Posts Tagged ‘trayvon martin’
by Maia Szalavitz, Time Magazine
Among the voluminous evidence released Thursday in the shooting death of 17-year-old Florida high school student Trayvon Martin is a toxicology report showing that the teen had trace levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his blood and urine.
The evidence includes abundant new information: conflicting witness statements, an autopsy report showing that Martin, who was black, died from a single gunshot wound to the chest and medical records documenting that Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who will stand trial for second-degree murder, had a broken nose the day after Martin’s death. Yet the media is focusing on the marijuana findings.
That’s a mistake that only serves to distort an already contentious case. The levels of THC detected don’t reflect Martin’s character or even his state of mind the night he was shot. For one, they are so low as to almost certainly not be connected to recent intoxication: 1.5 nanograms of THC were found as well as 7.3 nanograms of THC-COOH, a metabolite of THC that can stay in the system for weeks after cannabis has been smoked. Immediately after inhaling, THC levels typically rise to 100 to 200 nanograms per milliter of blood, although there can be a great deal of variation.
“THC in blood or urine tells us nothing about the level of intoxication,” says Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University and author of the leading college textbook on drug use and behavior. “That would be like someone going to have a beer some evening, and when he goes to work the next day, you can find alcohol metabolites in his bodily fluids. That says nothing about his functioning.” (Full disclosure: Hart and I are working on a book project together).
Moreover, even if Martin had been stoned out of his mind, it wouldn’t predispose him to violence. “I have given hundreds of doses of marijuana to people in the lab, and no one has gotten violent ever and everyone has been able to respond to the situation in an appropriate manner, when given low or large doses and single or repeated doses,” Hart says.
The night of the killing, Zimmerman began following Martin, who had gone to a 7-Eleven to get Skittles and an Arizona iced tea during a break in the NBA All-Star game. Zimmerman told a 911 operator that he was worried about Martin because he “looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs.” He was informed that the police would handle the situation and that he should not take further action. Zimmerman didn’t heed that advice; an altercation ended with Zimmerman shooting Martin in what he says was self-defense. He was charged months after the Feb. 26th killing, following widespread public outrage over the perceived lack of an appropriate criminal justice response.
“If people are trying to discount the acts of Zimmerman or excuse him because [Martin may have smoked] marijuana, they need to think about their own marijuana use and think about whether they ever get violent,” Hart says. “More than half the country has used marijuana and they really need to use some common sense.” The drug that has the strongest pharmacological link to violence is the legal one, alcohol.
And despite the fact that black youth are actually equally or even less likely to use — or sell — marijuana compared to whites, they are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher. In New York City, a recent analysis found that 80% of those arrested for marijuana were black or Latino, despite whites outnumbering them by far.
As Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, our drug laws have become little more than a pretext for arresting, imprisoning and disenfranchising people of color in a way that is no longer permissible to do based on race alone. Once someone is charged with a drug crime, liberty, property and voting rights can all be rescinded— in a manner that appears colorblind if you ignore the selective enforcement.
Says Hart: “If Trayvon was a white kid, we wouldn’t be here talking about drugs. George Zimmerman would have long been in jail.”
by The Associated Press, Washington Post
SANFORD, Fla. — The parents of a slain Florida teenager are blaming police for leaking information about their son being suspended for marijuana and details about the fight he had with the shooter that portrayed the teen as the aggressor.
Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family attorneys said Monday that it was part of an effort to demonize her 17-year-old son who was shot and killed last month by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
“They killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” Fulton told reporters.
Martin was suspended by Miami-Dade County schools because traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag, family spokesman Ryan Julison said. Martin was serving the suspension when he was shot Feb. 26.
The Sanford Police Department insisted there was no authorized release of the new information but acknowledged there may have been a leak. City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. said it would be investigated and the person responsible could be fired.
Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said the link between the youth and marijuana should have no bearing on the probe into his shooting death. State and federal agencies are investigating, with a grand jury set to convene April 10.
“If he and his friends experimented with marijuana, that is completely irrelevant,” Crump said. “What does it have to do with killing their son?”
The state Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed Monday that Martin does not have a juvenile offender record. The information came after a public records request by The Associated Press.
Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense and has not been arrested. Because Martin was black and Zimmerman has a white father and Hispanic mother, the case has become a racial flashpoint that has civil rights leaders and others leading a series of protests in Sanford and around the country.
Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Zimmerman told police he lost Martin in the neighborhood he regularly patrolled and was walking back to his vehicle when the youth approached him from behind. The two exchanged words, Zimmerman said, and Martin then punched him in the nose, jumped on top of him and began banging his head on a sidewalk. Zimmerman said he began crying for help; Martin’s family thinks it was their son who was crying out. Witness accounts differ and 911 tapes in which the voices are heard are not clear.
The Sanford police statement said the newspaper story was “consistent” with evidence turned over to prosecutors.
Despite the news of Martin’s possible actions the night of the shooting, rallies demanding the arrest of the 28-year-old Zimmerman spread from Florida to Indiana.
Thousands rallied Monday on the steps of the Georgia state Capitol. The crowd chanted “I am Trayvon!” and “Arrest Zimmerman now!” The protest ended with the crowd linking hands and singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
Students from Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University encouraged their fellow students to talk to their lawmakers about gun laws. Students wore hoodies that said, “I am Trayvon Martin” and lofted signs reading, “Don’t shoot!” and “I could be next.”
by Maia Svalavitz, Time Magazine
A news report claims that the 17-year-old Florida boy’s killer thought he looked looked “drugged out and suspicious.” Why enduring stigma of drug use in this country is becoming increasingly deadly.
