Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Fact-checks about the case involving George Zimmerman

A police officer closes Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office at 5 p.m. on July 16, 2013, as protestors sit in the hallway at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
A police officer closes Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office at 5 p.m. on July 16, 2013, as protestors sit in the hallway at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.

Last updated Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, set off intense political debate over race, gun rights and a Florida law known as "stand your ground."

The shooter was George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman; his trial ended with a jury concluding he was not guilty of murder charges.

In the months since Martin’s death, PolitiFact and its state partners have fact-checked a number of claims.

• "Over 12,000 school kids were arrested in Florida. It makes Florida the nation's leader in that area." The Dream Defenders, a group advocating for an end the state's "stand your ground" law, said that Florida leads the country in the arrests of school kids, with 12,000 arrests. The group is concerned that racial profiling is driving the number of arrests. We found that Florida did arrest about 12,000 school children during the 2011-12 school year. But we couldn't find any data that said Florida leads the nation, because consistent state-by-state comparisons don't seem to exist right now. We rated the statement Half True.

• The Rev. Jesse Jackson said that homicides against blacks have tripled since Florida's "stand your ground" law has passed. The number of homicides in which black people were victims fluctuated from year to year between 2006 and 2012, but it didn’t come anywhere close to tripling. We rated his statement False.

A meme on Twitter claimed that "in the 513 days between Trayvon dying, and today’s verdict, 11,106 African-Americans have been murdered by other African-Americans." The number sounds extremely precise, but it's actually something of a rough guess based on back-of-the envelope math. No one actually knows how many African-Americans were murdered by other African-Americans in that time frame, and the numbers cited are actually an extrapolation of murder statistics for 2005. More current figures from 2011 show fewer deaths. Also, most murder victims, be they black or white, are killed by someone of their own race. We rated the claim Mostly False.

• Recently, a group called Judicial Watch claimed the Obama administration was organizing protests in Sanford, Fla., the town where Martin died. "A little-known unit of the Department of Justice, the Community Relations Service, was deployed to Sanford, FL, following the Trayvon Martin shooting to help organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman," the group claimed. PolitiFact Florida looked at the evidence and found that Justice Department employees were sent to Sanford, in part to deal with community uprising, including protests. But they were sent with the idea of keeping the situation peaceful and calm, not to instigate or condone protests or violence. We rated the claim Mostly False.

• PolitiFact Florida also looked at a chain email that has circulated for months about the case. The email complained the media wouldn’t show a photo of Martin that showed a large man with tattoos on his face. But a little digging showed that the photo was not Martin. The email’s photo actually was a picture of Jayceon Terrell Taylor, also known as Game, a 32-year-old rapper from Compton, Calif., near Los Angeles. We rated the email’s claim Pants on Fire.

Lawmakers feared Zimmerman would use a defense under a Florida statute commonly known as "stand your ground," which allows people to use deadly force in cases of self-defense when they believe their life is at risk. Ultimately, Zimmerman's team did not specifically invoke that defense, but the law has still been the focus of intense discussion.

• Last year, state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said lawmakers who opposed the bill had predicted cases like the Martin shooting. "When we passed the law, we said it portends horrific events when people’s lives were put into these situations, and my worst fears came to fruition," Joyner said. "A young life was snuffed out." PolitiFact Florida wanted to know if lawmakers had complained at the time and went back to the legislative history. Overall, the warnings comprised a slim opposition to a very popular law. But they were there. We rated Joyner’s claim True.

• State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, on the other hand, said the law was actually driving crime rates down. "What we’ve learned is if we empower people to stop bad things from happening, they will," Baxley said on MSNBC. "And in fact ... we’ve had a dramatic drop in violent crime since this law has been in effect." There has been a drop, but rates were declining before the law went into effect. We found no proof that that the "stand your ground" law caused the drop in crime rates. We rated his claim Half True.

• State Sen. Chris Smith, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, said that since Florida passed the "stand your ground" law in 2005, deaths due to self-defense have jumped over 250 percent. When we calculated the average for five years before the law passed and five years after it passed, we found an increase of 200 percent. That’s short of Smith’s claim, though the numbers largery support the idea that self-defense deaths have increased since 2005. As for whether "stand your ground" is the reason self-defense deaths are up, experts either disagree or say it’s difficult to determine without examining the specifics of each case. We rated the statement Half True.