In the US, George Zimmerman, a self appointed vigilante has been cleared by a jury of unlawfully shooting a black teenager Trayvon Martin, in a Florida town last year. The shooting caused an outcry, especially among the black population, given the national debate about racial profiling and self-defence laws, not to mention the debate on gun ownership. It was late at night and Zimmerman claimed self defense, but prosecutors say the neighborhood watch volunteer in his gated community was a ‘wannabe cop’ who tracked down the teenager and shot him, after a struggle. President Obama weighed in and said that if he ‘had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.’

There has been a nervous anticipation about the continuing reaction to the verdict, especially in black communities. I was in the US during the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles which caused major rioting and unrest. On that occasion a mostly all-white jury cleared the police of the savage beating of motorist King.  I was actually in Texas when the verdict came through and there was pandemonium and fears that the sense of injustice could lead to major confrontation. Back in New York, where I lived, it was the same.

It was felt that the US had progressed considerably in terms of race relations and police and judicial fairness in dealing with minority communities, but today’s verdict suggests otherwise. A number of new factors have changed the situation negatively. One is that the whole post- 9/11‘war on terror’ has made people feel jumpy and entitled to apprehend or punish suspects of all types. Connected to this is that the gun laws have if anything become even more liberal since 1992 – even though Obama is trying to get them changed.

The reality is that the US is a very trigger happy place where it comes to law enforcement and there is a blurring of the lines between private security, vigilante culture and the police. And we would have experience of that in relation to Irish citizen. Look at the case of the shooting of a disturbed young Irish lad, Andrew Hanlon, in Oregon some years ago, by a rookie cop, and kick boxer, who asserted that Hanlon was breaking into a house: he was, in fact, banging at the door. Hanlon was killed and there was a trial in which the policeman was cleared (although he has since been jailed on sex offences.)

The reality is that the Zimmerman case in Florida is being used as a political battleground.. Many news outlets have been giving a one sided view of the incident and trial, and many do not give full details on the reputations of both defendant and of the victim Trayvon Martin. The real cause of the tragedy is the liberal gun laws in the US – and the trigger happy nature of so-called ‘law enforcement’ – and for Irish observers there are strong echoes of the Andrew Hanlon case – and of many more such cases in a gun-crazy and (ironically) often lawless society.

Irish Independent report  2009 on Andrew Hanlon

THE family of a young man shot dead by a police officer in America claimed yesterday they would never get justice for his killing.

Andrew Hanlon









The inquest into the death of Andrew Hanlon, (20) above, heard any one of four gunshots that wounded him would have been sufficient to kill him. He was hit five times.

Andrew was unarmed and barefoot when officer Tony Gonzalez opened fire, the hearing at the County Coroner’s Court in Tallaght was told. His heartbroken mother, Dorothea Carroll, wept as she said all she wanted was to be with her 20-year-old son in his final moments, and an apology.

“He died alone on a dark street with nobody who cared around him,” she said. “I think about that often, my son lying on the side of the street in a pool of blood dying.

“If I could have that one moment back with him that would mean the world to me, that one moment to put my arms around my son, but none of that is possible.”

Andrew was shot dead by Mr Gonzalez on June 30 last year in the town of Silverton, south of Portland, in the state of Oregon.

rookie cop














Officer Tony Gonzalez

Marion County District Attorney’s Office maintained Mr Gonzalez came across Mr Hanlon when he responded to a 911 burglary call. Andrew’s stepfather, Justin Carroll, told the inquest the young man had been banging on the door of the house shouting ‘let me in’ and was not trying to break in.

Mr Carroll said friends who were with Andrew 20 minutes earlier said he was in good spirits, but for some reason he became extremely agitated and went to the house. “There’s a suspicion he was being chased. But nobody can say if it’s true or not. Only Andrew,” he added.

Police were called to the scene by the frightened homeowners, but Andrew was around 100 yards away from the property when an officer spotted him. “The printout from the radio conversation between dispatch and officers confirms Officer Gonzalez was aware Andrew was unarmed,” said Mr Carroll.

Mr Carroll said witnesses claimed to have heard Officer Gonzalez confront Andrew, who was five metres away, and warn him ‘do you want me to shoot you”

“He was in the process of getting down,” said Mr Carroll.

“Officer Gonzalez said something else. Other witnesses said him heard ‘do you want me to shoot you” [again] at which point Andrew seemed to straighten up and step forward. The officer fired seven times.” Mr Carroll said five bullets hit Andrew as he moved out from between two cars.

After the shooting, Mr Gonzalez was placed on administrative leave but was later cleared by a grand jury of wrongdoing. He resigned from the force in August. But in December, the former police officer was jailed for more than six years after pleading guilty to four counts of sex abuse.

Mr Hanlon was living illegally in the US after his holiday visa had expired with his sister Melanie Heise, who remains in Silverton. The inquest heard she believed her younger brother had begun to have psychological problems, but Mr Carroll insisted he was a normal homesick 20-year-old.

State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy said two bullets had entered Andrew’s left arm and lodged in his lungs, with a third hitting his back left shoulder. The final bullet struck him in his lower body as he was falling to the ground, she said, and went up through his liver, lung and ribs. Mr Carroll said an autopsy in the US showed a fifth bullet grazed the back of Andrew’s neck. Dublin County Coroner Dr Kieran Geraghty directed the jury to return an open verdict.

Outside the court, Andrew’s mother said: “There’s no closure for us whatsoever. I understand there could only be an open verdict, but I just want somebody, anybody to say to me that the shooting of my son was wrong.  “From here we have nowhere to go — that’s the bottom line.”