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. Ukonne.

    Too bad that some people just leave what is to be discuss and dive head down into the wrong pond.what are we all doing in here if its not about Martin.please dont bring forth your personal problem in here.try to behave like the civic human we are.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tom

    this was an absolute tragedy – but let's be honest here – if Trayvon had been white, this wouldn't even be on the news.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. OffTheWall

    Until an eye witness and/or videa comes forward showing who was the aggressorm, I'm with the police that say the scene was investigated and the scene coinsides with Zimmermans story.
    I thought a man is innocent until proven guilty. Prove he did wrong doing and then prosecute.
    I understand Trayvon died but why do we instantly side with the dead? We need to side with the facts that the scene shows.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. FEDUP

    he stole the skittles too.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie

      That's right and that is why he should be killed by the likes of you.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chase

    As I read into this article, the more I realize that the situation has been turned into, not started out as, a race issue. Honestly, what if Martin had been white? Would the same reaction be made? In this readers opinion, no, the same reaction would not take place. I do agree that Zimmerman should be taken to a court of law for a possible case of murder, but that fact of the matter is that what if this is being made into something it isn't? The article explains that they could not come to consensus about a racial slur in the 911 call. Race should not be the issue here, and making it into a racially charged movement will only lead to more and more arguments and outrage, and doubtfully but entirely possible, another civil rights movement. Only this time the one that will happen is not needed. Racism still exists, but in this case, we should analyze a bit more before we make a judgement call, because not all the facts are here.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Phillip Brame

    A grown man shots an unarmed young man, there just seems to be something criminal in that. What has happened to our adult men when a teenager can put some so much fear into him that the adult feels he must shot the teenager to protect himself. What has happened to our men?

    March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • daniel

      never give a coward a gun

      March 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. daniel

    Look to our racial history to see how this case will resolve, it is now as it will be in the end.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AWriter

    Whenever something bad happens to a black person, it's a racial issue and a racist is supposedly at fault. if anyone gets killed wrongfully, it's a crime. But if the person killed is black, it's a hate crime. you tell me who the racists are....

    March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • cb

      Every time race is brought up, 100% of the tme there is white people screaming "race card". Is racism totally dead? We cant even play soccer in Europe with out the ENTIRE CROWD screaming racist remarks. Its not like everytime us black folks see someone one black in trouble, we assume thats its because of racism. O yeah when was the last time a black man killed a white child and not go to jail. When is the last time you heard of a GROWN BLACK MAN shooting and killing any child intentionally?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. eroteme

    I wonder how old Trayvon was when his picture was taken as seen in the newspepers. He looks as though he might have been about 12 or so.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • alex_santarelli

      a lot of people look young at 17. I know I did up until I was 30 or so

      March 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fan The Flames

      Totally agree with you. Looks like the family sent the most innocent possible picture. This is not a picture of a 17 year old, obviously.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solex

      Your point? (Other than the one on top of your head)

      March 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dip

    Zimmerman needs to get the death penalty. The cops told him to stop what was doing. It doesn't matter what race the killer was. This fair justice. If you don't believe me, read your bible to find out.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solex

      I do read the bible and it says things like:

      "Thou shalt not kill"
      "Vengeance is mine sayeth the lord"
      "turn the other cheek"

      Nope. Nothing about killing someone in the bible...

      March 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Glenford's Daily Word, Food, & The Vine

      I don't know what Bible Solex is reading cause there are a whole lot of battles and killing going on in it guess she forgot about those Philistines and other enemies of the Children of Israel. David certainly laid out Golaith, Jesus got crucified as did Paul not to mention various stoning that took place. You need to read a little deeper Solex.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fan The Flames

      Re: Solex. There are countless examples of violence in the bible, particularly murder. Ever heard of Sodom and Gamorra? Are you kidding? There's probably thousands of examples in the Old Testament.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. FEDUP

    one less future welfare recipient,

    March 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark99er

      You are the reason why this young boy was killed. You are a rascist that represents the lowest of intellectual form in this country. You are a pathetic individual!

      March 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      TROLL

      March 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solex

      You know- I am getting pretty tired of these blanket statements from uneducated people about how blacks are "lazy".

      I think that making blanket statements about an entire race or culture is about as lazy as it gets.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robby

      wow, congratulations on being one of the most callous people alive.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Glenford's Daily Word, Food, & The Vine

      Really, guess that means the line will be shorter next month for you. As is takes one to know one!

      March 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • EricV

      WOW!! What racist BS. Check your facts you
      Illiterate fool.
      There are more whites on social programs than minorities. Go ask grandma where she got her diabetes meter or her motorized wheelchair. But then again, I don't expect you to know or want to know.
      Hence the reason America is deteriorating into stupidity and blaming other countries that are propering for America's woes.

      Stay ignorant my racist friend.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie

      Fedup you sound like your name. It seems you have some problems in life, I think you should go on top of your roof and go scream and yell out your frustrations about black people. I am so sorry black people cause you so much pain and anguish. You have a problem, how are you going to get away from them. If you go to hell, there will be black people, if you go to heaven, there will be black people, stay on earth, you will have black people. You better suck it up now, or you too will be living a tormented life. So funny, haha! the blacks are coming! run Fedup, run.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • TD

      racist....

      March 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    I like how the news agency gets blamed for this issue. Sounds like some would like to see the media silenced so we just move on.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Notch

    Im sorry white people but im a bit confused..do you not know that.. Hispanics is an ethnicity not a race??? There are WHITE Hispanics as well as BLACK Hispanics. Here is another fact..there can be racism between other races besides WHITE AND BLACK..ASIANS can be racist too ya know...

    March 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • what?

      you are an idiot... are you serious with that comment or are you trying to troll?

      March 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sondra

    I just want to know why this just can't be a justice thing? Let's not let the media twist it for American citizens to turn on eachother. I just want the system to work for everyone equally. Why are Trayvon's mother and father's tears not as important? Their broken heart? Who wants to bury their child? That isn't how it's suppose to work. Let's come together as American's and stop all tthis racial stuff that makes us broken and not united as a country.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Troy

    If you don't want to be stereotyped, then don't fit the stereotype. If you choose to look and act a certain way, then you and you alone are responsible for the consequences and they way others perceive you.

    March 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark99er

      Evidently your perception is racially based

      March 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solex

      Let me get this straight.

      You are advocating that people dress a certain way so as not to come off as being a criminal?

      I am astonished that your brain can generate enough power for you to actually type this drivel.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
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