be watching for it. And I’ll be wearing my hoodie on Friday, not because I know Zimmerman didn’t act within the confines of the law — I know no such thing — but because something terrible happened down in Florida. And I don’t know what else to do.