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 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  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, 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. USA White Man

    @ USA Black Man – Maybe you didnt realize this, but it wasnt a "whiteboy" who shot and killed without discrimination at VT, it was a kid from South Korea. I thought I would try to educate you on that, although I feel like it may be a lost cause since you use the words "Pick Chuck" when trying to say Pickup Truck, and they were "shutting" racial slurs. It looks like your racist side is showing as you try to say "You people are so pathetic and careless". Keep it classy USA Black Man

    March 23, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. Concerned Citizen

    As usual this is turning in to a racial debut instead of what it should be and that is a fact finding mission. This is not about color it is about a man sick of crime in his neighborhood and possibly going to far to stop it. This is about a teenager out on the streets late at night possibly causing mischief that teenagers do. It is sad that we feel we must carry a gun to feel safe but let's face it crime is everywhere and people are speaking out and saying we are not going to take it anymore. Our prisons are overcrowded, the police can not keep our neighborhoods safe and we the people our forced to arm ourselves to protect our family and freinds. Crime has caused this problem, so let us pull together to solve the problem not create another. People don't feel safe for a reason, let's fix the reason!

    March 23, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • AaaaCccc

      To concerned citizen
      We have a neighborhood watch. When I saw 2 "white guys" looking like they were casing a house, I as a woman visibly pulled out my camera phone and took their picture and their vehicle. I was ready to call 911. I reported it our neighborhood watch head. Since unlike many men today, I am trained to defend myself, I was aware of how to evade if they pulled out a weapon and capable of hand to hand self defense.

      This is about race and I speak as a white labelled Hispanic origin.
      If Trayvon had carried a concealed weapons permit and killed Zimmerman in self defense, do you in all honesty believe the police would have treated him the same as Zimmerman.
      Zimmerman was a vigilante type, irregardless of race, who just should not have a weapon with his mindset. He should be jailed if the evidence in a jury trial/ not police on the spot trial holds true.

      But Trayvon would have been arrested if he legally killed Zimmerman in self defense and spoke to the police that day. let's not pretend we live in an ideal world yet.

      March 23, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sickandtiredofbeingsickandtired

    Anyone who feels threatened by anyone else in Sanford should shoot and klll them? The police are threatening to most black people. Under this law, they should be shot everytime they come in the neighborhood.

    March 23, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. Newton Fountain

    I see then as usual my commit not, like white out right, kill em all, tis the law whether it works for you not is irrelevant, yet slander of is the only thing tuaght and you love it other way your never legal argument is to be perped in massive groups of treason; der like get it yetm kill em all kill em all kill em all. Your superficial everything a crime and nothing but not to stay the guilty of treason with treason as defense, I hate and you make physically ill coolege fricks and your broken heads of superficail nonsense obstruction and nothing but extortion and strong awming to keep yo in the good grave of orginied treason us all behaviour, donw did and guilty every day even when it is screamed in your faced, like criminal insane must be the answer.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  5. Carlyle Owens

    I look at his face, a grainy picture below a newspaper headline. An innocent young man’s face. A beautiful face. Remind me again why we carry guns. Why do we legally carry concealed weapons in this country? I look at his face, at Trayvon’s face and I wonder. Remind me again why we choose to live in gated communities. Gated community. Those two words do not belong together in a democratic society. Gates imply walls. Walls imply that you are trying to keep someone out. Does that not enforce the kind of thinking that led to this senseless murder? Remind me why we still fear a person solely on the basis of his skin color, the shape of her eyes, the fullness of his lips, or the shape of her nose. I do not know why.
    I look at Trayvon’s face. I look at his face and I see my son’s face. I look at his face and I see my daughter’s face. I look at his face and wonder if we will ever learn. How can we not learn? Look at his face. How many innocent lives will we take before we learn? When will we welcome instead of suspect? When will we realize that skin color is not a threat? Is it really that difficult to grasp? All you have to do is look in his eyes. All you have to do is look in her eyes. Is it not clear that they are we? Just look into their eyes.
    I cannot look away from his eyes in the paper. I cannot stop the tears from rolling down my face. I cannot believe it has happened again. Just look at Trayvon’s face and tell me why. No, tell me instead that we have learned this time. Tell me it won’t happen again. Tell me that our children, all of our children, can walk down the street without fear. That is when you will stop my tears.

