This country should be outraged by the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black youth shot by a self-appointed neighborhood crime watcher. Racial profiling, a tepid police inquiry and a gun-happy self-defense law play into angry protests that have drawn in even President Barack Obama.
Getting to the bottom of the event won’t be easy. That’s why outside investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the state of Florida make sense. These inquiries won’t — and shouldn’t — stop public rallies and marches that have the salutary effect of keeping up the pressure for answers.
The racial overtone is unmistakable, an element that all Americans should ponder. Would Martin have attracted attention if he were a white kid? Does a natural concern for neighborhood security automatically mean all black youths are suspects?
One unusual feature is a Florida self-defense law, also on the books in some 20 other states, though not California. The so-called “Stand Your Ground” statute gives a citizen the right to lethal self-defense even if the confrontation is avoidable, as the Martin run-in may have been.
The Martin case has put on display some of this country’s rawest divides over race and crime. It will be the job of investigators to provide answers that may cool the public’s anger, if it isn’t too late already.
San Francisco Chronicle (March 28)