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News Analysis: UNF professors, on-campus organizations give their take on the shooting of Sanford teenager Treyvon Martin

(Photo courtesy of Fox News)

By: Maggie Seppi, Assistant News Editor

Having caught national attention, the shooting of Trayvon Martin prompted the public to consider the racial tension in Martin’s case, as well as in similar cases throughout history.

George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain carrying a 9mm pistol, shot 17-year-old Martin, a high school student from Sanford.

Following the incident, supporters of Zimmerman’s arrest, such as Rev. Al Sharpton and Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, said he shot Martin because he was black. Others, such as Zimmerman’s cousin Miguel Mezza and his retired Presbyterian minister, George Hall, have spoken out on his behalf.

The story’s details have been altered since the event, which occurred Feb. 26, and some say they can’t make a decision about what happened without all of the details, but race clearly played a part in the incident.

“I don’t know if I think it’s racial profiling, but I think race was definitely involved in the case,” said Jenny Stuber, a UNF assistant professor of sociology. “I think Trayvon Martin is dead because he’s black.”

However, Stuber said she is hesitant to consider the incident an example of racial profiling without having all of the facts.

“I don’t know if [Zimmerman] went after [Martin] because he’s black; I don’t know if the behaviors of the shooter were motivated by his race,” Stuber said. “I don’t know if [Zimmerman] went out that day looking for trouble.”

Professor and Chairman of UNF’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Department Michael Hallett agreed it is too early to tell, but it’s possible this case represents a deeper issue within the black community involving its relationship to the criminal justice system.

“People are angry, and I think that’s what’s point over here, so it is not so much the Trayvon Martin issue itself,” Hallett said.

UNF African American Student Union Coordinator Christa Merix said this anger may stem from the number of cases similar to Martin’s that occur daily, especially in Jacksonville, but are neglected.

“This is something that happens all of the time,” Merix said. “But a lot of times the police departments just brush it under the rug. Had it not received that national attention that it did, it would have also been brushed under the rug.”

Zimmerman invoked the stand-your-ground defense and further controversy ensued.

This piece of legislation gives individuals the right to use force, even deadly force, in the event they find themselves in a life-threatening situation.

However, if Zimmerman approached Martin pre-altercation, this defense would hold little weight, and it would be about Martin’s right to stand his ground, rather than Zimmerman’s.

Hallett said the stand-your-ground law is problematic in that it complicates who is at fault in an altercation.

“The claim of self-defense isn’t a blank license to use whatever kind of violence you want,” Hallett said. “You have the right to a minimum amount of force to escape harm.”

With so few details available regarding the ensuing altercation, it’s difficult to determine what factors played a part in the incident.

Sanford police initially took Zimmerman’s word that he shot Martin in self-defense, so they did not arrest him immediately.

Students find this to be an upsetting fact.

“It’s wrong; it’s like cold-blooded murder,” said AJ Garcia, a mechanical engineering senior. “You can’t just kill a person and get away with it.”

Lalita Rayaprolu, a UNF Biology sophmore, agreed Zimmerman should have been arrested but said it’s difficult to determine the exact timeline of the events surrounding the incident.

“It’s hard to say what happened because there’s always new reports coming out,” Rayaprolu said.

Rayaprolu said she plans to wait for more evidence to come forth, and she’s not the only one.

“I’m still waiting, like a lot of people, for an adequate investigation to be done or the results of an adequate investigation to be released,” Stuber said.

Email Maggie Seppi at [email protected].

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