Sanford, Florida, is a long way from Hayward, California — an entire nation away. Maybe around 3,000 miles apart. Yet, oddly enough, the two merged in a way for a moment in time Saturday.
In Florida, 29-year-old neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman was being found not guilty of shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in the chest and killing him in February 2012, as Martin was walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s residence after going to a convenience store nearby to purchase a bag of Skittles and a can of the Arizona brand iced beverage.
It wasn’t like Martin didn’t pay for the items, he was shown on store surveillance video paying for the items. It was dark outside as Martin walked back to the residence where he was visiting and had been playing video games with a friend earlier that day, but it was still late afternoon or early evening when Zimmerman spotted Martin. It wasn’t like Martin was breaking any kind of curfew.
From his vehicle, Zimmerman called a police dispatcher and reported Martin as looking and acting suspicious, like he was “on drugs.” Martin spotted Zimmerman watching him and may have feared for his own safety, so he sped up. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and started following in Martin’s path, which the dispatcher advised he didn’t need to do.
At some point, there was a confrontation. Zimmerman himself told police in a recorded interview that he never identified himself to Martin as a neighborhood watch volunteer, never told Martin why he was checking him out. There was a struggle. Zimmerman happened to have a gun — which neighborhood watch volunteers are advised not to carry with them. They’re also advised not to engage anyone suspicious, let police officers handle it.
Zimmerman carried a gun, and the moment he stepped out of his vehicle, he engaged. Trayvon Martin ended up dead.
The Florida jury that sat through the trial acquitted Zimmerman Saturday night of both second-degree murder and manslaughter, saying he acted in self-defense, thanks especially to that state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
It might have helped if Martin had reacted a bit more reasonably in February 2012, but no one really knows for certain how he reacted because dead teenage boys can’t talk and no witnesses in the adjacent residences could get a decent look at the struggle enough to determine who was doing what to whom. It sure as hell didn’t help that Zimmerman didn’t identify himself or say why he was following Martin.
Martin has been going through some character assassination lately while he’s in the grave. While he might not have been a perfect angel, his record of scrapes when it comes to legal behavior as a teen pales in comparison even to the adult record of at least one person who was elected President of the United States over the past, oh, let’s say 20 years or so. Who was that President? Go ahead, do some research. I’ll wait …
If I’m Trayvon Martin, at age 17 with a guy following me for unknown reasons, I can’t say that I would have reacted any differently than he did if I’m a bit scared.
I’ve sat through trials and seen people convicted of crimes based on lesser evidence than what was presented against Zimmerman. That’s why it shocked and disappointed me to see the news in the 8:00 hour (Mountain time) Saturday night that Zimmerman had been found not guilty. Second-degree murder? Okay, that carries a higher burden of proof. Manslaughter? I thought there’d be a sure conviction for that, based on the testimony and evidence I’d seen through the trial.
I haven’t mentioned here yet that Zimmerman is biracial, with a white father and a Latino mother, and Martin was black. I haven’t mentioned it yet because race shouldn’t matter. The evidence and testimony should have been enough to convict Zimmerman of at least manslaughter. And if Zimmerman had a right to “stand his ground,” where was Martin’s right to do the same thing if he had no idea who Zimmerman was or why he was following Martin?
Zimmerman walked. Martin is still dead. It was a verdict that shocked people across the nation.
I was checking out people’s response to the verdict on Facebook in that 8:00 hour Saturday night and trying to make sense of it when — just a matter of minutes after that was announced — some more shocking news came out on my Facebook news feed.
A friend posted that 73-year-old musician Lester Chambers had been attacked by a woman and beaten up while performing at the Hayward Russell City Blues Festival, and he’d been taken to a hospital.
The news on Zimmerman provided a shock. The news on Lester Chambers provided a double-shock, each coming across within a matter of minutes.
I made a quick phone call to my old friend and former college roommate who’s Lester’s music director/bass player to see what had happened. After all, I’d had the chance to meet Lester and his son Dylan before in person before, talked with them, gotten to know them, tried to help spread the word through this blog and other avenues to see if we could mount a comeback for the former member of the iconic 1960s rock and soul music group The Chambers Brothers. This was hitting close to home, even though I was sitting hundreds of miles away from where Lester was assaulted.
My old friend’s cell phone rang a few times before he picked up, and all he could say at the time was, “I’ll call you back.”
All I could do in the meantime was sit back and watch my news feed on Facebook for more information on Lester. It slowly trickled in as the evening progressed, and it still wouldn’t totally take shape until toward the end of the day Sunday. By the end of the day Saturday, it was determined that Lester was okay and had gone home, suffering bruised ribs with nerve damage and sore muscles.
What prompted the attack on Lester? According to witnesses, before he and his band, The Mud Stompers, started playing the Curtis Mayfield-penned gospel-like soul classic “People Get Ready,” Lester told the crowd he was dedicating it to Trayvon Martin. At the time, no one onstage at least knew anything about a verdict in the Zimmerman case. It might not have even been handed down by that time. But Lester dedicated the peaceful song to a black teenager who’d been gunned down because someone felt he didn’t “look right,” assuming he must have been “up to somethin’.”
Nothing more, nothing less.
Lester added from the stage during his dedication that if Curtis Mayfield could have rewritten the words to that song, he might have said “a change is comin’.”
One witness — a family friend of Lester’s — said the woman who allegedly assaulted him yelled out, “It’s all your fault!”
A band member onstage said the woman yelled, “It’s not OUR fault! It’s all YOUR fault.”
Who’s this “OUR?” Who’s this “YOUR?” What could that even possibly mean?
With that, 43-year-old Barstow resident Dinalynn Andrews Potter allegedly shoved Lester toward some equipment and to the ground, with all kinds of witnesses watching. Hayward Police said Andrews Potter was subdued soon after the incident and detained by police, charged with suspicion of battery. She was cited and released with additional charges possible.
Here’s a video of the incident, recorded by Bobbi Goodman. I know what’s coming, and while watching it I still feel physically ill.
Dylan Chambers said today that his father is still very sore in his knees and hip area and his ribs are still bruised.
Ironically, on the same day that Lester was injured, he won the North Bay Music Award for Best Blues Artist.
Ironically, around the time the jury was about to be handed the Zimmerman case to determine a verdict, there was concern about rioting and violence being raised by some members of the media should the jury find Zimmerman not guilty. Oh, there’ve been protests since then. Funny thing, though, is that while I’ve seen reports of mass gatherings and freeways or bridges being shut down because of it with people of all races and nationalities doing little more than holding signs and speaking out, I haven’t seen anything yet (except some bogus reports from obviously biased sources) involving violence on the part of protesters upset with the verdict.
The only confirmed report of violence I’ve seen so far involves Lester Chambers being assaulted … at a blues festival … a 73-year-old man … assaulted … for dedicating a peaceful song to Trayvon Martin … a peaceful song.
This weird world still has a long way to go before it truly becomes “right.”
- Soul singer Lester Chambers assaulted over song dedicated to Trayvon (rawstory.com)
- Lester Chambers attacked on stage after dedicating song to Trayvon Martin (guardian.co.uk)
- Lester Chambers Trayvon Martin Tribute: Soul Singer Attacked After Performing Dedication Song (huffingtonpost.com)
- Hayward: Woman allegedly attacks 73-year-old musician on stage after song dedicated to Trayvon Martin (mercurynews.com)
- Zimmerman, cleared in Trayvon Martin death, faces outrage (firstpost.com)