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. Paul

    If this incident had taken place with only one difference, a black shooter instead of Hispanic, there would have been no news media coverage. It would have been just another black on black crime.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cam

    Black's cry foul anytime a black person gets shot by a white person. Its funny how all these parents paint their gang banger kids as "good children" after they end up shot form doing something stupid. What difference does it make what he had bought at the store. In addition why when a black person gets shot does it have to be an act of racism. Maybe you got shot for another reason.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Postman

      @cam, funny how Zimmerman is the one with the arrest record yet you portray Trayvon with no record as a "gang banger". That's exactly why he's dead now.

      March 22, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Irritated

      What "stupid" act did Travon commit? What proof is there that he was a "gang banger" because he wore a hoodie?

      Regardless of the race, a man pursued and shot an unarmed kid although he was ordered not to! Not a race problem a justice problem! I guarantee if this was your family member shot while walking with a bag of candy, you would want the killer hung!

      March 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. High Hopes

    WoW

    Why do people have to make things so
    complicated?

    Man saw boy, man chased boy, boy ran,
    man caught boy, boy fought back, man
    pull gun, boy hollar and cry… man killed
    boy.

    17 years of "I'm goin to practice, mom.",
    "Hope you can make it to my game!", Does
    I come after e, I forget", "Don't worry, I'll
    be okay", "I love ya, Mom", "Thanks, Dad."

    Life... how preciois it, truly, is.
    Hope

    March 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bogus Boggs

      Wow.
      You were there and saw all this go down?
      ANOTHER graduate of the Al Sharpton School of Journalism.....

      March 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Asain Guy

    I am an Asian man – Neither Black, nor White. Honestly, I don't see the world from a racial perspective.....but ONLY FROM A COMMONSENSE PERSPECTIVE given all the REAL HARD STATISTICS.

    My commonsense tells me to beware of hooded people belonging to a particular race.... all the more so when they have their hands in their pockets, and/or wearing pants below their butts.

    March 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dee

    These comments are so shallow, please people do not forget that a child was killed for no reason, he went to the store and nothing happened but he came back and he was killed think about ur own children u sent them to the store and they do not come back, this t is not a color thing it is a human thing no one wants to see this... i have children and is it a crime to go to the store.. if he was any kind watch he would know who lives in there not chase people down and kill them and cry self defense......we have only one life that is not the way we are suppose to live we have love ones too think about it.....

    March 22, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. McGruff

    The black community is attempting to use race as a weapon ... how pathetic.

    Blacks represent 13% of the US population ... and 35% of the prison population ... and black-on-black violence is out of control.

    In fact ... the black community celebrates violence in their gangster music.

    Is it any wonder that a young Trayvon turned to violence that night ?

    Rather than "talk" to the Neighborhood Watchman ... he made the decision to "fight" ... and now he's dead.

    The collective black community has failed young black men like Trayvon ... and now they're deflecting their failure with false claims of racism.

    Sinful.

    March 22, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • High Hopes

      Zimmerman made racial slurs,
      sickening bump in the road!

      O-O

      March 23, 2012 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Liv

      I am curious to know where you got that information from that states that Trayvon turned to violence. He was unarmed and pursued by this lunatic even after the police told him not to. If it were a black on black crime the killer would be in jail not let free WITH the murder weapon. End of story. You failed when you decided to state your ignorant opinions.

      March 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JoJo

    So true. If it was a black shooter and any other victim nobody would care. No hoods, no sharpton no black community and no federal investigation. Just another drive by shooting. And when they do catch the black shooter, whose stray bullet killed a 10yr old girl, he gets to cop a plea. Not life without parole.

    March 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liv

      The point of this case has nothing to do with what your talking about. Black pn black crime know that with certainty somebody will be prosecuted and convicted and sentenced. Zimmerman is free because he pursued this child even after he was told not to do so. At least in the case you mentioned the killer went through the legalities and is serving time. That is not the case for Trayvon.

      March 24, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. weimardog

    Sharpton and the other money grubbers only champion the cause of blacks instead of championing the cause whenever there are race motives a crime. I don's see Jackson, Sharpton or any other of the "community leaders" saying anything about the black boys, in Kansas City, setting a white boy on fire because he was white.
    Per capita, black people commit a large percent of violent crimes. If you see a black guy coming at you, in a hoodie, you are crazy not to be concerned. As soon as black people quit acting like criminals, they will stop being treated as such. Rappers and even athletics keep acting and dressing like gangsters, young people emulate them and then it is impossible to differentiate between real criminals and college students. Just go into "black" parts of major cities and see how scared the law-biding citizens are of the hoopie clad young people. They know even more so to be scared when they see one coming.

    March 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • High Hopes

      Question:

      Is it the hoody or the person under
      the hood who scares you?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. rootypoots

    By 'dialogue on race' CNN actually means a bunch of mouth breathing idiots "debating" by one side saying OMG BLAK PPL R MORE RACIST WHITE PPL R OPRESSED and the other side blindly talking about justice with no regard to the larger questions. Country full of total lunatics and idiots who need a basic logic and crit class before they open their mouths.

    March 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Wichita Massacre

    Meanwhile, none of you all evern HEARD it mentioned on CNN when a group of blackmales slaughtered a bunch of innocent white young people in Wichita a few years ago, or in Knoxville, Tennessee.
    Nor was the RACE card mentioned when more blackmales kidnapped and murdered a gorgeous white college student at Auburn, and at North Carolina.
    Where were the blackmale mentions then?

    What about the hundreds of flashmobs/blackmobs the past few years where blacks targeted whites? It's happened all over the place and it's on youtube, but CNN fails to mention those. Only when a black kid who was out WAY LATER than he should have been, is killed, does it become a huge story. WHY is that???

    March 22, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • USA Black man

      I did not hear any race card play when your whites boys kills so many students very recently in Ohio, Virginia Tech, and Columbine high school and you freahing people are pathetic and so careless. Oh I forget whites people do commit crimes! They are perfect. Very recently in Mississipi three white teen ran over a black man with a pick chuck over and over shutting racial slur like Zimmerman did and kill the man.

      March 22, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • eva

      am sure all those black cases those black man was prosecuted so why don't you tell me why this white man shouldn't it should not be if its black or white if someone commits a crime it shouldn't matter what race you are your ass should rot in prison. i dont have no tolerance for criminals no matter what ethic background if you commit the crime you must do the time....

      March 22, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      How about a woman I know who felt she had to move from the place she lived for 35yrs because of the number of shootings happening there now. She fears for her and her chills safety. Of course the neighborhood has become more diverse,( lol) more black. And the people doing the shooting are ALWAYS BLACK MALES WITH ILLEGAL GUNS. Unfortunately that is the sad but true fact. Never a day or minute of outrage. But they now have a vacant apartment that they can occupy.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Billy Joe Hillbilleh

      Because white people are only allowed to be evil, not victims...according to minorities at least.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
    • F.C.

      Did any known individual who participated in the attacks get arrested?

      March 23, 2012 at 3:10 am | Report abuse |
    • From Tokyo

      Are you aware of Find Our Missing – a show that told some of us that though African-Americans are under 15% of the population but account for 40% of missing persons' cases? A show that I'm certain someone like you is unaware of – a show that was created because it was actually NECESSARY given MWWS. My point is: what YOUR point? I find it so ironic that whenever a story about an African-American in the victim role gets significant press people like you pop up to bring up facts like this. It's like you rankle at the idea of African-Americans being victims and not aggressors being revealed to the public. How about we split the difference and say that it's all horrible? I'm surprised I had words in response to this because it's so preposterous.

      March 23, 2012 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
    • From Tokyo

      My previous response was @ Wichita Massacre.

      So much ignorance in the world – so much blatant ignorance worn like a bright badge.

