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. Duane - St. Pete FLA

    this talk is all BS....blacks need to stop feeling sorry for themselves and start following the laws. getting an education. Stop with all the stupid "hip hop" life style and value an education. Respect is earned. Blacks make up 11% of the population but 50% of all murders.....and 9 of 10 of those murders is killing another black. Where is all this outrage for all that? You don't see it because the black leaders can't make any money off of that. Wake up!!!!!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Michael

    Enough already! Despite the innocent pictures of the slain kid, the kid was obvioulsly up to something to scare the security guy. If the kid was for real, he would have stopped and reversed course and showed the guy he was not a threat. If this situation was was reversed, I would expect this would have received little press from the media or the Occupy Wall Street folks. The Media and the extreme Left will always do their part in making everyhing a racial event for obvious reasons.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • h

      He was walking down the street in America. IWhy should he have to reverse course to show anything. He was armed with skittles and tea, If this idiot had stayed in his car then the child would be alive. He had already caled the police who asked him to wait he caused the whole thing.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • MY 2 Cents

      Really? If someone where following your son, you would advise your son to turn around and talk the the person? Then if chased down, you would tell your son not to defend himself also, am I right about this? It was dark and raining, why should the 17 year old feel comfortable in this situation at all? Zimmerman was not a police officer, and based on the call to 911, he also wasn't very well spoken....so again you would advise your child to be cooperative? Yeah I guess blacks and whites are very different.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Douglas Hollis

    Eyes is kind of teary thinking about the Trayvon Martin case. People we must stand p for our rights and justice. We cannot let this go on. May lives of our innocent young people have been taken by Officials thats supposed to keep us safe. If you can support, support!! LET YOUR VOICES BE HEARD!!! I wonder if President or First Lady Obama address this issue.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Reality

    The reason the man was not charged with a crime is very simple. If you charge him with any crime, what does that do to any cop who shoots someone then says the following words, "I was afraid for my life".? Those six words will always make a shooting "righteous".

    March 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. JUSTIN THE PROFHET

    yes, a while man killed a black person. what is right? HELL NO. i am white and i too beleive this man should be held accountable for his unjust actions. Racist? yes the man probably was. Whites in general? No, we are not racist. why do we get bashed for being white. No, the KKK is not alive and kicking. Yes, there are still active members, but not enough to say we are racist.

    I hope this man gets what he deserves. Racist's, black , white, chinese, need to feel the full extent of the law. That in turn, will lead to the enventual annihilation of racism. Its not just whites who discriminate, its different races as a whole. Unfortunatly , its the small number of different people who discrimate that get Public media attention and not those indiviuals who actually work towards racial equality.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. JustAThought

    There is one major point that keeps being skipped over. Zimmerman chased Trayvon, even after being told not to by the police. That is fact, not speculation. Zimmerman CREATED the situation, so does that not make him responsible for its outcome regardless of the "Stand your ground" law? If he creates the situation he becomes the aggressor does he not? With that information alone the police handled it incorrectly, not to mention they obviously did not check with witnesses and/or Trayvon's cell phone records. All they had to do was hold Zimmerman in custody until a thorough investigation was done.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Joy

    I am outraged this law has to go! Poor family POOR Kid!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Nick

    First I would like to say sorry for this child,s famly this is tuff losing your Son or Daughter what ever there race I know all to well I am a licensed Armed Guard here in Florida . My first most important Question as a Licened to carry an open Firearm anywere In the State, Wile on Duty and with a Client or afixed post . My question is why was this watch person carrying a gun without a state required G & D State of Florida Licens, For this Duty if you are a guard even a Volunteer this is still a State of Florida law ( State Statue 493 ) . I think someone needs to rel ook at this , This is not Stand Your Ground .

    March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. alex_santarelli

    the police chief just stepped down

    March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JAy

      THE KIDS BODY WAS LEFT IN THE MORTUARY FOR 3 DAYS, WITHOUT ANY NEXT OF KIN NOTIFICATION.......
      THE KID HAD HIS PHONE ON HIM AND NOBODY BOTHERED TO LOOK UP PARENTS OR FRIENDS PHONE NUMBER...

