Trayvon Martin death: Protesters demand repeal of Zimmerman's gun permit

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SANFORD – A group of protesters will gather today, to call for the suspension of the gun permit held by George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old man who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, in an act Zimmerman claims was self-defense.

Martin, who was carrying a bag of candy and an ice tea after a routine trip to a corner store, has become a symbol of poor race relations in the south. The inactivity of Sanford police regarding the investigation of Trayvon’s killing is perceived as racially motivated, and has sparked a national controversy. Sanford police failed to test Zimmerman for drugs or alcohol at the time of the incident, which is a routine practice. In addition, lawyers for Martin’s family are now claiming that a racial slur may have been redacted from the tapes of the emergency and non-emergency calls that were released to Martin’s family and press after mounting public pressure.

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The public response to the calls nationwide, even in their allegedly altered form, has been outrage. The audio of that fateful night, on which an innocent youth lost his life, reveal a disturbing scenario in which Zimmerman, a self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain” with no affiliation to the organization, pursued and then killed the unarmed black teen with a concealed weapon.

Today, hundreds of protestors are expected to gather at the State Licensing Office in Orlando to demand that Zimmerman’s permit to carry a concealed weapon be rescinded, as he is seen by many as a menace to society. Authorities have responded that, legally, their hands are tied because Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime, giving them no recourse to intervene.

This demonstration will follow a town hall meeting that took place last night at a Sanford area church, at which NAACP president Ben Jealous joined 1,000 residents in demanding that Zimmerman be arrested — and that the Department of Justice take over the Sanford police department. Sanford citizens also demanded that an independent investigation be launched, outside of the one now under way through the Florida State Attorney’s Office, which is working with the FBI.

Gov. Scott has responded to these ultimatums by saying, “I think the first step is, let’s find out what happened here. I think with the help of the local and the FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] and FBI, I think, I’m positive we’ll find that out first,” as reported by local television station, News 13. The Sanford police department has handed over its investigation to local prosecutors, who have announced that a Seminole County grand jury will pursue the remainder of the case.

The U.S. Department of Justice is also reviewing the Trayvon Martin killing for civil rights violations. Gov. Scott has denied that racial profiling played a part in Martin’s death, or its controversial aftermath.

But for Sanford residents and area leaders, Scott’s promises are not enough. The Mayor of Sanford, Jeff Triplett, was joined by Rep. Corrine Brown and members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday in DC to underscore the widespread belief that justice is not being served, and that Martin’s killing was a hate crime. Rep. Brown also told the press she believes race played a role in what she termed a “shoddy” investigation.

“I am not satisfied with how this case was handled,” Brown said from Capitol Hill, noting mounting evidence that the investigation might have been intentionally hampered, “People need to feel the system is fair.” Brown and other representatives have expressed their belief that Zimmerman would have been arrested, if race had not been a factor.

Examples of police mishandling of routine procedures include the fact that a narcotics detective was sent to the scene instead of a homicide detective, and that this detective asked leading questions of Zimmerman. This is against protocol because it effectively coaches witnesses away from revealing objective facts that might be incriminating. In addition, the body of Martin was held for hours as an unknown “John Doe,” despite the fact that the teen was found with a cell phone, which still has not been returned to the family. Obvious detective work through analyzing the phone would have quickly revealed Trayvon’s identity.

Lawyers for the family question what motivated these breaches in typical police conduct.

Trust in the practices of Sanford police has eroded further since the revelation that, despite prior arrests, Martin’s father was initially told that Trayvon’s killer had a “squeaky clean” record. Record of Zimmerman’s two 2005 arrests for battering on an officer and resisting arrest are publicly available on the Orange County Clerk of Courts web site. Both are third-degree felonies.

Zimmerman was never charged and his record was expunged.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb