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“The normal rule in American law is that a police officer must have ‘probable cause’ in order to arrest someone,” writes Kopel.
This does not mean Zimmerman is innocent, of course. Since the shooting other evidence has come to light, such as the assertion by Martin’s girl friend that during a cell phone call he told her he was being followed and was trying to escape. The Sanford police could have botched their initial investigation.
According to CBS News, police interviewed six witnesses in the days following the attack. Nobody said they had seen the beginning of the altercation. None said they saw the shot that ended it.
Martin’s family has asserted that race overlies the case and that if the situation had been reversed, and a black teen had pulled the trigger, the teen would have been arrested that night.
They made this point in a brief appearance Tuesday at a forum organized by congressional Democrats on racial profiling and hate crimes.
“Trayvon was our son, but Trayvon is your son,” Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, told the forum. “A lot of people can relate to our situation and it breaks their heart like it breaks our heart.”
The investigation into the case is now starting over. A new special prosecutor is bringing in witnesses to be interviewed again, as well as revisiting the physical evidence of the altercation. Zimmerman remains free, for now.
But as the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates notes, the case to be made against Zimmerman “will not be an easy one.”
The point is not whether investigators disbelieve Zimmerman. The point is whether they can prove that he is lying. Given that the other participant in the altercation is dead and unable to testify, that won’t be easy.
“I think it’s worth understanding how difficult it is going to be to prosecute Zimmerman,” writes Mr. Coates.