March 22nd, 2012
12:55 PM ET

Trayvon Martin case sparks dialogue on racial inequality, meaning of justice

Nearly one month ago, few people knew the name Trayvon Martin.

The teen, who was walking to the house of his father's fiancée in Sanford, Florida, with a drink and Skittles in hand, was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who had called police to report suspicious activity. If you had looked on February 26, it would have been hard to find much discussion or major national coverage about the shooting.

On its face, that day, it was simple: Zimmerman told police that Martin, who was unarmed, attacked him, so he shot Martin in self-defense, which can be a protected activity under Florida law.

But now, this case, at least in terms of the conversations swirling around it, is anything but simple. And Trayvon Martin's name has now become part of the vocabulary of a debate on attitudes about race.

What began as a local shooting has turned into a global story that you couldn't miss, even if you tried. It is a story that has sparked outrage, cries of racism, accusations of vigilantism and questions about gun laws and whether police properly investigated the case. It has in many ways turned into a full-scale moment of reflection for Americans, of all races, as to whether we as a nation have moved forward in our quest for equality among races.

A petition on Change.org calling for Zimmerman's arrest, now handled by Martin's parents, shows how ingrained the topic is in the cultural zeitgeist. Early Thursday, the petition had reached 1 million signatures, with them coming in at a pace of 1,000 signatures a minute, according to Noland Chambliss, communications director for Change.org.  Chambliss said the petition at times has been getting 50,000 signatures an hour.

It is one of the more dominant conversations on news and social media sites, becoming a sort of rallying cry from those who feel an injustice has occurred. Those who feel that Zimmerman took Florida's "stand your ground" protection too far, or used it as an excuse to gun down a black teen because he was wearing a hoodie, took to the streets around the country to make their voices heard.  Demonstrators crowded New York's Union Square on Wednesday night, in a "Million Hoodie March" attended by Martin's parents.

The demands for justice grew largely because of a massive social media campaign with the help of major African-American celebrities trying to bring attention to the case, leading to Martin's name trending worldwide. But it's gone beyond just being a word or topic being typed out in a tweet or a post.

Most of the outrage comes from the idea that some people believe Zimmerman specifically targeted Martin because of his race, a claim that Zimmerman's father denies. Questions have swirled about whether Zimmerman used a racial epithet during his call to police about Martin. A top CNN audio engineer enhanced the sound of the 911 call, and several members of CNN's editorial staff repeatedly reviewed the tape but could reach no consensus on whether Zimmerman used a racial slur.

Many of those outraged with the case believe that Zimmerman had no reason to gun down a teenager who had no weapon. But the truth is we don't know exactly what happened between the moment Zimmerman called police to report his concern and the moment that cops showed up and found the black teen dead in the grass.

And perhaps it is all of those unknowns that have stoked the flames of outrage. It may be those unknowns that have sparked so many questions, and the inherent need to know exactly why this happened. Those concerns have led us to dissect the lives of Martin and Zimmerman to try and understand what may have happened that fateful night. Those questions have led some to criticize Florida's gun law and question whether it allows killers to go free.

And the situation has also forced parents of  black children to think about how they should discuss the story with their kids. What rhetoric do they use? How do they explain what they feel is happening?

CNN's Christy Oglesby wrote that her 12-year-old son knows he could have been Trayvon.

"It’s tough finding the balance between encouraging a black boy to storm the world with confidence and at the same time to fear for his life. But that’s what I must do," she wrote. "I know that at this very moment some have just sucked their teeth in disgusted disbelief and decided that I’m exaggerating. I wish that I was. I’m not. If I were, Trayvon would be alive."

That's a sentiment that author Touré wrote about for Time.com, too. In his piece called "How to talk to young black boys about Trayvon Martin," he offers eight talking points on what he calls the "potentially fatal condition of being Black."

"It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry but that’s the truth. Blackmaleness is a potentially fatal condition. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could possibly save your life," he wrote. "There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity. Being Black could turn an ordinary situation into a life or death moment even if you’re doing nothing wrong."

It has also forced a national dialogue on whether police handled the case properly, in general, or whether there were any racial biases in how the case was handled.

Pressure continues to grow on legislators to re-examine the "stand your ground" law, as well as on those charged with investigating the case. After a no-confidence vote and demands for his resignation, pressure mounted Thursday on the Sanford police chief. Sanford city commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday night in favor of a nonbinding measure of no confidence against Police Chief Bill Lee.Some of the people supporting Martin's family have also made it clear they want the chief fired, tweeting out his photo and phone number and encouraging people to flood his office with phone calls.

But police did try to give insight into how and why they handled the incident the way they did in a letter from the city manager posted online. In it, they explain, exactly how the "stand your ground" law works and how, according to Zimmerman's description of what happened that night, they could not refute that Zimmerman was protected by the law.

