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. ktown8

    I love how CNN conveniently leaves out that Zimmerman is a Latino. Instead, they opt to leave the readers to assume the man is white and this was a racial crime committed by a white on a black man. CNN, do yourself a favor, and stop supporting more of Obama's race and class warfare tactics to continue and divide our country before the elections. Let the facts of the case speak for themselves in a court of law. Stop speculating and misleading readers without having a clue!

    March 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Francisco Garay

      I think by this time we all know Zimmerman is Latino and why does it matter? It is still a race issue, and this is still an example of racial inequality that lead to the death of a young black child with a future ahead of him...

      March 22, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • ktown8

      Well if CNN feels it's important to state that the victim is black, why isn't it important to state the shooter was Latino? It's just another attempt to label whites as black-hating monsters............and the victim wasn't a "child". I know CNN has opted to post a pic of him at a much younger age, but let's not get carried away with over exaggerating everything about this story. It's unfortunate and a tragedy that any innocent person is killed, but one killing doesn't trump the many others. What about the white boy that was had gas poured over him and lit onfile by 3 black boys who then shouted "you are getting what you deserve, white boy". No pub on that story b/c it wasn't a white on black crime.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • M-Theory

      I think the photos of Zimmerman give it away. Latinos can be racist against blacks too. Evan blacks can be racist against blacks. But that doesn't address the issue that a innocent black kid can be targeted as a villain more-so than a white kid doing the same thing.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christi

      On the police report, Zimmerman was tagged a white male. Zimmerman also declared himself white. His father stated that George is only half-white so as to denounce the possibility that he could be racist. It's all pretty dumb. Hispanics can be racist too. Anyone can be racist, it's just more prevalent in white communities.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • moonoverpie

      you think just because Zimmerman wasn't white he can't be racist?

      March 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • dhondi

      More "outrage" and clicks if he is white.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. penquin3

    I heard it the first time he said it – did not need the enhancements. Pretty clear he whispered it.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johan Goetz

      He lapsed into Spanish for a second. Not sure what you think you heard.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Josh

    I will be much more sensitive to the issue of racial inequality when the 2-3 week old case of 13yo white kid who was doused with gasoline on his front porch after school and lit on fire by two 16yo black kids yelling "you get what you deserve, white boy" receives 1% of the media attention that this case has received. Racism is a two way street and, frankly, the most racist group in our society is the same group screaming for justice for Treyvon. Just google "kansas city 13 yo gasoline" if you don't believe me.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • ktown8

      EXACTLY! This is because blacks don't think (or think it's okay) racism against whites exists. This story is all over the national news with Obama calling the victims family to apologize. I will be $1 million that 90% of the people on here never read or heard about the story you mention, and $2 million Obama didn't call his family to apologize. NO DOUBLE STANDARDS!!!! Welcome to Obama's New America!

      March 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      Josh, let me ask you a question? Were the black guys arrested in that case? Yes, they were. This is so typical of some white people who hate black people and could care less as evidenced on this board and others. It's hardly surprising. The reason that everyone is outraged is because the 17 year old kid was profiled, hunted down like a dog, murdered, and then the entire thing covered by the Sanford please department. Most importantly, he was MURDERED by a killer; George Zimmerman. People like you make me sick.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria (MIA)

      Exacly or of the dozen of latinos hat were killed or beaten in N.Y by black gangs or other races.. See it is weird to see crimes being commit clear as a racial crime and still they dont make a big deal about it.
      Like I have said before first it was Hitler against Jews, neo Nazi, Racism against black and then arabs. In this country now it is other races against hispanics and no one is doing anything about it. BS... I think the same way Al Sharp comes and stands up for his race, he should also come out and defend the victims of his race criminals.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • kelly08

      and im pretty sure that the boys that did that horrible thing are in jail right???!!!!! this teeneagers killer wasnt even really questioned so you cant compare the two, hes not even in jail!

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

    That boy in those pictures is not 17, perhaps 12 or 13 years old at most... why do they use pictures of a much smaller individual????? this whole story is misguided and CNN is not telling the whole story either...

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

      So, let me get this straight. Because in your narrow racist mind; he should look older than his picture; that has some relevance as to story and why the KILLER is not in Jail?

      I feel sorry for you. Perhaps, if tragedy strikes someone that you can relate to; I bet you will feel differently.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      AND YOU THINK THAT'S RELEVANT SOME HOW? Wow, what an absolute racist? The kid was 17 years old and his racist killer is walking free. That racist Sanford police department, and others like them, need to be investigated from TOP TO BOTTOM. George Zimmerman also needs to be arrested, prosecuted, and serve the remainder of his days in PRISON.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Asian 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 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Great racial profiling. Darwin award for you "asian guy".

      March 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christi

      You're just a racist and the world doesn't need you. Most of you guys want to be white anyhow.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sacmar

      Careful, Asian Guy. Your racism is showing.

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

      asian guy (if he is really asian) has a point. It is commonsense. stereotypes have become commonsense. Its true. But of course even commonsense can be wrong. This guy brings that to light. Some of us who choose to live our lives with respect for others and dignity dont allow ourselves to use sterotypes. We are aware of them, but we refuse to believe it to be across the board truth. Asian Guy does not possess that dignity or respect for others. My theory on stereotypes is that life imitates the art. The only stereotypes that are true are manifest in the individuals stereotyped who embrace the stereotype as culture. So if you do judge(which you shouldnt), judge the individual, not the race

      March 22, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ralph

    All the left-wing liberal demagogues (Sharpton, etc.) will exploit this tragic case to claim their usual propaganda of racism and firearm confiscation. What it shows is the incompetence of government to properly investigate and resolve a case. The 911 recording shows that Zimmerman was clearly told to back off. Some seconds later, a gunshot is heard. This is clearly a case of murder by a vigilante who should have been jailed a long time ago. Note also that the village manager, who is refusing to fire the police chief despite a uninamous vote by the village board, is black.

