In the days since a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murder in the February 2012 shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an image meme has been making the rounds on social media that compares Martin’s death to the June 2012 shooting of local 17-year-old Marley Lion, who was also unarmed at the time of his death. The image makes a few other comparisons as well:
Around 4 a.m. on June 16, 2012, Marley Lion, then a recent graduate of Academic Magnet High School, was found lying on the ground outside his Nissan Pathfinder in the parking lot at 1662 Savannah Highway. Lion had been shot, and he died after telling police that two black males had approached the vehicle and one of them had shot him five times.
Lion’s death prompted an aggressive police investigation, eventually leading to four arrests in late July 2012, including Ryan Deleston, a 30-year-old black man who was charged with murder, use of a weapon in a violent crime, attempted armed robbery, and possession of a weapon with an obliterated serial number.
At least one distinction can be drawn between the two deaths: In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s shooting, commentators and protesters across the country accused Zimmerman of racial profiling for shooting an unarmed black teenager in a hoodie. No such accusations were made against Deleston, who investigators say was planning to rob a nearby sports bar when Lion pulled up in his vehicle and Deleston attempted to rob him instead.
The Charleston branch of the NAACP held a press conference today to address the George Zimmerman verdict. Afterward, local First Vice President Rev. Joseph Darby addressed the comparison between the deaths of Lion and Martin:
On the one hand, they were two young men who were minding their own business when it occurred. On the other hand, I think the problem in the Trayvon case is that the aftermath was different. In the case of Marley Lion, there was an immediate search for the killer, fairly rapid apprehension, rapid action. With Trayvon Martin … the police were aware of the killing, but there was no charge until there was national pressure. I think the reason the Trayvon Martin case made national news was the level of inaction in Florida.
Local NAACP President Dot Scott also clarified her stance on the Marley Lion comparison, which came up during questions at the press conference:
One thing we need to be clear: I applaud how things were handled with Lion’s case, because here was a young man, fresh out of high school, bothering no one, taking a rest in his own car, and he had someone take his life away from him. [Police] did what they should have done. The only thing we’re saying is it doesn’t happen the same way with the life of a black child. That’s where the disparity is, and the fact that it took so long to even bring Zimmerman to the due process of the justice system and to have the verdict that it did. We feel like that would not have been the same verdict if race wasn’t an issue.
UPDATE, 3:55 p.m.:
Reached by e-mail, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson draws one other distinction between the deaths of Lion and Martin: video evidence. After surveillance camera footage helped lead investigators to make arrests in the Lion case, Wilson called for local governments to allow police departments more access to video surveillance. Wilson gave the following comment today:
I can’t really discuss the Marley Lion case because it is still pending. I will say this: Generally speaking, having a situation captured on video tape clarifies many issues otherwise could have been raised. In the George Zimmerman case, Zimmerman was able to argue effectively that despite his following of Martin, he was the one who was first attacked and that he was in fear of his life in a place where he had a right to be. Video evidence may beg questions on occasion but it also eliminates (or supports) arguments such as the one that Zimmerman made. When there is no such evidence, the jury is instructed to resolve any doubts about how the events unfolded in favor of the defendant.