Rick Scott

Trayvon Martin

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SANFORD, Fla. — An unarmed black teenager shot to death by a neighborhood watch captain told his girlfriend he was being followed shortly before the confrontation that killed him, a lawyer said Tuesday as federal and state prosecutors announced they would investigate.

“’Oh he’s right behind me, he’s right behind me again,’” 17-year-old Trayvon Martin told his girlfriend on his cellphone, the Martin family’s attorney said.

The girl later heard Martin say, “Why are you following me?” Another man asked, “What are you doing around here?’” attorney Benjamin Crump said.

The phone call that recorded Martin’s final moments was disclosed as the U.S. Justice Department opened a federal civil rights probe into the Feb. 26 shooting and the local prosecutor convened a grand jury to investigate.

The neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, has not been charged and has said he shot Martin, who was returning to a gated community in Sanford after buying candy at a convenience store, in self-defense after Martin attacked him. Police say Zimmerman is white; his family says he is Hispanic.

The case has ignited racial tensions in this Orlando suburb of 53,500 people, sparking rallies and a protest in Gov. Rick Scott’s office on Tuesday. The Rev. Al Sharpton is joining Sanford city leaders at a town hall meeting later Tuesday to discuss the investigation.

Police say Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head, and told police he had yelled out for help before he shot Martin.

Crump told reporters Tuesday it was Martin who cried out when a man bearing a 9mm handgun came at him.

Martin called his 16-year-old girlfriend in Miami several times on Feb. 26, including just before the shooting, Crump said. The discovery of the lengthy conversations, including one moments before the shooting, was made over the weekend by Martin’s father by checking his son’s cell phone log, Crump said.

“She absolutely blows Zimmerman’s absurd self-defense claim out of the water,” Crump said of Martin’s girlfriend, whose name was withheld.

Martin, who was in town from Miami to visit his father in Sanford, told the girl on his way back from the store he’d taken shelter the rain briefly at an apartment building in his father’s gated community, Crump said. Martin then told the girl he was being followed and would try to lose the person, Crump said.

“She says: ‘Run.’ He says, ‘I’m not going to run, I’m just going to walk fast,’” Crump says, quoting the girl.

After Martin encountered Zimmerman, the girl thinks she heard a scuffle “because his voice changes like something interrupted his speech,” Crump said. The phone call ended before the girl heard gunshots.

The last call was at 7:12 p.m. Police arrived at 7:17 p.m. to find Martin lying face down on the ground.

Zimmerman was handcuffed after police arrived and taken into custody for questioning, but was released by police without being charged. Police have interviewed Zimmerman two times since then.

Crump called the treatment patently unfair and asked if Martin would have received the same treatment if he had been the shooter.
“We will not rest until he is arrested. The more time that passes, this is going to be swept under the rug,” Crump said.

Crump said he plans to turn over information about the call to federal investigators; a grand jury in Seminole County is also likely to subpoena the records. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also involved in the state case.

Former federal prosecutors said there are limitations to a Justice Department civil rights probe, which typically would involve a sworn law enforcement officer accused of abusing his authority.

In this case, they said, it’s not clear whether Zimmerman had any actual law enforcement authority or if the Sanford Police Department did anything improper. Zimmerman had a permit to carry a gun, but it was not required for his neighborhood watch patrol.

“I think the community has the feeling that there’s some type of cover-up,” said Jeffrey Sloman, former U.S. attorney in Miami. “At least the department’s involvement makes sure it gets some review. He wasn’t a police officer. I’m sure that this is going to be a tough case to prosecute.”

Authorities may be hamstrung by a state “Stand Your Ground” law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force and does not require a retreat in the face of danger. Asked Tuesday if that law needs change, Republican Gov. Rick Scott said “it’s always positive to go back and think about existing laws.”

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said it is sending its community relations service this week to Sanford to “address tension in the community.”

Seminole County State Attorney Norm Wolfinger said a grand jury will meet April 10 to consider evidence in the case.

An online petition urging local authorities to prosecute Zimmerman has drawn more than 500,000 signatures at website Change.org. About 50 defense attorneys and protesters filled the lobby in the governor’s office Tuesday to deliver a letter seeking an independent investigation and a task force to study racial profiling. They applauded when Scott came out of his office to talk to them.

