(Reuters) – A black veteran Miami police officer said on Tuesday that “racism is alive and well” in the United States and is evident in the case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African American teenager gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer in central Florida last month.
George Zimmerman, the white Hispanic crime watch volunteer, has managed to avoid arrest under Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law because he said he shot and killed Martin in self-defense.
But Miami Police Department homicide detective Sergeant Ervens Ford, who has joined in public protests to demand justice for Martin, said in an interview that the law does not apply in the racially tinged case.
“He (Martin) would have had a better ‘Stand Your Ground’ (case) than Zimmerman,” Ford said.
“It does not apply when you chase after a person, when you, essentially, are the aggressor,” he said.
He was referring to the fact that Zimmerman, 28, said in a 911 call that he was chasing the 17-year-old Martin shortly before the shooting because he looked to be “up to no good” and was dressed in a “hoodie” hooded sweatshirt.
On the call, Zimmerman had also identified Martin as a black youth.
The “Stand Your Ground” law, passed in 2005, greatly expanded the legal definition of self-defense in Florida. Similar laws have since been adopted by 23 other states, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
EVENTS STILL IN DISPUTE
Events leading up to the killing of Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, on February 26 are still open to dispute.
Whatever actually happened, Ford said, Martin undoubtedly would have been arrested if he had killed the fair-skinned Zimmerman. Instead, he wound up on the wrong end of the 9mm semi-automatic handgun that Zimmerman carried concealed in his waistband.
“I’ve been working homicide since ’96 and that’s my personal opinion,” said Ford. “You’re not going to give a black person the benefit of the doubt. And it’s unfortunate, but that’s just a fact.”
“It’s unfair, racism is alive and well,” he added.
“I have some colleagues who disagree with me wholeheartedly, and of course I have to remind them that I was a black man way before I started carrying a badge,” Ford said.
Zimmerman’s lawyer, Craig Sonner, has said his client acted out of self-defense, not racial bigotry. “This was not a racially motivated situation,” Sonner told Reuters on Saturday.
Ford, 46, said he drove more than four hours north from Miami to Sanford on Monday to participate along with thousands of other people in a protest against the authorities’ handling of the Martin case.
As a black father, he acknowledged having strong personal feelings about the shooting in the Orlando suburb because one of his three children looks just like Martin and “easily, easily” could have been Zimmerman’s victim.
“That’s a fear of reality,” Ford said.
“I didn’t give up my constitutional rights when I became a cop. If anything, I became a cop because I wanted to ensure mine and everybody else’s constitutional rights,” he said.
“Those who have called and are telling me it’s unprofessional to protest and take a position on this, they’re the morons.”
Ford said his advice to his own children was to try to avoid any sign of conflict, especially with law enforcement officials.
“It’s not a conflict that young black males are going to win. They’re going to lose every time, unfortunately,” he said.