      THESE ENTIRE POLICE DEPT. IS A BIGGG JOKE.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      No, he didn't step down; he stepped aside "temporarily". He needs to resign. There is no temporary here. He didn't do his job of investigating this incident like he should have; he allowed Zimmerman to walk away from this crime and he did not do the "due diligence" that was warranted in any situation like this. He needs to resign. If he's not willing to do the job he was hired to do, resign and let someone else do it.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bernard

    Eyes is kind of teary thinking about the Trayvon Martin case. People we must stand p for our rights and justice. We cannot let this go on. May lives of our innocent young people have been taken by Officials thats supposed to keep us safe. If you can support, support!! LET YOUR VOICES BE HEARD!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. carashere

    Has anybody looked into the Dooley case? There's a video about it in the middle of this article. I was just as certain that there was some kind of crazy racism involved in Zimmerman not being prosecuted as anyone on here until I saw a reference to that case and looked into it. Now I think that FL has passed an absolutely insane law under which any vindictive crank, prejudiced against a certain racial group or against skateboarders or against whatever, can pick a fight and then shoot and kill without fear of prosecution.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mary

      Yes, the Dooley case is another "Stand Your Ground" case. But what's interesting is the "killer" (a black man) was arrested by police even though he stated he acted in self-defense. His case went to trial with a judge.Not sure if he was convicted. In the Trayvon Martin case, Zimmerman (the aggressor) walked away with the police doing absolutely nothing to this man and he got away with murder, even though he has claimed self-defense. This "Stand Your Ground" law is a bad law and whoever sponsored and put this bill in place need to be held accountable. It needs to be repealed. I thought we were a smarter country than this; now, I'm not so sure. We are reverting to the wild wild west mentality that we should not be embracing.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • carashere

      Mary, you are incorrect. Dooley was not arrested immediately. He was back at work, driving a school bus, the next day. He has not gone to trial. He has been charged with manslaughter now, but in December, he asked that the charges be dismissed based on "Stand Your Ground". The judge has still not ruled.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. colleen

    So sad that his young life was taken from him.... I will be praying for his family for healing

    March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. civilinjustice.com

    This whole situation was racially motivated and if people cannot see that, then i guess you are as blind as Zimmerman is and was that night. Question: How can a CHILD be a threat to a MAN that is twice his size? If no one else can say it I will: THIS STAND YOUR GROUND LAW was made and put into place because of white people being scared of BLACK people. As was reported on anderson cooper last night, how can a black man be arrested and charge for a crime in the same situation as a white man was not? People forget the State of FL was a major player in the whole segregation, KKK, and racial problems, and if you cannot see that, you are blind!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Racisim Still Exists

    After reading some of these comments, it sickens me because it is clear that racisim still exists today. It's sad.. Grow up and progress or as a whole nation we will fail!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • equility4ever

      Yes, racism still exists, no matter how hard we deny it. Look at trayvons face, you see the same innocence as your seventeen year old sons and brothers. He was a child, we need to look beyond his skin color. He had dreams, school, life, sport, girlfriend, may be facebook and twitter, all gone simply because of a perception that colored people are criminals. His mother felt the same pain and joy as other mothers when she gave birth to him, that racist thug ripped the heart out of Trayvon's mother.
      May God bless Trayvon's soul, may God give strength to his family to carry on.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • MY 2 Cents

      It is true, most of these venom laced comments are horrible. These same posters tell Black people that racism is an excuse and does not exist. Racisms exists and is alive and well, and present in every chat session that I have ever read. Somehow or another racism always rears its ugly head. The sad thing is that most people are so hate filled that they don't even see it in front of their face. They can't even see past their hatred to distinguish between right from wrong....no colors...just right and wrong.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • MY 2 Cents

      It is true, most of these venom laced comments are horrible. These same posters tell Black people that racism is an excuse and does not exist. Racisms exists and is alive and well, and present in every chat session that I have ever read. Somehow or another racism always rears its ugly head. The sad thing is that most people are so hate filled that they don't even see it in front of their face. They can't even see past their hatred to distinguish between right from wrong....no colors...just right and wrong. It is sad to say but things will never change.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tizzy

    Where we're all the protests when, a White man was gunned down on a basketball court in front of his daughter in Florida ?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • dc4sense

      Was the killed admit it and did he go his way without arrest?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • alex_santarelli

      I don't know about the case. all life is precious though

      March 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
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