Thursday afternoon Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced Thursday he is stepping down "temporarily" as head of the department.

"I am aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," he told reporters. "It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position."

He added, "I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks."

A Seminole County grand jury will convene April 10 on the matter, according to State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, and the U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the case.

It appears that a growing movement of people across the country will continue to rally behind Martin's parents as they urge an arrest in the case.  Another rally is planned Thursday night at a Sanford church.

Before the grand jury makes a decision on whether to hand down indictments in the case, it is likely that more voices will fight to be heard and added to this ongoing and heated debate.

soundoff (1,305 Responses)
  1. Johan Goetz

    We have really got to get a handle on this Hispanic/black violence.. I'm not sure why the kid in the video keeps wanting to speak to white people..

    March 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ernie

      Oh now that's not a racist remark you made now is it?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debbie

      Are white people now not even to be spoken to?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johan Goetz

      I mean in the CNN video with the white kid with the hoodie who talks black.. He keeps inferring that somehow whites are responsible for this shooting and he wants to speak directly to "them"..

      March 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • humberto

      Everyone knows how fair black people are about "blackmaleness" reason and logic. And who was the spupid ass that coins such racial logic ?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Maria (MIA)

    I have listened to the recordings and it doesnt seem Zimmerman made any racial comment. all I heard was that is why they (or ppl like this) or something like that get away with it. I think he meant criminals. I think he should be tried and brought to justice. But it is ridiculous they are making it a racial thing. What about all the immigrants that are being killed or beaten. make a big deal of that.. Now that is racial crimes. INSANE how this country is not so free or fair at all. If it were a white guy that was killd and a blakc guy that was let go, would we make a fuss as this?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • White Middle Class Guy

      Maria, if the victim was white and the shooter black, the shooter would be in jail right now.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria (MIA)

      White Middle Class Guy::::: ok, there was another case in florida about a vet being shot by this guy that lived across the street from the park where he was playing with his wife and the shooter was black and the victim was white. And yes they arrested tjhe shooter. I agree Zimmerman should be in jail. I am hispanic and either way I think justice should be served. Now, he did not make a racial remark as CNN nor any other media cant assure this. The problem here is he police work... NO doubt.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • SmilesLeslie

      - @ Maria (MIA) No it wouldn't have been an issue because the BLACK guy would have been arrested and charged. The black guy could claim self-defense but I bet you that local police force would have been all over the investigation, WHILE THE BLACK MAN WAS BEING HELD IN JAIL UNTIL HE COULD POST BAIL. That's the issue here and the BIGGEST DIFFERENCE...HE WASN'T ARRESTED.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Willie

      We all know that would never ever happen. Just being black in florida is enough to be kiloled as we can see.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • d

      you wouldn't have to. The Black guy would be in jail.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chuck

    Just to be clear, this is Brown vs. Black. Not Black vs. White.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maria (MIA)

      zimmerman is mixed so honey it is a white/brown vs black. Ridiculous either way.,

      March 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johan Goetz you phony try reading a book

      In a 1995 Washington Post opinion poll, participants were asked, “How big a problem is racism in our society today?” Sixty-seven percent of surveyed blacks stated that racism was a big problem, while only 38 percent of whites agreed. In another 1995 Washington Post survey, 36 percent of whites felt that “past and present discrimination is a major reason for the economic and social problems” facing blacks, but more than half of the African American respondents agreed that discrimination remained a significant barrier to blacks’ success.

      Numerous polls and surveys taken throughout the 1990s reveal that whites and minorities often hold sharply contrasting opinions about racial discrimination and race relations. According to President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race, whites and people of color see “racial progress so differently that an outsider could easily believe that whites and most minorities . . . see the world through different lenses.” Often referred to as the racial “perception gap,” this difference of opinion between whites and nonwhites is especially noticeable when examining public opinion on governmental attempts to redress racism and discrimination. For example, recent surveys indicate that between 60 and 75 percent of whites oppose affirmative action policies—measures that increase minority representation in the workplace by including race as a factor in hiring decisions—while 65 to 70 percent of minorities support them. In addition, a Gallup poll reveals that 65 percent of blacks supported a 1997 proposal for Congress to apologize for slavery, while 67 percent of whites opposed such an apology.

      Many analysts maintain that this racial perception gap is a result of the different life experiences that whites and minorities have. As legal analyst Richard Delgado states, “White people rarely see acts of blatant or subtle racism, while minority people experience them all the time.” Psychologist John Dovidio agrees: “We [whites] tend to see racism as not a problem and particularly not a prses that pervade our society.”

