Trayvon Martin - The fight for justice continuesBy Jesse Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Mar 28, 2012 - 1:04:48 PM
Black teen's killing ignites activism, street rallies accross the country and brings America face to face with the reality of race, life and death
“I would sleep better if Zimmerman was behind bars instead of being free on the streets with the possibility of killing someone else,” Aiyanna Fleming, 17, told The Final Call.
Ms. Fleming, who attends Miami Carol City High School in Miami Gardens, Fla., said when she first learned that Mr. Martin was dead, she called his phone three times and got no answer. “He was the complete opposite of the image that the news has tried to make him out to be. He wasn’t a trouble maker, he kept to himself and made us laugh,” she said.
Ms. Fleming and Ashley Burch were best friends and classmates with Mr. Martin. They are devastated that instead of going to the skating rink, watching movies or eating pizza with him they had to attend his funeral.
“When I listen to the 911 tapes and hear Trayvon crying, I just can’t believe it. That was my best friend. We want the family to receive justice,” said Ms. Fleming. “I believe this is an eye opener. It took Trayvon’s murder for some in America to wake up and see racism still exists. Cases like this have been swept under the rug for years.”
“It’s so hard to explain how painful it is that our friend is gone. I still can’t believe it. Trayvon was a very mature nice person. I want Zimmerman to go to jail and charged as a murderer and nothing less,” Ms. Burch, 17, told The Final Call.
|Full string of 911 calls related to Trayvon Martin killing (MP3)|
“Zimmerman can make his legal argument about ‘Stand Your Ground’ and self-defense in a courtroom. To shoot somebody who was unarmed with a bag of Skittles and not be arrested cannot happen. Had Martin shot Zimmerman, he would be arrested day one, hour one and on the spot. And he’d still be sitting in a jail,” said Attorney Benjamin Crump while visiting a Tallahassee church service. He is representing the victim’s family.
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, the father and mother of 17-year-old Trayvon, received the news that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into the killing of their son. A grand jury is scheduled to begin hearing the case April 10.
“The department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all of the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation. The department also is providing assistance to and cooperating with the state officials in their investigation into the incident,” a statement released by the Justice Dept. said.
The grieving parents addressed thousands who gathered for the “Million Hoodie March” on March 21 in Union Square in New York City. “My son did not deserve to die. Our son is your son. My heart is in pain. Seeing the support from all of you really makes a difference,” said Ms. Fulton.
“If Trayvon had been alive he would be right here on these steps with you guys rallying for justice. Trayvon Martin is you. Trayvon Martin did matter. And I just want New York to know that we’re not going to stop until we get justice for Trayvon,” said Tracy Martin.
On March 23, President Barack Obama responded to a reporter’s question about the case and broke his silence.
“I can only imagine what these parents are going through and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out how this tragedy happened,” said President Obama. “You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. All of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened as well as the specifics of the incident.”
Newt Gingrich, a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, called the President’s remarks “disgraceful.”
“What the president said in a sense is disgraceful. It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that if it had been a White who had been shot that would be OK because it didn’t look like him?” said Mr. Gingrich.
Vowing to “Occupy Sanford,” MSNBC host and founder of the National Action Network, Reverend Al Sharpton spoke to thousands during a rally he led there.
“Trayvon represents a reckless disregard for our lives,” said Rev. Sharpton. “Enough is enough. Zimmerman should have been arrested that night.”
On Feb. 26, the night of the shooting, Trayvon Martin was visiting relatives in the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community in Sanford, which is located approximately 20 miles north of Orlando.
Trying to get back to watch his favorite basketball players on the televised NBA All-Star game, Mr. Martin walked from a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store with a can of ice tea and a bag of Skittles candy. He was also reportedly wearing a hood on his head.
Mr. Zimmerman, dubbed a neighborhood watch captain, called authorities to report a suspicious looking person in the area when he spotted Mr. Martin. He eventually shot and killed Mr. Martin.
In his 911 call, Mr. Zimmerman can be heard telling the dispatcher that it was a Black male and “he looks like he’s on drugs and up to no good.”
The dispatcher instructed him not to pursue the person. Mr. Zimmerman had a one-track mind and ignored those orders. After getting out of his SUV, he can be heard saying “These a**holes always get away.”
The cries for help from a young boy, believed to be Mr. Martin, can be clearly heard in the background of 911 calls made by witnesses. At a certain point, Mr. Zimmerman engaged Mr. Martin, a single gunshot silenced those cries and the result was a teen found dead by officers arriving on the scene.
Mr. Zimmerman, admitted to authorities that he shot Mr. Martin. He claimed it was self-defense and avoided imprisonment by the Sanford police.
“The 911 calls proves that Zimmerman murdered Trayvon. Even though they told him to leave Trayvon alone, he still went after him anyway and shot him. Trayvon was not the type to attack people,” said Ms. Fleming.
According to Sanford police Mr. Zimmerman was bloody in his face and head, and had wet grassy stains on the back of his shirt, signs that a possible struggle took place between the two.
Craig Sonner, counsel for Mr. Zimmerman, strongly believes that once more evidence is presented it will prove that his client did indeed act in self-defense.
