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. chris

    CNN- your network interrupted the broadcast that was reporting the Trayvon Martin story to tell the world where Peyton Manning had chosen to play football. You are not just an impartial observer of events; your choice is indicative of the problem. Finding out where a rich white football player is going to get richer could have waited another minute and a half until your Trayvon Martin story was over. But apparently a living white millionaire is more newsworthy than a poor dead black kid. If CNN wants to report on racial inequality, try avoiding it yourselves first.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blly

      The way you went about this makes you just as bad a CNN is. It doesnt make it better when you used "white" in your artice to describe the football players the way you did. apparently your not much better than they are.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • TellmeSweetLittleLies

      Well said.

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

      Chris, I understand what you are saying, but it is not racism that made them interrupt the story, it is the urge and need to make money. It would have conceivably been more racist to NOT interrupt the story just because the boy is black and the QB is white. The boy was shown the same lack of respect as if a white boy was shot and a black QB was in the equation.

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

      I find it interesting the story doesn't mention the shooter is Latino.

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

      Well said Chris.

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

      Remember that Reverse Racism is still racism. Sadly you can name the players with you eyes closed. Rev. Sharpton, you mean well...but your hand is played out. If it wasn't the Duke travesty (Rush to convict in the media!!) and it wasn't the Cleveland Warehouse District (Rush to convict in the media!!) what will it take to realize that getting involved simply because of the color of the victims skin is wrong...

      March 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Portland tony

    Too much ranting and raving on this boys death. The grand jury will make the ultimate decision, baring political intervention, whether or not Zimmerman will be indicted. So far, all I hear is a vigilante mob led by CNN. The media should be reporting the news..not trying to make it.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kareen

      You would change your tune if this was your kid.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • anna

      I agree with you, enough already, I am sick and tired of seeing and reading this headline.

      Find something else to write about.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • conradshull

      If CNN stopped "making" news, their website would be two pages long and Headline News would run every other day.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosie

      What if it was your kid ?

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

      You wouldn't call it ranting or raving if it was your kid or you had kids.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kate

      If this is how you feel maybe you shouldn't keep reading about it.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • theinternet

      but if they actually reported news rather than creating it how would they sell ad space and get ratings? 🙁

      March 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Althalos

      I agree with you Kar if it was his kid he would not rest until he received justice for this crime the same way that the family of this young man want justice brought to the killer your sick tony sick.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mark

    i hate all ghetto people white or black

    March 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debbie

      Did someone say he was "ghetto". I must have missed that part.

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

      Why is the comment you made even relevant? Are you associating him with the ghetto because he is black, because of the outfit he had on, or because of the neighborhood he was walking in? Bottom line here, there is a 17 year old boy (black, white, hispanic, it doesn't matter) that is dead for no reason. He's dead because of a an trigger happy, hateful individual who wants to hide behind self-defense because of his actions. Now all of the sudden, because people are outraged, his family speaks up and says what a good person he was (because obviously, he's not that great).

      I just think your comment has no basis. You basically could have kept that statement to yourself.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. 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!

    March 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joyce

      I agree.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Moronic.....

      March 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damian

      ? what

      March 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debbie

      Are you and Joyce attending a full klan meeting today or will it just be the two of you?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      I'm sorry...what JUSTICE was served! An innocent boy is dead.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • CBC

      You're "fulla" something, all right. CNN won't let me say what that "something" is.

      Next time, maybe you will be the one on the receiving end of some of Mr. Zimmerman's brand of "justice".

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

      Well, even the lawmakers in Florida who brought forth this law disagrees with you:

      "This law is for innocent, law-abiding citizens who are under attack by a perpetrator," Baxley told The Huffington Post. "Anyone who is out pursuing and confronting people is not protected by this statute."
      "I think they need to go back and read the statute," Baxley said, referring to the Sanford Police Department.
      Former Republican State Sen. Durell Peadon, another co-author of the law, said Zimmerman "has no protection under my law."
      "They need to prosecute whoever shot the kid," Peadon told the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/21/george-zimmerman-trayvon-martin-_n_1371171.html?ref=trayvon-martin

      March 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. glu

    But CNN, what about your baby, you know, Syria?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Punctus

    ".But the truth is we don't know exactly what happened..." This is wrong. We know exactly what happened. An unarmed child was murdered and his assailant has not been arrested.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sala virgo

    Portland tony-Please crawl back into the cave you came from, please and thank you...

    March 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Good Guy

    I wonder how much movement would there be out there if the story were the other way around: white kid shot by black guy....just wondering....

    March 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • anna

      who cares ????

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

      Warp speed I'm sure.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • ftroy01

      You know it wouldnt be cause in this society today thats OK. But I have news for you this is just the begginning. This is going to be changing around soon enough

      March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. sala virgo

    FullaFlatus: I beg to differ-now if you were the person on the receiving end of the gun, I may have agreed with you, ignorant loser...

