On the night of February 26, 2012, 17-year old Trayvon Martin, a hoodie-wearing high school junior, was walking through a neighborhood in Sanford, Florida when a night watchman, George Zimmerman confronted him. Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed teen, claiming self-defense. After a controversial trial, Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter. His defense was Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.
Trayvon Martin was described as a loving kid, who saved his father from a burning apartment at age 9. Although he faced the social struggles of many contemporary teens, he hoped to attend college and study aviation. When Zimmerman was not initially arrested, 2.2 million signatures were gathered to petition for an aggressive trial and conviction.
Intense media coverage fueled the ongoing debate about “Stand Your Ground” laws, which are in effect not only in Sanford, Florida, but in some variation in forty-six states. The law states that person has “no duty to retreat” when their home or personal space has been violated.
On March 21, 2012, The Million Hoodie March protest brought thousands to New York City. On July 2013, when President Obama publicly stated: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” it seemed an acknowledgment to some that no matter how much Black men have achieved, they are still viewed through a lens of racism.
During the Zimmerman trial, Trayvon’s social media posts, including his tweets and Facebook posts, were admitted to “prove” that he had violent tendencies. The presiding Judge, Debra Nelson, not only ruled in favor of the defense, but also ruled that Martin’s school records could also be reviewed. Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who were divorced, came together to generate awareness, lead protests and help other families experiencing similar tragedies heal.
They continue to make appearances and speak on behalf of their son’s legacy and have dedicated many hours to speaking out against gun violence in America. After the not-guilty verdict in the Sanford, FL courts, African-American civil rights leaders, the national media, parents, teachers and students also spoke out about the case.
The Zimmerman trial was compared to that of Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the murderers of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. Both men were acquitted and never served time for their crime.
Since the trial, George Zimmerman has been in and out of the courtroom, charged with two incidents of domestic violence and a charge of aggravated assault and criminal mischief. Zimmerman’s girlfriend later recanted her story and asked police to drop the charges. A proposed “celebrity” boxing match between Zimmerman and potentially, the rapper DMX, was cancelled after a public outcry. He remains a free man.