    March 23, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. Cesar The Chorizo Chimp Of Chihuahua

    The problem is with fat Mexicans.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yasmin

      you need to shut up!!!!

      March 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. moatsad2071-commenter

    It's fine to be a private citizen and use a CCW, it's fine to be a neighborhood watch volunteer and follow the normal watch operating procedures. it's not fine to combine the two and make yourself a self-appointed police officer who should be held to a higher standard when using lethal force. He did not have the right to start a confrontation while armed.

    March 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JB

    I do NOT believe for one second that that guy stalked this Black kid and then shot hiim down for no reason whatsoever... ..Thats what the Blacks want you to believe. They are painting a picture of this kid as an angel. I seriously DOUBT he was an angel. Everytime a Black gets put in their place the Black community gets upset. Its not like there isnt any Black crime....Hell, its just about ALL BLack crime . .. . I live in a big city and its being destroyed by BLacks. Shooting, stabbings, car jackings, car chases at high speeds, drugs , neighborhoods being destroyed and vandalized. . its ALL by BLACKS.. .. If I saw a Black walkin around my neighborhood where he didnt belong youd sure as hell know that Id be watching him too ... . I dont want them in my neighborhood!

    March 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • AaaaCccc

      Most teenagers of any race are not angels. And a high percentage of even good teens do stupid things they regret when they grow up. But if they are unarmed and just being stupid not threatening violence, even if they are trespassing, they don't deserve to be shot.
      If you hunt, you know your target and surroundings before you shoot. How much more when you take a life should we demand responsible behavior if you chose to carry a weapon?
      If I see any stranger in my neighborhood, we make them aware they are noticed, but we don't shoot them.

      And I spent time running around Harlem for church and friends in the past. So while I am not against guns, and have been in tough spots, not once would a weapon have helped more then using my brains and fast action. If my security is in a weapon, it's a lazy mindset that that becomes my only option.

      March 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. __--__--__--__--__--__--___---__---______-------_____------

    a kid lost his life and your going to have a conflict wow

    March 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. FL-Tech

    Get it right people....Zimmerman is HISPANIC. NOT WHITE. Get off the racial kick and let the Investigators do their job. If he's guilty let him rot in prison! NO ONE knows all the facts. Yet.

    March 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • connie

      i totally agree, all the facts arent in yet. an eyewitness saw them scuffling. enough of the racial blame game already.... a black guy killed a white man not long ago in shreveport . it didnt make national news...

      March 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • noloman

      I support the Fact that it is more than apparent the injustice in the killing of Trayvon Martin. My condolences to the Family.. I would also like to make clear that this is not an issue of the "Stand your ground law"! It is about a police department that does not have the ability to ascertain the truth and the applicability of a self defence excuse position by Zimmerman.

      The law in question can not be invoked as a defence by the facts in the scenario surrounding the shooting. Zimmerman placed himself and others in Harms way by the delusion he had that he was some sort of Police authority and could question and detain. He is trying to twist a law to fit his need.

      The police department in Sanford has no excuse on how they investigated and assisted in helping Zimmerman apply a law as a defence in this senseless killing. They are the blame for all this outrage.

      What needs to be done is regulation on all these pseudo-militant "Crime Watcher" groups that cant seem to understand that Observation and reporting to authorities is the limit of what they are allowed to do.

      All these groups need training and guidance and the warning that they will be held accountable if they cross the fine line from reporting and vigilante actions.

      I am a Concealed Weapons licensee and I support the "Stand your ground law" when used as it is explicitly states that I have the right of Self Defence to fend off aggression by anyone against me and others as I go about life in a legal and non obstructive manner. It is more than apparent that I could not invoke the law or its protections if I am the aggressor and or I make a concerned effort to create a situation that would force a confrontation.

      The law is good. It was the Police that failed Trevor by there support of a man that they "Favored" because he had called in so many incidents in the last few months and helped them do the Job they were getting paid to do without the assistance and meddling of persons that imagine they have authority over others!

      Lets not spin or twist the story to allow this to be used as a Gun Law issue but see it as it is a failure to reject a defence of the application of this law in this particular incident

      March 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • A.B.

      Zimmerman is both white and hispanic. His dad is white and his mother is hispanic. It's difficult not to focus on race when young black men are targeted because of who they are, what they wear and where they happen to be. As the mother of a young black man I used to fear for his life even though he was ALWAYS a good kid who worked hard. He bought himself an old used BMW using his own earnings and I'll be damned if the cops didn't pull him over, sometimes searching him and his car without probably cause. THAT is an experience that black men have come to expect due to stereotyping and racism.