    March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. conradshull

    Another big question is what gated community hires armed neighborhood watchmen? Don't get me wrong, I'm 100% pro 2nd amendment, but armed neighborhood watch? It's Florida, not Sadr City.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • blah

      Let me guess, you're from Oregon or somthing right? You don't know our problems – From Central Florida

      March 22, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • ftroy01

      In this day and age they should all hire armed gunman!!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • RIP2HIM

      I agree. I was born and raised in NYC and live in the south and i have never seen ARMED WATCHMEN!!! ive seen etiher officers, off duty officers, or security not this. This is pathetic that Zimmerman's followers have to create justifications to prove his reasons while a family buried their teenage son who commited a crime of being brown.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. genomega1

    This is not the cops call this is why we have DA's and grand juries. The shooter had injuries to his face and back of the head that supported his story. This has politicians in a real bind, a black victim and a Hispanic shooter if they try to railroad this guy the gang wars will really heat up.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. pedro

    Air Force veteran David James a white man was gunned down by Trevor James a black man in Valrico Florida in September of 2010 over a confrontation about whether it was ok for a 14 year old skateboarder to be on the basketball court while David James played basketball with his daughter. The black man who lived across the street didn't like that idea even though he wasn't on the basketball court. An argument pursued between white man David Kames and black man Trevor James. Trevor James swore at David and actually went back into his house to grab a gun. A struggle pursued and the black guy gunned down the white guy in front of his daughter. The white guy had no weapon. The black guy was not even arrested right away. He claimed the "stand your ground" Where the fuc* was the liberal; mainstream media on this story?????? On top of that you have to look really really hard for and media outlet to say that the shooter was black and the victim was white. The media never bothers to mention the race of the shooter when he or she is minoirty and the victim is white and this is a fact! In this case the media was drooling foam at the mouth and became very excited when they thought George Zimmerman was white, and immediately reported on this as the case. The media drools over racial conflicts. However we now know that Zimmerman is Hispanic. Just saying. Where the fuc* was rac baiting Al Sharpton and the rest of the liberal commentators on the above story? Oh of course, not exciting since the air force veteran was white. Also where is the mainstream media on the shootings of black kids shooting other black kids? It is always a tragedy when an innocent person is shot regardless of race. The media is so pathetic.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Correct on all points. In fact, I learned just a couple of days ago that Hispanics are now considered 'white'. CNN felt the need to specifically clarify that point in one of their previous articles on this case. That was news to the several hispanics in my office. It really looks like the mainstream press is doing everything they can to foment racial tensions. Keep it up guys.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Good Guy

      Impressive!

      March 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • TellmeSweetLittleLies

      You actually believe all the lies you just told?

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

      Could you go tell your story in Mexico?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Al and Jesse don't care when white people are killed. There is no money or power in that. They also don't care that there is still slavery in this world involving black Africans. They don't care about that because it does not elevate their status so it's not worth their time to get involved and help. The shooter was Hispanic in this case, yet his race keeps changing to white in comments. The race pot is getting stirred pretty good. The case probably isn't about racism at all. If it had been a white kid killed, no black leader would bat an eye, and very few if any, would cry racism. This guy may have shot and killed an innocent kid, those are things we know. We don't know if race had anything to do with it, yet "racism" appears in all the headlines.

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

      Agreed. However, you will never win this argument because even though the media believes somehow that his Hispanic man is white, they will make him white and in addition to that, the media controls the thinking of the vast majority of people in this country. People can not longer think for themselves.

      No amount of facts will win you any sympathy!! There is so much hatred toward white males, that a twisted story like this will simple fuel the fire even more.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joyce

    How do you tell the good brown people from the bad brown people today when they all wear hoodies and all look alike? Sorry, no sympathy here. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debbie

      White kids wear hoodies too. Can you tell them apart?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • White

      The young man was walking home, so how was he in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of the people on hear who have negative and hateful comments about both individuals need to read the bible. God knows your hearts and you will be judged by what's in your heart. Keep on being HATEFUL people and you will end up right beside SATAN in HELL. The rest of us will be caught up with JESUS. My last comment, Zimmerman needs to ask God for forgiveness. God wrote in his Commandments "Thou Shalt Not Kill". That's right I brought God into the mix.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BobZemko

    There must have been over one million witnesses to this event judging from how many people seem to know exactly what happened.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • ddaniels

      BOBZEMKO, THE WHOLE WORLD KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED, A KID WAS WALKING HOME FROM THE CANDY STORE AND WAS CHASED AND GUNNED DOWN BY A VIGILANTE / COP WANNA BE.... IN COLD BLOOD... NO COLOR, NO RACE, JUST KID AGAINST MAN WITH A GUN... PERIOD OH, YEA, AND NO JUSTICE

      March 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ernie

    Reason behind the hoodie march? What if the kid was wearing a Pirates hat.....would it be a AAUUUGGGGHHHHH march like the pirates say?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
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