“George Zimmerman suffered a broken nose, and had an injury to the back of his head, he was attacked by Trayvon Martin on that evening. This was a case of self-defense,” Mr. Sonner told ABC News. He further insisted that Mr. Zimmerman is not a racist and that the “Stand Your Ground” law will be applicable in this case.
Florida is one of 23 states with variations of the “Castle Doctrine” or “Stand Your Ground” laws in which self-defense and justifiable homicides are allowed in cases when a person is determined to be protecting their lives or homes from perceived injury or damage.
Some disagree that this law applies to this case, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who signed the law in 2005.
“This law does not apply to this particular circumstance. Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back,” Mr. Bush told The Dallas Morning News. “Anytime an innocent life is taken it’s a tragedy. You’ve got to let the process work.”
Investigation takes a strange turn
The Sanford police dept. has since received harsh criticism for conducting what many believe was a flawed investigation.
White Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, who was given a vote of “no confidence” by a city commission, temporarily resigned. City officials named Capt. Darren Scott, who is Black, as acting chief.
“I know each one of you, and everyone watching, would like to have a quick, positive resolution to this recent event. However, I must say we have a system in place, a legal system. It may not be perfect but it’s the only one we have. I urge everyone to let the system take its course,” Mr. Scott told local reporters.
“We will cooperate fully with the appointed state attorney to assure a smooth transition of the investigation and the April 10, 2012, convening of the Seminole County Grand Jury,” said Mr. Wolfinger.
“As law enforcement investigates the death of Trayvon Martin, Floridians and others around the country have rightly recognized this as a terrible tragedy. Like all Floridians, I believe we must take steps to ensure tragedies like this are avoided,” said Mr. Scott.
“This case compromises the integrity of our legal system and sets a horrific precedent of vigilante justice. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus stand together in the name of justice for Trayvon,” Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said in a statement. “As a nation we cannot, should not, and will not ignore, Trayvon’s brutal murder and the inconceivable fact that his killer remains free. Contrary to the flippant way this case has been handled, his life had meaning and purpose. Trayvon had a family, friends and a future all taken away because of the color of his skin,” he added.
Race, Rallies and Hoodies
Black America has been down this road before for decades: Emmett Till, Hurricane Katrina, The Jena 6, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Troy Davis and now Trayvon Martin.
Like cases before him, Mr. Martin’s image is being spread using a variety of methods to ensure the case remains a movement, and is not simply turned into a moment.
On March 24, thousands packed the steps and plaza in front of the Washington, D.C. superior court demanding justice for Trayvon Martin and his family. Despite intermittent rain showers, chants of “No Justice No Peace” and “We are Trayvon!” could be heard throughout the streets with dozens of signs held aloft.
“What do you think would have happened if Trayvon would have felt threatened and he would have shot Zimmerman and Zimmerman would have been in the morgue?” asked Mr. Madison. “You know that young 17-year old Black man would be in jail this day.”
“They’ve been killing Black men since Black men landed on this continent,” said Mr. Madison.“This is nothing but a modern day 21st century Emmett Till,” he added.
Attorney G. Flint Taylor of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office is no stranger to the racial profiling that exists among law enforcement officials. For decades, he has been on the frontlines as a tireless legal crusader against police brutality, torture, and wrongful conviction and incarceration. He told The Final Call the fact that Mr. Zimmerman was not arrested following the shooting was “outrageous.”
“The more I see of it, the more I think back to the days of Emmett Till and even in the 40s and before that in Florida and Mississippi, the way that Black people were murdered by White people and then the authorities just turned the other way and how law enforcement was complicit in these types of things,” said Atty. Taylor “I thought and hoped that we had to some degree gotten beyond that, but here we are again in 2012 and we are thinking about what happened during the Jim Crow era.”
He sees the Trayvon Martin killing having the same galvanizing effect among people across all racial and ideological lines as the Troy Davis execution in September 2011 and again points to a terrible double standard relating to how laws are implemented.
“It’s the idea that if an African-American man is murdered or shot without justification it’s one standard, if it’s a White person shot by an African-American person, that person would be in jail, that person would be facing a murder charge right off the bat. It’s a total double standard,” he added.
In addition to rallies held nationwide, at Final Call press-time, an online petition on Change.org has garnered over two million signatures. The New Black Panther Party also announced a $10,000 reward for the capture of Mr. Zimmerman.
March 26 was declared a national day of action with thousands pouring into Sanford from across the country. Rallies and protests also took place that day in states such as New York, California, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Thousands have posted images of themselves wearing hoodies, to symbolically call for justice and address the stereotypes of profiling against Black men in America.
As a show of solidarity, led by stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the NBA’s Miami Heat took a photo all wearing their team’s official hoodies, with their heads bowed, and hand in their pockets.
“People are just fed up, just had it up to here. Just because you see a Black man in a hoodie does not mean that he’s a bank robber. It does not mean that he’s a criminal,” said Deric Muhammad of the Houston Ministry of Justice. “Justice for the Black man and woman is America’s Final Exam. America is failing. There will be no make-up exam,” he added.
(Ashahed M. Muhammad contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.)