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. Towmeah

    You ignoramas tell that to your child when he or she is gunned down

    March 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      I BLAME BLACKS WHO BROKE IN 4 HOUSES IN THAT NEIGHBORHOOD 4 WEEK PRIOR.....A BLACK KID IN A HOODIE IN A WHITE NEIGHBORHOOD ???4 BLACKS GUYS BROKE IN 4 HOUSES 4 WEEKS PRIOR ?? I WOULD WANT TO KNOW WHAT MARTIN WAS DOING THERE TO..

      March 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • MY 2 Cents

      JOSE0311USMC – It was a "mixed" community. I guess because it was described as a gated community you assumed that it was white.....hmmm, I wonder where you got the idea from

      March 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Judge Dredd

    One black knee gor, who cares?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • OMG

      I do, you have problem with that, and I am white

      March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BARBARA TREVATHAN

    We will never know all the details of what happened that night, Mr Martin is not here to tell his side. We do not know if Mr Martin responded to Zimmerman in a negitive manner or if he engaged in in a fight. But if my child was approached by a stranger on the street on night, I would hope he would act to protect himself or herself. I would hope my child would question why they were being followed. But I also hope that the man watching the neighborhood was doing his part too. I also want the man to know where to stop and think before acting. It sounds like Mr. Zimmerman was placed in a postion that he did not know what he was doing. Was race a factor I do not know or was it just a case of confusion and fear.. So what happened that night, that ended a young man's life? We may never know all the details. Laws are in place to protect and we should abey them. But are the laws in place always right or are they current with the times.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dave

    If the big issue of this incident is interracial crime, then whites are by far the victims.

    Of the nearly 770,000 violent interracial crimes committed every year involving blacks and whites, blacks commit 85 percent and whites commit 15 percent.

    Blacks commit more violent crime against whites than against blacks. Forty-five percent of their victims are white, 43 percent are black, and 10 percent are Hispanic. When whites commit violent crime, only three percent of their victims are black.

    Blacks are an estimated 39 times more likely to commit a violent crime against a white than vice versa, and 136 times more likely to commit robbery.

    Blacks are 2.25 times more likely to commit officially-designated hate crimes against whites than vice versa.

    Source: The Color of Crime, found here: http://www.colorofcrime.com/colorofcrime2005.pdf

    March 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Judge Dredd

      Finally someone with the balls to say something like this. Not like these libtards who try to "understand" well I understand blacks. They are naturally more aggressive and if a black and white are making the same low income, blacks are more likely to commit a theft or robbery crime. Hence why they live in cities.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • OMG

      So, what's your point?

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

      Why do Americans love to use that term, "HISPANIC". What does a hispanic person look like?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      ZIMMERMAN LOOKS MEXICAN TO ME..

      March 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • blkpearl15

      are you the statistics patrolman ???? ........ i feel like i am in dave statistics 101...... lets talk real people of all color issues, then we can have a real dialogue.....now thats the real issue, we must be able to talk to each other to understand each others viewpoint.........

      March 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ANON

    @Kevin

    Your ancestors also took their own people as slaves.... Wait... they still do...

    Lets stop scapegoating people for the CURRENT problems...

    March 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • L.G.

      Anon I see why you don't want anyone to know your name...you're stupid. Our ancestors took their own parents and cousins and whoever they could afford as slave so that white people couldn't take them and continue to use and abuse them. #dontjustreadhalfthestory
      Thank you and goodbye

      March 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. tilmeismoney

    Electric chair , Electric chair. Electric chair.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tom

    So according to Florida law, a person could shoot somebody while there were no witnesses, beat yourself up a little by knocking your head against something, then tell the police it was self-defense. That's crazy.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jones

    only in america

    March 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Paul

    Mark Rubio should be more than happy to see HIS LAW working. He wanted to be part of the "conservative", he lied about his parents leaving Cuba under Fidel Castro when in fact they left during Jean Baptiste. He wants to look like THEM and him and his friends, they have blood of innoncents Floridans in their hands. Mark Rubio, Trayvon iblood is your gift and you can enjoy it.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Pope

    Shoot and kill Zimmerman on site, he has shown to be a government sponsored murderer of black men. Any black person who sees him will justifiably be in fear of their life.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lord2FLI

      lol, based on what I've seen from this law it would be absolutely justifiable.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • wendy stewart

      One gets pretty sick of hearing about race. Why don't you challenge this law and all those who have died because of it. Then you might have peoples attention.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RD

    "Deviancy amplification spiral, (also simply called deviance amplification), is a media hype phenomenon defined by media critics as a cycle of increasing numbers of reports on a category of antisocial behavior or some other "undesirable" event, leading to a moral panic."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deviancy_amplification_spiral

    March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. SallyinChicago

    To Bob Katz: Obviously you live in the suburbs or you would know there IS OUTRAGE in the black community about black on black crime. You don't look at the news reports much do you? You can't miss it.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bambam

    I think this is more a case of racial profiling than it is racism. I've heard nothing about this suspect to make me believe he hates ALL black people..which is the definition of racism. Seems to me that it's understandable that blacks get more scrutiny in potential crime situations since evidence shows that a black person is much more likely to commit a crime. Does that make me a racist? The media love to stir the pot don't they?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Indytarheel

      Using your logic, it is safe to say that whites are more prone to be serial killers, mass murders, rapist and child molestors.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Judge Dredd

    So what another dead knee grow.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Paul

    Interesting that a black man shot a father in front of his 8 year old and we heard NOTHING about it until today in a small side story on CNN. But this white shooting black thing is HUGE NEWS from day one! Sickens me.
    http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_t3#/video/crime/2012/03/22/pkg-kaye-dooley-stand-ground-fl.cnn

    March 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • h

      He was arrested and charged unlike Mr. Zimmerman.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40