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

      This has nothing to do with firearms, and everything to do with vigilante justice gone wrong. Zimmerman needs to be behind bars for murder. Politicizing this horrible tragedy is not cool, and you should show some respect. This is a tragedy.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. David

    The same type of idiots that let Casey Anthony go free now want the tables turned

    March 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • ftroy01

      Please leave Casey Anthony out of this I love her!!! and want to have babies with her.This case is nothing at all like hers so shut up!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Francisco Garay

    This story is about 3 weeks late. It is outrages that CNN is finally giving it air time and asking these questions about race and inequality when the first time this story ran, it was clear cut racism and they are only running it because it has a grass roots movement... CNN you run tons of fluff stories, were you so busy with those that you couldn't have give this more attention?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mark

    While much of this story made sense, the quote ""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." is ridiculous. How many white men are killed every day by black assailants? I guarantee it is as many or more than the reverse.

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

      You may be right, but I think a key difference between when an African-American kills a White person is it's usually during the course of another crime such as robbery, not because of the color of that person's skin. Not saying that African-Americans can't be racist, but there aren't many hate crimes commited by African-Amercans.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maff

      you are certain of these claims? Where do you start the tally? past 5 years? 10? how about 1000?
      If we go back too far, you are definetly wrong on your claims. Thats trivial. People are individuals and evil is perpetrated by evil men... regardless of the color of their skin. Now, I do agree that the quote about "black maleness" being a fatal... it is a wild statement. You could say that same for anything living on this planet. You can die at any moment. But I guess what he wanted to say is that the chances of death are higher... not specifically because of racist hate crimes though. You also have black on black crime, plain old unbiased crime, and whatever else. So dont be so touchy that you put your foot in your mouth and make outrageous claims while attempting to denounce someone else's outrageous claim.

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

    I am outrage that his killer is walking around free like nothing. Before anyone post anything on Trayvon Martin should listen to the 911 calls. His killing was unjust and you can actually hear clearly that Trayvon was crying and calling for help. If you never saw or heard anyone crying for help because they feel they are in danger listen to the tapes.*HIS KILLING WAS UNJUST IF HIS KILLER FELT IN DANGER THEN WHY HE GOT OUT OF HIS CAR AND STARTED FOLLOWING TRAYVON ON FOOT.** WHY BECAUSE HE WAS TARGETING TRAYVON PLAIN AND SIMPLE

    March 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CripsNBloodz

    DAMN!! George Zimmerman is the one who looks like the thug!!

    What is he doing living in a gated community? I figure he either lives at home with his momma or sells dope!!

    Or is this just Florida business casual?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MontanaErik

    This guy is full-blood Hispanic with a White stepfather, thus his name Zimmerman. Had the same guy's name been Garcia, would there be all this fuss?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. sal

    In the same scenario, what if Trayvon Martin had a CC gun permit and he shot and killed Zimmerman after being confronted. Would the cops buy the "self-defense" story and NOT arrest Trayvon on the spot? Would the "police investigation" produce a different result?

    March 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. kandy321

    That's some Chutzpah for Skolnik to blame white people for a Latino crime.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • isaiah hudnall

      Reguardless any race it was murder and i believe gang activity was probly the cause.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maria (MIA)

      Look it sad but it seems Al Sharp and Quanel X grab on to these cases. it is sad it is coming up as a racial case when it is not... POOR POLICE WORK- I say!

      March 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johan Goetz

      I think it's disgusting for him to do that but I was not surprised to learn that Russell Simmons is his boss.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |

      First of all, white people aren't being blamed for a Hispanic crime! The fat coward murderer is bi-racial, mother Hispanic and father white. And I guarantee it was his white confederate side and not his Hispanic side that influenced him to commit the crime. Furthermore, Zimmerman's father is a coward because when the story broke, the first thing he did was defend his white race by saying his son is not white but Hispanic! Let's face it, Zimmerman should be draggen out on the streets and be lynched. End of story.

      March 22, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • JM

      Not a single racist on this forum gives a damn about a dead boy with skittles and an iced tea in his hands...all you care about is whether a white person is being blamed instead of a Latino. Disgusting!

      March 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • moonoverpie

      Who is blaming 'white people'? Did you see any reference to 'whites' or 'Caucasians' in this article? All of you who are getting so defensive about 'whites being blamed' doth protest too much.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Maff

      yeah, everybody keeps saying a white dude did it. Doesnt look white to me. And that just goes to show that people would rather formulate their opinions based on the opinions of others... Gossip rather than facts, willfully ignorant, the blind leading the blind, as they judge this man. His father said it couldnt have been a hate crime because he has black family and friends. Why not focus just on getting the investigation done. Why throw race into it? If it comes to light that he did use a racial slur, ok, maybe you've got something there. But as of now, all the facts arent out. RIP Trayvon

      March 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. alpha male

    it's all about $$$ to be made and false uproar...dozens of black males killed everyday in america, and no such outrage...oh yeah, it's acceptable to kill another african american, but someone from another race supposedly does it, look out!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sacmar

      There is outrage amongst the African-American community when one kills another, but a hate crime is totally different. If this is in fact a hate crime, people of ALL races have the right to be outraged.

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

      It's not acceptable to kill anyone. However, when you have a police department that is siding with a killer instead of doing their jobs, and treating ALL CRIMES EQUALLY; you have a problem.


      March 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
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