      March 23, 2012 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Cesar The Chorizo Chimp Of Chihuahua

      Blackmob. Mo Murda. Creepin' while yer sleepin'.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • ron

      I was not aware of the Wichita Massacre. If this happened as you say it did, this should have been widely reported and we should all be outraged. No one should condone killing of an innocent person. Trayvon was killed because of what? Someone needs to explain to his family why this young man is dead, and nobody has come forward with a reasonable explanation, other than some neighborhood watch person felt it his duty to challenge Trayvon for walking while Black. How Zimmerman pulled his gun and shot him should have been investigated and an explanation provided to Trayvon's family. This did not happen because Trayvon broke some law, this happened because a person with a gun abused the law, and denied Trayvon a basic civil right, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happyiness. Case closed.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • really bro

      really bro

      March 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • AaaaCccc

      My response disappeared. The difference is these murderers are considered criminals. Zimmerman is not even being properly investigated. He should have been brought in for questioning, the scene treated as a crime scene with a diligent search for forensic evidence to substantiate or negate his story. Tayvon's life was treated by the police with such contempt as being ok to kill, I and others are outraged, this whitish midde class person.
      I understand Zimmerman, I think there is enough question to go to a Grand jury. The police trial on the street I do not understand.
      If someone came to the defense of the Wichita massacre murderers and they were set free, there would be an outrage.
      That people like that exist s as old as people have lived in groups. We police to arrest such people. We are outraged when they don't.

      March 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • RIP2HIM

      Im sorry what happen the four innocent church girls that were bombed? what about MLK? what about Malcom X? What about Sean Bell? What about me, i had guns pulled on me for wearing a hoodie and i am a FEMALE?
      Sooo please spare me the crying. This case deserves attention because everyday blk ppl are racially profiled by scared ppl that hide behind guns. Everyday ppl are targeted because they look different. Everyday the profiling is ignored. This is crazy. The police failed to protect and the state failed to oversea the wrongdoing is the issue.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. We don't deserve what God has given us

    These comments are the reason why the world hates Americans. And you all think God has a special place for you in heaven. Silly you!!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cesar The Chorizo Chimp Of Chihuahua

      The world doesn't hate Americans. Are you crazy?

      March 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Laura

    Following the very tragic "Trayvon" case– what I don't understand is this: whenever a police officer shoots someone in the line of duty isn't there a full & complete investigation by their "Special Investigation Unit"– to verify that the officer had used his weapon appropriately? Why wasn't even the minimum standard of this type of scrutiny used for this incident after a private citizen shoots & kills someone else????

    March 22, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • From Tokyo

      I have a feeling that if Trayvon had "stood his ground" (which HE was actually in his rights to do) he would have been arrested straightaway.

      March 23, 2012 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
    • TZOW

      Get with the program...The FBI is currently investigating this incident. It is not closed yet. Wake up.

      March 23, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
    • AaaaCccc

      Yes!
      And if Trayvon had a concealed weapons permit, h actually was threatened, what if h shot Zimmerman? Does anyone really believe the police would not have cuffed him on th spot?

      That is the racial inequality here. If all the "black " people legally armed themselves, the enforcement of this law would still not be equal.

      March 23, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Heather

      Very good point Laura this case should have been investigated better but I am not sure it has to do with race I have seen too many times the cops just close the case the easiest way possible with black and white victims it happened with my father so I know personally and all these cold cases that are not solved some families go alot of years without justice. Everybody is missing the point of this case it is not about black and white its about justice for the victims family and the cops need to do their job right.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ukonne.

    Ok.now that the Chief Bill Lee has announce his 'temporary' stepping aside,can we say that justice is coming to the Martin's family?
    Furthermore,if Zimmerman has beem moved,where?can the police confirm it?

    March 23, 2012 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Eric

    Don't let this boys tragic death become a black vs white issue.
    Out here in the rest of the world the issue is vigilantes and the ease of access these types of people have to guns in the US..
    A vigilante with a gun is a recipe for disaster.
    America is a self declared religious nation.
    All religions of this world abhor the taking of a human life.
    America needs to embrace it's faith and abandon it's love affair with guns.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  15. Randi L.

    I'm tired of hearing that this shooter had rights under the "stand your ground" law. He pursued Trayvon, an unarmed teenager who was minding his own business. Who had a right to "stand your ground"? Trayvon had that right. He was the one being chased, and that point is beyond dispute. Arrest Zimmerman now!

    March 23, 2012 at 4:43 am | 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