      March 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      This white boy Agrees.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      No no no, we've already made it clear that Hispanics are now considered 'white' for the purposes of fomenting racial tensions in this case. Have you not paid attention?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • vewashin31

      Noone was brown except Trayvon.....maybe beige

      March 22, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Willie

      Same thing my freiend when the enter the Morgue their White or Black take your pick.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Althalos

      @Chris don't some of them already think they are white? Like in brazil everybody is white. Not sure if this is true not trolling just something I heard if not true tell me and I will correct myself.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. C'mon

    I just want to know why, if he was 19 years old, they keep using a pic of him when he was clearly much younger. is it to make him appear more innocent?

    Obviously I was not there when it happened, so I don't know the first thing about what acutally took place. I only know the news/media has a gift for twisting things to sell a story... makes me wonder if these "little boy" pics are a part of that.

    Either way, I hope justice is served.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • jumana

      he's 17.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • vewashin31

      He had just turned 17 actually....like two to three weeks before someone MURDERED him...Even if his unltrasound pictures were up he was still innocent he didn't commit any crime...C'mon...eeewww by the way

      March 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    Zimmerman needs to be taken out..

    March 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Fenris

    Let's make this clear: this is Hispanic racism against blacks, which is rampant in Florida. Do not turn this into a black/white thing.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maria (MIA)

      Hispanic not white.. Zimmerman??? Is mixd white and hispanic. so that makes him automatically a hispanic, Either way.. I dont feel it was racial. i think it became racial when the cops did not arrest him as this clearly does not seem to be a self defense case... ppl taking it the wrong way... Stupid but this country is full of idiot ppl that just do everything with their own justification like Casey Anthony... I guess.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. nbdix001

    FullaFlatus

    Justice has already been served in this instance. George Zimmerman dispensed justice thru the barrel of his gun on the evening that this event occured!...PLEASE EXPLAIN your comment?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Gregg

    Why does the media keep showing a pic of Trayvon Martin when he was 12 years old?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Debbie

      Does it matter? He is no less dead regardless of what picture is used, and we all know his age.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • vewashin31

      Because his mama didn't give them anymore pictures of her damn boy......If your that curious got to his facebook.....duh

      March 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • C'mon

      I think it's wierd too! It seems to me they are trying to make him seem more innocent, but again, I was not there so, just like everyone else commenting here, I really don't know any more than what the news tells me.... and we all know how reliable news/media can be!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. woodofpine

    Interesting report on the Dooley trial... so the claim there is that you can get into an argument and pull a gun. If the person observes you pulling the gun (only over argument) and feels threatened and lurges to prevent this; that's an attack and you can then finish them off! Great! Sounds likely to be similar to Martin, hot heads pull guns – the unarmed lunch to prevent what's coming, and then are finished off!

    March 22, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. t7584953

    This article is extremely biased and on-sided. The 1 million people trying to crucify Zimmerman, are lame. We see right through your racist garbage. Florida's state laws reflect its dedication to stop attacks/crimes against innocent people.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Tony

    Innocent until proven guilty. Remember the Duke lacrosse case? I doubt "Reverand Al" would be stirring the pot had the roles been reversed.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ftroy01

      I really wish someone would take that airhead out AL where is sidekick Jessie? He should be there too!!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Willie

      It really has nothing to do with him being racist. It has everything to do with the cops being racist, if the shoe was on the other foot I'd bet my life an arrest would've been made self defense or not.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Johan Goetz

    I have listened to the calls as well.. I don't think it was a racial slur, I think he lapsed into Spanish (he speaks both Spanish and English) for a second and caught himself.. He was just very jittery,

    March 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. colliersf

    You know I understand this was bad and Florida law is going to be the problem but also Cnn is going to be a problem just like they were with the Casey Anthony case. They are part to blame because so much stress was put on the jury not too worry about what was said but the evidence. With that case and this case the evidence is common sense both guilty . But this will play out we do not know without a shadow of a doubt what really happened. Cnn ran a story yesterday how gas prices do not hurt right now. I mean common Cnn you do more harm to us than anything and now your screwing up the justice system by pumping this story to were people say this man is guilty before it even goes to court. He will walk.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ab

      You say innocent before guilty, where were is the innocent before guilty fro Trayvon. He is not here to speak for himself. He didn't have any stolen property on him, he was breaking into anyone's house. So why would Zimmerman get out of his car to contront someone. Police were on his way. I'm sure Trayvon did not go up to his car and drag him out. You people are bunch of idots.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. marreve

    Well, lets kill one of your kids and see how much ""ranting and raving" you think is sufficient,

    March 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Steve

    I have a great idea. Lets do what the family and public want and rush out and arrest this guy. Then, when the case is poorly done and sufficient evidence is not collected, we can drop the charges and let him go. Why didnt you posters tell me you were brilliant?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andrew

      The case has ALREADY been poorly done, idiot. That's what this is about.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • vewashin31

      That has nothing to do with him sitting in a jail cell while his case is being viewed. Usually an arrest is made thats the whole point STEVE....

      March 22, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
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