The police chief in Sanford, Florida resigned today, after stepping down “temporarily” during the investigation of the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, which sparked national outrage.
Police in Sanford, Florida did not press charges against George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin on February 26, saying they had no evidence to challenge Zimmerman's self-defense claim. Although he claimed he could not escape from Trayvon Martin when he felt his life was at risk, liberal activists and commentators were quick to blame Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law anyway. Even Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, jumped on the fallacious connection.
The effect of framing the incident as indicative of liberal gun rights served to obfuscate other issues, namely, the role of law enforcement. One of Sanford’s commissioners, Patty Mahany, called the police chief Bill Lee’s resignation a scapegoating. The Los Angeles Times reports:
Mahany, who had supported Lee during the political furor over his department’s investigation, called the resignation a "terrible tragedy." She said she blamed civil rights activists whose protests "ruined the reputation and career of a really stellar law enforcement officer."
Lee "is nothing but a scapegoat," Mahany said. "Our police department did nothing wrong."
Mahany is half right. The resignation of the police chief could be nothing more than a scapegoating if the police department’s handling of Trayvon Martin’s homicide is not investigated further. Although the presence of George Zimmerman’s father, a retired judge, at various points in the police investigation deserves scrutiny, George Zimmerman is likely no friend of the local police department, having apparently been involved in activism aimed at Sanford’s police abuses.
However, he very well may have been extended the “professional courtesy” law enforcement officers get all the time in questionable situations. The decision not to press charges despite the lead homicide investigator’s recommendation bears serious scrutiny, Commissioner Mahany’s unsubstantiated protestations that her town’s police department did nothing wrong and the intense media focus on George Zimmerman’s upcoming trial notwithstanding.
UPDATE: The Sanford City commissioners voted 3-2 to reject the police chief's resignation.