Who was Trayvon Martin?
When Sanford neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman confronted the 17-year-old from Miami Gardens he had no way of knowing if the person in front of him was an honor roll student or a truant.
No way of knowing if he smoked cigarettes or marijuana, if he spelled his tweets correctly or used street slang.
All Zimmerman knew about Trayvon that fateful evening of Feb. 26, 2012, was what he saw: a tall, black young man walking through a townhouse complex in the drizzling rain.
He wore jeans, a gray hoodie up, and red and white Air Jordans.
Through his own words to a police dispatcher, we know that Zimmerman started to follow him because he thought Trayvon looked “suspicious,” like he didn’t belong.
There had been some robberies in the gated community, Zimmerman told police, and the suspects were black.
One can only forever wonder, had the robbery suspects been white, would Zimmerman have found any white youth similarly walking on a rainy evening suspicious? Had the robbery suspects been Hispanic like he is (his mother is Peruvian), would he have found any Hispanic young man similarly walking on a rainy evening suspicious?
But that’s another issue.
The pressing new questions of the high-profile murder case — after Zimmerman’s defense attorneys released to the media reams of text messages and social media posts they claim show Zimmerman confronted an angry young man — focus on Trayvon’s character.
Who was Trayvon Martin?
The answer to that question is irrelevant to whether Zimmerman, who is facing a second-degree murder charge, had a right to use deadly force when he shot the unarmed youth.
The judge presiding over Zimmerman’s trial, scheduled to start June 10, sensibly ruled Tuesday that Zimmerman’s defense team can’t use — at least initially — Trayvon’s school suspension, marijuana use and fights, nor past text messages and social media posts in which he portrayed himself as a tough guy.
Because when Zimmerman decided — against the advice of a police dispatcher that he wait for officers to arrive —to get out of his car and confronted Trayvon, he didn’t know anything about him.
The two didn’t know each other. Simple as that.
No matter his history, Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong.
He was walking back from the 7-Eleven to his father’s girlfriend’s house, a bag of Skittles and Arizona iced tea in his pockets.
So what if in the weeks and days before he died, he texted with bravado, wanting to come off as a rule-breaker? So what if he posted pictures of a semi-automatic pistol he said he wanted to buy, and of himself exhaling smoke and shooting a bird into the camera?
So what if he wasn’t a good student?
If anything, those texts and Twitter postings add another layer of tragedy.
After Trayvon was suspended from school, his mother did what any loving and worried mother would do — she tried to get her son help. She sent him away from the all-too-familiar streets where he was headed for major trouble to be with his father in Sanford.
She thought she was saving him, straightening him out, and instead, she sent him to his death — only because of Zimmerman’s decisions and actions.
That is one heck of a burden for any mother to bear, and our sympathy should be with her.
By releasing his bad-boy wanna-be past before the judge’s ruling, the defense attorney was simply trying to make the victim look bad to create sympathy for Zimmerman.
The strategy is similar to rape case defenses in which lawyers attack the victim’s reputation. But even prostitutes do not deserve to be raped, and unarmed teenagers, no matter their attitude, don’t deserve to be shot dead in a public space where they do belong.
Zimmerman had options.
But Zimmerman was cop, prosecutor, judge and jury that night and he made deadly decisions — the last one a bullet to the chest.
Who was Trayvon Martin? Who might he have grown up to become?
When Zimmerman pulled the trigger, he killed any hope of ever knowing the answers.