Why did police in Florida buy aggressor’s self-defense claim?

After the Feb. 26 shooting of a 17-year-old Miami youth in Sanford, Fla., authorities were assiduous in testing for drugs and alcohol ... in the body of the dead boy. The 28-year-old shooter, meanwhile, went home without having to undergo any tests and still packing the 9mm semiautomatic handgun he used to shoot Trayvon Martin to death.

Police, it appears, showed more deference to George Zimmerman, a self-described neighborhood watch captain, than they would have given to one of their own in an officer-involved shooting.

Is it any wonder that the circumstances surrounding the Sanford Police Department’s multiple failures in investigating the shooting sparked outrage in the local community and a growing sense of disbelief in the rest of the nation?

Trayvon Martin was a high school student staying with his father’s fiancee in a gated community who walked to a nearby convenience store for snacks.

George Zimmerman was a 28-year-old man with a spotty employment record and a criminal record based on his assault of police officers during an under-age liquor investigation several years ago. A picture is emerging of Zimmerman as a wannabe-police officer who was educationally and psychologically ill-equipped for the job. Yet he managed to get a concealed-carry license and, so armed, assigned himself to neighborhood patrol duty.

Zimmerman spotted Trayvon walking in the rain with his hoodie pulled over his head — as one might expect in the rain — and decided he was suspicious. He reported his suspicions in a 911 call, and if, at that point, he had let the police do their job, as a neighborhood watch person is supposed to do, Trayvon would have been home with his snacks by 7 p.m. and back in school today.

Deadly confrontation

Instead, Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and chased the “suspect,” disregarding an order from the 911 dispatcher that he not pursue the boy and wait for police. And, at some point, he and Martin scuffled, and Zimmerman pulled his pistol and shot the boy.

By the time Sanford police arrived, Martin was dead and Zimmerman was claiming he acted in self defense. And that was good enough for police, who seem to have given the broadest possible reading to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law,” which encourages victims to meet force with force. But Martin was the victim. He had done nothing wrong, yet his appearance — young, black, wearing a hoodie and walking in the rain — had aroused Zimmerman’s suspicions. And Zimmerman, totally untrained for the task he assigned himself, decided to play police officer. And the real police officers decided to give the killer a pass — without even running a background check on him.

A growing awareness

Monday it will be one month since Trayvon Martin was gunned down. And only now this story has gained national attention. Nearly a million people have signed a petition calling for Zimmerman to be arrested and charged. Chilling tapes of 911 calls have been released on which the sounds of Martin’s last seconds on earth can be heard in the background. Zimmerman’s chief apologist, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee Jr. has stepped aside, at least temporarily, saying he had become a focal point of citizen anger.

And somewhere — who knows where — George Zimmerman remains free, having never been charged, never tested, never seriously challenged in his unsubstantiated claim of self defense.

Only Lady Justice remains more invisible than Zimmerman.

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