The PJ Tatler

ESPN 'Grantland' Writer Twists George Zimmerman's Actions

Reader Daniel R. alerted us to this one. It’s in an opinion piece on ESPN’s Grantland. The story, by Wesley Morris, is about a photograph of the Miami Heat NBA team, all dressed in hoodies to identify with Trayvon Martin.

Several paragraphs down, Morris writes:

He [Martin] triggered the suspicion of the gunman, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator who, in defiance of police orders, followed Martin for several blocks and shot him.

This version of events is common, but is also probably wrong: Here’s the transcript of the 9-11 call.

Zimmerman: We’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood and there’s a real suspicious guy. It’s Retreat View Circle. The best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about.

911 dispatcher: OK, is he White, Black, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

This is the part that NBC deceptively edited, and then apologized for.

911 dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah, a dark hoodie like a gray hoodie. He wore jeans or sweat pants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now … he’s just staring.

911 dispatcher: He’s just walking around the area, the houses? OK.

Zimmerman: Now he’s staring at me.

911 dispatcher: OK, you said that’s 1111 Retreat View or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse.

911 dispatcher: He’s near the clubhouse now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming toward me. He’s got his hands in his waist band. And he’s a black male.

So we have on a dark and rainy night, the as of yet unidentified male who has been walking around in a hoodie and staring at houses is now staring at Zimmerman and has his hands in his waistband. If you’re George Zimmerman, how do you interpret this? It was not unreasonable to interpret Martin as a threat, and possibly armed.

911 dispatcher: How old would you say he is?

Zimmerman: He’s got something on his shirt. About like his late teens.

911 dispatcher: Late teens?

Zimmerman: Uh, huh. Something’s wrong with him. Yep, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is.

911 dispatcher: Let me know if he does anything, OK?

Zimmerman: OK.

911 dispatcher: We’ve got him on the wire. Just let me know if this guy does anything else.

Zimmerman: OK. These assholes. They always get away.

When you come to the clubhouse, you come straight in and you go left. Actually, you would go past the clubhouse.

911 dispatcher: OK, so it’s on the left hand side of the clubhouse?

Zimmerman: Yeah. You go in straight through the entrance and then you would go left. You go straight in, don’t turn and make a left.

He’s running.

911 dispatcher: He’s running? Which way is he running?

Zimmerman: Down toward the other entrance of the neighborhood.

911 dispatcher: OK, which entrance is that he’s headed towards?

Zimmerman: The back entrance. F***ing (unintelligible)

911 dispatcher: Are you following him?
Zimmerman: Yeah.

911 dispatcher: OK. We don’t need you to do that.

Zimmerman: OK.

911 dispatcher: Alright, sir, what is your name?

Zimmerman: George. He ran.

Zimmerman, it sounds like, followed Martin briefly but then halted when the dispatcher told him to. The unknown male in the hoodie had run and gotten away; Zimmerman loses visual contact with him. Based on seeing the man with his hand in his waistband and then with “something” in his hands, Zimmerman surely presumes that the man is armed. Zimmerman and the dispatcher end the conversation by arranging for Zimmerman to wait and then meet with the officer being sent to the scene. The other calls recorded that night are from witnesses in the neighborhood, and in one screaming and a gunshot can be heard in the background as a woman describes the scene to another 911 dispatcher.

The evidence suggests that Zimmerman did not, as ESPN’s Morris writes, follow Martin for several blocks in defiance of police orders and then shoot him. The evidence suggests that while Zimmerman was waiting to meet the police, Martin came back and an altercation between Martin and Zimmerman occurred. We do not know, based on the 911 recordings, who started that altercation. We do have the testimony of a young witness who says that he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman and beating him, and we have the video of Zimmerman’s wounds captured in the Sanford police surveillance video. That’s the video that ABC claimed showed no wounds, but that did in fact show at least two bloody gashes on Zimmerman’s head.

Morris’ article centers on the hoodie as a fashion and cultural statement, and he writes:

The hoodie aspires to a particularly slanted cool. It’s a garment worn away from its criminal-concealment function. It’s just hip-hop. It’s just skate park. It’s just hot yoga. It’s fashion. Sadly, those aren’t distinctions everyone cares to make. George Zimmerman saw a black kid in a sweatshirt and panicked. (emphasis added)

There is no evidence on the 911 recordings that Zimmerman panicked, or that the hoodie actually played any central role in Zimmerman’s actions. Zimmerman mentions the hoodie in the same way he notes race, in response to informational questions from the dispatcher. Zimmerman says that intruders in the neighborhood “always get away,” and it sounds like he assumes that Martin has fled the scene entirely. The whole sequence of events seems to be the kind of thing Zimmerman has seen before. As the dispatcher asks Zimmerman for his address and arranges a place for him to meet with police, there is no evidence of panic in Zimmerman’s voice or in what he says. His answers are responsive, no slurring or other signs of panic, and directly address the dispatcher’s questions and statements. There is stress, of course, in Zimmerman’s voice for the obvious reasons: He thinks an unknown young male who may be on drugs and armed is on the loose in the neighborhood, having run away after staring back at Zimmerman.

The entire scene sounds like a very tragic misunderstanding. It was dark and rainy, therefore difficult to see much detail. Trayvon Martin was not up to no good, but happened to be a bit lost in an area where there had previously been break-ins. Zimmerman spots Martin, makes a reasonable determination that he might be up to no good — it’s rainy, the unknown man is staring at houses and then stares at Zimmerman — calls 911, observes Martin and based on what he can see, which isn’t much, assumes that Martin is armed. Martin, lost and wandering around on a rainy night while chatting up his girlfriend on his cell phone, sees a stranger observing him and either observes that stranger out of curiosity or, as young men will sometimes do, boldly looks at him as a challenge to scare him away. Perversely, Zimmerman assumes that the unarmed Martin is armed based on Martin’s body language, while Martin probably assumes that the armed Zimmerman is not armed. He has no way of knowing that Zimmerman has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and does not know that Zimmerman often watches out for criminals in the area and reports them to 911. One confronts the other — we don’t know whether Zimmerman or Martin initiates the confrontation — a fight ensues, and Zimmerman kills Martin, in self-defense.

ESPN’s Wesley Morris is not in a position to assert everything he asserts regarding what happened that night. None of us are. There are only two people who know who sparked the fatal confrontation, and one of them is dead. We’ve now seen NBC, ABC, the New York Times, and talking heads across cable news from Shepard Smith at Fox to Roland Martin at CNN all distort the facts to make Zimmerman appear to be a racist vigilante who killed a totally innocent “little boy” (Martin was 17 years old, and 6’2″). Is there a single writer anywhere in the mainstream media who is capable of covering the Zimmerman/Martin case without resorting to deceptive edits or taking leaps well beyond what the known facts tell us?

Update: CNN, belatedly, is walking back its initial interpretation of the “F***ing (unintelligible)” statement by Zimmerman. CNN’s expert initially said that the unintelligible word was “coons,” a racial slur. Now the same expert has enhanced the audio, and hears “cold.” No racial slur. CNN should never ever have run with the “coons” interpretation. That interpretation fed the frenzy that has ensued.

The mainstream media’s behavior has been beyond disgraceful. They have all but sparked a race war, and have almost certainly made it impossible for Zimmerman to receive a fair trail if he ends up indicted for his actions that night.