Arguably no case in recent memory has gripped the United States as much as the murder of Trayvon Martin
. On Feb. 26, 2012, a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman gunned down the 17-year-old shortly after telling police that he’d spotted a suspicious youth in his gated community in Sanford, Fla. Because the 911 call suggested that Zimmerman had followed the youth around before shooting him and that the teen had done nothing suspicious other than to wear a hoodie, the public loudly protested when Sanford Police declined to arrest Zimmerman, 28, after he claimed to have shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. An overview of the Trayvon Martin shooting, quotes and reactions from public figures about the tragedy and biographical information about the slain youth and his killer help to put the case into perspective.
This overview of Trayvon Martin case provides background on the events that led up to the 17-year-old’s killing as well as the Florida legislation, Stand Your Ground, that allowed murderer George Zimmerman to avoid arrest for a month-and-a-half afterward. It also discusses other high-profile killings of black males and efforts to discredit Trayvon Martin’s integrity in death. The controversies public figures sparked after the killing are also discussed.
The murder of Trayvon Martin has outraged and saddened millions of Americans, but others have made a concerted effort to smear
the slain youth’s reputation. In reports about the teen’s killing, leading national newspapers have mentioned that he was suspended from school for tardiness, tagging graffiti and carrying a baggie with traces of marijuana inside. The fact is Trayvon Martin was a three-dimensional person not an angel. Being suspended for these nonviolent and typical juvenile offenses in no way suggests that he deserved to be gunned down by George Zimmerman. Trayvon’s family describes him as a respectful teen who babysat his younger cousins, enjoyed baking and took honors classes. Like his older brother, Jahvaris Fulton, he was headed to college. This is far from how right-wing extremists and some members of the mainstream media have portrayed him.
George Zimmerman remains an enigma. Was he a neighborhood watchman who resorted to vigilantism or the kindhearted man friends and family members say he is? Although Zimmerman has been vilified for not only killing Trayvon Martin but also for allegedly racially profiling
the teen, he insists he’s no racist. With a Peruvian mother and a white father, Zimmerman apparently has friends from a variety of racial groups, including African American. Still, that doesn’t mean race didn’t play a role in why he viewed Trayvon as “up to no good” when he spotted him in a gated community on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman’s history of violence may have also been a factor in his shooting of Trayvon Martin. He reportedly lost a job because of his temper and was arrested for assaulting a police officer. Was he an angry man who spiraled out of control when he had a confrontation with Trayvon Martin or a man who resorted to killing in self-defense, as he claims?
The murder of Trayvon Martin has not only moved his parents and concerned citizens to action but also has led to a number of public figures discussing the case in the media. President Barack and Michelle Obama have weighed in on the case by empathizing with Trayvon’s parents. The president’s Republican rivals, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, took issue with Obama stating that if he had son, “he’d look like Trayvon.” They accused the president of inflaming racial tensions and trying to divide the nation with this remark. This led political group ColorofChange.org to denounce Gingrich and Santorum and ask the Republican National Committee to denounce them as well. The former Republican contenders for president weren’t the only ones who sparked controversy by commenting on the Trayvon Martin case. Geraldo Rivera faced a public backlash after he declared that Trayvon’s hoodie was as much to blame for his murder as George Zimmerman was.
While most Americans have reacted to the Trayvon Martin murder reasonably and appropriately, others have taken the low road—inflaming tensions rather than working toward a peaceful resolution. Director Spike Lee tweeted what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address to his thousands of Twitter followers. Instead, the address belonged to an elderly couple who had to relocate after receiving a series of death threats. The New Black Panther Party offered a $10,000 bounty for the capture of Zimmerman. Moreover, writer John Derbyshire wrote a column in reaction to the Trayvon Martin case that stereotyped blacks as unintelligent and violent. The column led the National Review to can him. Lastly, white supremacists hacked into Trayvon Martin’s email and social networking accounts and marched with firearms in Sanford, Fla., on behalf of the white community.