“I will make sure justice prevails,” Scott said. “I’m very comfortable that (state law enforcement) is going to do the right thing. They’re not going to let somebody do something wrong and get away with it.”

Sharpton is attending the town hall meeting at a local church Tuesday night to discuss how the investigation is being handled. Students rallied on Monday at Florida A&M University’s campus in Tallahassee and outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center.

Editor’s note: Daily Texan columnist Samian Quazi wrote an opinion piece that was published in Wednesday’s paper questioning the value of fine arts programs. Below are several of the many firing lines we’ve received as well as a response from Quazi.

On Wednesday, The Daily Texan published my opinion column, “The questionable value of arts programs.” Since that publication, many within the UT community felt compelled to write their own responses to an admittedly controversial viewpoint. I’m grateful to hear your passionate, articulate and diverse viewpoints. In particular, I’d like to thank those in our fine arts programs for responding to an issue very close to their educational and career goals.

I concede that I was taken aback by the outcry generated by many fine arts students and alumni to my article. After all, the Texan reported on potential budget cuts to the fine arts in February, yet the community’s response was tepid at best.

If my opinion column elicits coherent arguments in favor of the arts, then I can only hope fine arts’ proponents will continue to advocate for their beliefs in public forums.

We’re all aware of our nation’s prolonged high unemployment, and recent news stories on debt-burdened college graduates unable to find relevant employment are all the rage in the mainstream media. Much of the public discussion has focused on whether there are too many liberal arts and fine arts graduates in a market supposedly saturated with such majors. In turn, public officials have questioned whether continuing to fund such programs is still relevant given the current economic dynamics. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, for instance, called for universities in his state to reallocate funding to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. He argued that many of the other fields weren’t economically beneficial to Florida. Scott asked in a speech in October, “Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people in anthropology? I don’t.”

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback eliminated all state funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, saying funding the arts was not a core function of state government. Even our state’s governor Rick Perry has targeted federal spending on the National Endowment for the Arts in his presidential bid.

Is it fair that so many politicians are singling out arts programs, including those at public universities, as wasteful spending? I’d venture to say no. But there is a strong perception among many in the public that the arts are an amenity whose costs aren’t justified during tough economic times. It’s also fair to presume that arts advocates have not been as forthright in assuaging the public’s concerns that sustained taxpayer support is justified.

I encourage the UT community to continue this discussion on a national issue that has been given too little attention. I also encourage readers to submit replies to The Daily Texan in the form of firing lines on this and issues to come.

Samian Quazi
Daily Texan columnist, nursing graduate student


 

I am absolutely furious that The Daily Texan would publish this article and call it journalism. I use the term “article” loosely because frankly, a Wikipedia article would have more concrete evidence.

I’m a working filmmaker and, let me tell you, the creative fields are doing fine. We’re hit as badly as everyone else, but as long as there is a need for entertainment, there will be a need for fine arts programs in our schools. Writing an opinion that they are not needed is fine so long as the writer has facts to support his opinion.

I’d be happy to give Quazi a lesson in the real economic realities of our field if he wants to drop me a line. However, tell him the next time he wants to try and blindly tear down something he doesn’t have the credentials to discuss in a public medium, he had better turn the lights on and bring a much bigger hammer.

Andy Young
Undeclared junior


 

It was with great disappointment that I read Quazi’s Nov. 16 column. The opinions expressed within have been said over and over ad nauseam. As a student of both the liberal and fine arts, I have heard this criticism before and know that I will again.

I took the greatest issue with the following statement: “But the arts have traditionally been the patronage of the wealthy anyway.” True, specific arts survived at many points in history because of the support of patrons. But while we wouldn’t have Shakespeare without Queen Elizabeth I, the surviving words now belong to the people.

Instead of focusing on the monetary or career value of an education in the fine arts, we should consider the importance and value of fine arts to the human soul.

I am loath to think that Quazi would like to attend an institution that doesn’t value art, that didn’t make such wonderful art available to students or that didn’t realize that the purpose of learning is not to trade your diploma for dollars.

Rachel Gilbert
Theater and dance graduate student


 

I am extremely ashamed of having The Daily Texan as my school newspaper for allowing columnists to write absolute garbage. That in no way makes the Texan a quality piece of journalism. I expected much, much better from this publication and the editors that reviewed this piece before going to print. There are rants suited for op-ed columns, and there are rants suited for Facebook and blog posts. I would’ve thought that you all could distinguish which is which.