The family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old boy who was killed last month in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, confirmed on Monday that he had been suspended from school for possession of a trace amount of marijuana. In a news conference, Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, accused authorities of leaking the information, along with details of the shooting, in order to demonize her son’s memory.
“They’ve killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” said Fulton.
Can it be long now before the boy’s possible history of drug use is cited as justification for the self-defense claim put forth by the killer, George Zimmerman? According to Zimmerman’s account of the shooting, Martin, who was unarmed, violently attacked him from behind, leading Zimmerman to cry out for help before shooting his aggressor.
But Martin’s possible experimentation with pot should be no threat to his reputation. The research on marijuana and violence shows clearly that the drug either reduces aggression or has no effect — findings that fall in line with pop culture’s mellow image of stoners. The idea that marijuana makes people dangerous is as absurd as the claim that wearing a hoodie is suspicious.
Despite its widespread use — nearly two-thirds of the adult population aged 21 to 54 has tried marijuana at least once — more than eight decades of reefer-madness propaganda have served to obscure the facts about the substance and who uses it. Indeed, most antidrug campaigns have stigmatized not only drugs, but their users as well.
Here, it’s useful to remember that the nation’s vehement antidrug rhetoric is rooted in explicit racism. For example, the first state laws banning cocaine were passed in response to media reports about how the drug made black men homicidal, prone to raping white women and, worst of all to the police, impervious to bullets. An articleabout the issue in the New York Times in 1914 was headlined “Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace.”
Similarly, the first state legislation banning opium was linked to fears of Chinese men allegedly using the drug to seduce white women.
The campaign for national marijuana prohibition, which came in the 1930s, involved racism against both African Americans and Mexicans. One advocate of banning the drug wrote in the Times in 1935: “Marijuana, perhaps now the most insidious of our narcotics, is a direct by-product of unrestricted Mexican immigration. … Mexican peddlers have been caught distributing sample marijuana cigarets to school children.”
These days, the racism surrounding drugs is less obvious, but no less real. I experienced a vivid illustration of this myself in the late 1990s, when I appeared on Oprah to discuss Bill Moyers’ PBS series on addiction; I was a guest on Oprah’s show, as well as an associate producer of the PBS series. The first hour of Moyers’ documentary included a montage of clips from interviews with nine people with addiction, a group I’d booked with an eye to diversity of race, class and recovery experience. Moyers decided to include me as one of the interviewees.
On Oprah’s show, her other guests included Bill Moyers, his son William who is a recovering addict, along with another white female addict who appeared in the documentary. To open the show, Oprah displayed photos of everyone I’d included in the original documentary and asked the audience to see if they could pick out those who suffered from addiction. The audience overwhelmingly selected the black men — and, remember, this was Oprah’s audience, not one likely to be selected for its overt racial biases.
It still surprises people to learn that in the U.S., African Americans and whites take drugs at about the same rate, but black youth are twice as likely to be arrested for it and more than five times more likely to be prosecuted as an adult for drug crimes. In New York City, 87% of residents arrested under the police department’s “stop and frisk” policy are black or Hispanic. As Michelle Alexander writes in her bestselling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:
In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.
The drug war and the stigma it imparts on users are key weapons here. America’s cultural images of drug-related danger continue to be racially charged and the resulting stereotypes appear to be becoming increasingly deadly. Martin’s is not the only case in recent months to involve an unarmed boy and marijuana: three weeks before the Florida teen was killed, another unarmed black teen was shot to death by police, who chased him into his Bronx home. The boy was found in possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Attempting to address the problem is difficult. Recently in the U.K., a drug policy reform group stirred controversy when it launched a campaign to reduce the stigma of drug use. “Nice people take drugs,” was the slogan the group used in its ads, but even in a country that is much less punitive than the U.S. toward drug users, the posters were pulled from buses not long after the effort was launched, in 2009. The phrase was seen as potentially encouraging drug misuse by youth.
There’s no denying, however, that being nice doesn’t preclude drug-taking. Probably all of us can name someone we respect or admire who has taken illegal drugs. And most drug users — even those who favor cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin — are not violent. Indeed, the drug most likely to lead to violent behavior is not illegal: it’s alcohol.
If we want to avoid tragedies like the Martin case, we must confront the racism and class prejudice that infect our ideas about drug users and warp our view of how drugs work. We need to admit that drug use itself doesn’t make people evil. Perhaps if we weren’t so quick to let these biases demonize drug users, Trayvon Martin might still be with us.
If Martin’s school had not suspended the boy under its “zero tolerance” policy for drug use — one that punishes students for possession of an empty plastic baggie with trace amounts of marijuana as severely as for possession of heroin or a gun — he probably would never even have crossed paths with the man who shot him. Martin was serving his suspension on Feb. 26, when he was killed.
Such school policies have not been shown to reduce drug problems, but they, too, have been found to be applied more often to black youth. A recent analysis showed that black children are 3.5 times more likely than whites to be suspended from school for drugs and that 70% of all youth referred by school authorities to police for prosecution are black, even though they make up only 18% of the school population in the U.S.
Marijuana smoking certainly doesn’t warrant expulsion from school — never mind death. A general principle of drug policy is that the punishment should not do more harm than the drug itself. If we rewrote drug policy with an eye to marijuana’s actual danger, it would not warrant the loss of kids’ educational opportunities nor criminal penalties for possession, let alone suggest a rationale for being gunned down while walking home.