      March 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • jen

      Thank you what the hell he might of been just in the mood to try to kill someone and the poor kid was the one that he saw no matter the race. My God can't we ever get over the race issue. That is always the first thing people think of when something happens. Sounds like maybe they are racist.

      March 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spain is in Europe Right?

      I think that no matter what the issue on Zimmerman's race is, I think we can agree that the boy was killed because he was black and not because he was guilty. Further, we can agree that the killer was not prosecuted because the victim was black, not because the killer was innocent.

      March 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Althalos

      Just because he is mexican doesn't mean he isn't racist. Last time i checked hispanics are racist to other hispanics that aren't the same race. i.e. Spainish people aren't exactly friendly with Puerto Ricans all the time.

      March 23, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lioncity

      Why do you you think a white Latino cannot be a racist. It is kind of racial presmptious to suggest that someone's race limits there ability to harbor ignorance.

      March 23, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • yes

      im with you

      March 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AaaaCccc

    Well said ddaniels

    That is the issue

    March 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ivy league 123

    It doesn't matter I the shooter was Mexican, White, Persian or whatever. What matters is that a life, someones son, or nephew was taken off this earth and the police did not act accordingly. They took the word of the shooter and ignored the body laying in the grass. This is completely tragic and it is not the first time it has happened, and probably not the last. 🙁

    March 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Althalos

      Your right

      March 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. English101

    I do believe that the shooter probably feared minorities and shot Trayvon because he was black. But do fears origninate from nothing, or are they based on our experiences and exposures? Living in the suburbs of a large east coast city, the local news reports are dominated by black crime. Every single day. And the situation only seems to degrade, never improve. So it's not difficult to understand how a person can come to believe that, statistically, the blacks they encounter most likely have criminal backgrounds. And that perception produces what happened in this incident. When black behavior changes the perception will change.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • RGH

      You can try to jusdtify this horribly act all you want. He killed an unarmed kid. Next time it may be your kid. Idiot

      March 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • westindian101

      Are you kidding me... so every white guy I see I should shoot him on site because I think he is a serial killer? Get your statistics right. Black crime is what the media portrays, don't be led to believe that it doesn't happen with every race. This perception nonsense doesn't give anyone the right to assume that blacks are criminals and that you should shoot them down and let the paramedics sought it out. I am a single black mother I am highly educated and I would be offended if anyone assumed that my son is some criminal from the hood smh.

      March 23, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spain is in Europe Right?

      ... guys, no matter how criminal other black people are, Trayvon's death is not justifiable.

      March 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nikitia

      That is one of the most ignorant opinions I have ever read regarding this story. Do you actuallly think there aren't any one of any other race committing crimes as well. Come on you can not be serious. The fact is you have more media coverage, whether local or national when a black man or woman commits a crime. I have noticed that when my local news stations report on a crime committed by a white person they rarely show their face, but with a black person they ALWAYS show their faces!!!

      March 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liv

      That is ridiculous. You do not shoot someone because of what you see on television about a particular race. Had trayvon approached Zimmerman and attacked him FINE, that is self defense, but to kill someone whom you pursued and then back it with " And that perception produces what happened in this incident. When black behavior changes the perception will change." You sound like an entire ignorant idiot. A childs life was taken at no fault of his own and there should be justice. End of story.

      March 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jae*

    As for The Talk, that is NOT a racial thing. My parents had The Talk with me about being very polite to any authority figure even if they were wrong. They told me they would sort it out later but to never confront police or similar figures. And I'm as white as they come. My uncle was a police captain. He sat me and his own kids down for The Talk. In his words, most cops were good guys but some were a**holes. These talks were 35 years ago so little has changed. Even with police in my family, I dont trust the police. My d-i-l was stopped by police for no reason. They tried to make her allow them to search her car without cause. They intimidated her. And they kept her at the side of the road for a lengthy time. She was even dressed in her work uniform and it was broad daylight. She is the least confrontational person. It can happen to anyone. Our police are out of control. And this man seemed to think he was the police.

    March 23, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dott

      The young black man should not have pretended he had a gun and threaten the white man. Probably had never been told to obey someone in charge until he could get away. So a young life is lost.

      March 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Butch

    But not kill someone that's unarmed

    March 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
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