Lauren Hundley
Journalism junior


 

Journalism is important to help people connect with one another, but it is important that journalists interrogate and investigate stories and present society with facts.

In Quazi’s column, many of these journalistic qualities were lacking, as there was no attempt to verify sources. For example, Samian said, “Parents of public school children often adamantly defend school programs in music, visual arts, dance and theater. The parents argue such programs impart creativity, foster discipline and expose children to fundamental aspects of human culture. And I agree with that.”

This is an assumption and a generalization. Even opinion articles should have clear, factual sources. Good journalism is not presumed, it is researched.

I could keep going, as this article is littered with unfounded claims and grandiose presumptions that devalue an entire sector of the work force and the University. This article has done nothing but create anger and defensiveness. I have seen very little constructive debate about what is a very real issue because the author offered no facts to debate about. The online comments in response to the column are mostly angry tirades of artists feeling that they have to defend themselves.

Rowan Doyle
Theatre graduate student


 

Quazi seems to criticize more than the value of state university-supported arts programs throughout his column. However, his arguments are questionable.

People seldom work in the area of their college major. However in college, students find an area of study that attracts them strongly enough and to which they will devote four or more years. They will likely change jobs many, many times in a lifetime of career and personal and economic changes.

Finely-honed artistic craft is actually a marketable and useful skill with income potential — much more than many other types of majors. A drama graduate may be more skilled at negotiating contracts. A visual arts graduate may be better at design and, therefore, marketing campaigns.

A strong, healthy state institution must have course offerings in a very broad range of subjects, and it must have departments strong enough to train teachers and educators in all fields, especially those such as the arts that are shown to enhance student creativity, discipline and academic success.

Employment and career success is very related to the discipline — and not the subject — learned in college. No undergraduate has finely-honed self-discipline. A UT education should empower students to adapt to any circumstance, to make educated decisions throughout their lives and to creatively solve their own problems. Frankly, I can’t think of any college program that is better than fine arts for that purpose.

Marilyn Harris
Research assistant, cell and molecular biology


 

Quazi’s column has disturbing implications. Beyond its dangerous simplicity and poor understanding regarding the internal workings of UT’s budget, it implies two things. First, that fine arts — and all other studies for that matter — should be scrutinized solely for their “real economic benefit” and second, that individual career choices should be weighed by their monetary rewards.

The value of a university education is clearly more than economic benefits. Moreover, the arts are a foundational component of our modern society. Throughout human history, we have found value in creating, performing and constructing for its own sake, receiving inspiration from new forms of expression. There is also a very tangible value that art brings to society as a whole. When society suffers trauma, art can be an alternative form of expression. A nonprofit decided to use art as therapy for children displaced by Hurricane Katrina, providing these children with a critical emotional outlet that would otherwise be unavailable.

The second implication of Quazi’s argument is equally disturbing. Quazi may be advised to drop out of nursing and begin studies in finance. This reasoning forgets that there are other factors in career choice beyond maximizing personal income.

As Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell once noted, “Art is an end in itself. Its values are intrinsic.” If there are sacrifices to be made to the quality of academic programming, it would be a tragedy for the University to ignore the inherent value of fine arts.

Luis Soberon
First-year law student


 

Quazi’s column contains no facts and no research. It struck me as particularly mean-spirited andirresponsible.

I and many others are starting to wonder if “Samian Quazi” is a real person or if this article was authored by a full-time staff member of The Daily Texan or the University. It has been suggested by other outraged members of the College of Fine Arts that it was actually written by a member of the governor’s office. Is it possible that it was written by an outside entity and yet slid by your editorial staff? Your paper printed that “Quazi is a graduate nursing student,” yet this person’s name does not appear in the UT directory, and the registrar’s office confirmed to me today that no such student is enrolled in the university. The student may have requested to keep this information private, but I wonder how much fact-checking the Texan did before this article ran.

The inclusion of this article in the Texan is wildly irresponsible, primarily because no equal space was afforded to the opposing viewpoint in the same issue of the paper. I support free expression and a free press, but kicking an entire industry while it’s down seems to me the height of arrogance and pettiness and a lack of oversight by the Texan has added fuel to an unnecessary fire.

Lane Harder
Assistant instructor, music graduate student