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. xabana

    Please feel free to leave the country and renounce your citizenship if you can't follow the laws of this country. You won't be missed.

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

      No other place is like motherland. You wouldn't say what you did in your comment if you have been in other country. Laws are not only for immigrant, it is also for people like you. I guarantee America comes on top 5 when it comes Racism, Discrimination. It just not shown to public and those you face it can't do a lot other then to shutup and wish they were in their own country.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      Who are you to tell lawful citizens of this country to leave. In a democracy, people have a right to say if a law is ridiculous or the people who are supposed to keep law and order are incompetent. Where did you come from anyway?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anchorite

      Well isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Actually, it's the pot calling the Hispanic white...

      March 22, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julian

      Boy, imagine how that would have worked out for the all the women, European immigrants, etc. that couldn't vote in the late 19th century. What if they would have followed your train of thought? Brilliant! Not all laws are as sacrosanct as you let on.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Classified

      Show some respect this country was built on immigrants. OOPS did I say immigrants oh yeah that means all of us.

      March 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • eva

      and what law said you cant walk home late i wish you would feel the same if it was a black police officer who shot a white young boy while walking home i would hope you still had the same opinion

      March 22, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cecilia

    you are just exactly why this law needs to be changed – what do you think you would assume the very minute you saw a young black man in your neighborhood and God forbid you ever became a neighborhood patrol person

    March 22, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      Change the law and the bad guys will go and party..

      March 22, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      TO THOSE WHO WANT TO CHANGE –OR–WEAKEN THE LAW ?? YOU ARE GOING TO FIND YOURSELF IN THE SAME SITUATION THAT ZIMMERMAN DID, BUT GUESS WHAT ? YOU GET YOUR ASS BEAT BY A BIGGER PERSON ? YOU CAN'T SHOOT HIM...IS GOING TO HAPPEN MARK MY WORK...WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO GO TO EAST L.A. ? SOUTH SIDE OF CHICAGO ?? THE BRONX ??? THE BAD GUYS CONTROL THOSE AREAS....

      March 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • EJ

      The key words in your comment is bad guy. This was a kid walking from a store with candy and tea, far from being a bad guy. As far as being big, he was 100lbs less than yhe killer. I see a problem wiyh the law, the police department and the killer.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      I WOULD DO THE SAME THING ZIMMERMAN DID..I WOULD WANT TO ASK ANYONE WHO LOOK OUT OF PLACE , WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE ?? MARTIN RAN INSTAED OF ANSWERING ZIMMERMAN QUESTION.

      March 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • EJ

      For joseo3011usmc.....was he required by law to answer him....the kid felt he was being stalked or about to be murdered....which turned out to be the case....you would do the same thing?.....then you are a potential murderer yourself......God help you!

      March 22, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nicole

      I dont understand, even when.a battered wife, kills her abusive husband, and claims self defense, the police puts handcuffs on you while reading you your rights and you take a ride to the station to give your statement. What happened in this situation.

      March 22, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Observerofthehumanconition

    So, CNN, how. About stirring the pot on the white man gunned down by the black man while the white guy was playing basketball? How come this is the only one you seem interested generating news on? I know Tuesday is racial outrage day at CNN, but come on, fair is fair, another young white man dead at the hands of a thirty year older black man. White man playing basketball with his daughter at 10 am. Black man just guns him down. CNN, you are very biased.

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

      Whew! I thought I was the only one that noticed CNN's bias.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solange822

      Hey genius, was the shooter in your story allowed to go home? Not arrested? Had the police defend him? Was his victim practically a child? No? You have no idea what you are talking about, I don't know what you've been "observing", but it ain't reality. This story is not solely about a white (hispanic, doesnt even look white) man shooting a black man. This story is far more than that and you know it. At least you should if you bothered to read anything about it...

      March 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not Likely

      Was he arrested? You clown? Yes he was. You are completely off topic.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solitaire

      Did the black man walk free after gunning down the basketball players? Or did he just get away? Did the police arrest the man? I think that is the issue here, not that murder happens but that the police are ignoring the murder.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Messenger

      So was te black man who gunned the white man down arrested, or is he being sought by the law ?
      or is he walking free ?

      March 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christi

      In the second story with the black male and the basketball court killing, HE was arrested on the scene. The 'stand your ground' law will be his defense in court but they didn't just let this guy go home. George Zimmerman was never arrested and Martin was killed by him a MONTH AGO. How is that fair?!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • kandy321

      "Black In America" "Latino In America" Naw, CNN isn't biased.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • vwgtiman

      Probably because that happened 2 years ago smart guy. Plus this was a little kid not 2 grown men.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cheryl

    The truth is unsettling isn't it.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Asian Guy

    Surely looks are DECEPTIVE and all the more so when you use the pic. of a boy when he's was much younger than when the incident happened.

    Also, it appears that Zimmerman was a Latino, not exactly white.

    Surely those are notable points.......on how people view the issue !!!!!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solange822

      Really? So now we have license to shoot all large black males, according to you? Since that fact would somehow change people's perception? Is him being a large 17 year old somehow relevant to the fact that Zimmerman pursued and shot an unarmed teen walking home from the store?

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

      Right, Asianboy. If they had published a more recent picture, he would look much more killable.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • maxiiscott

      Unless you corner the market on knowledge about race relations between Blacks and Hispanics you probably should not try to add your less than intelligent remarks on the matter. I am in executive management at an agency where 90% of our employees are Latino. Many of the employees have told me rather directly that "Latinos are some of the most prejudiced people there are." I can't tell you how many cases of discrimination I've had to investigate and mediate because a Latino has used the N-Word towards an African-American employee. If you know your history on Hispanic origin, most are African. However, most Latinos don't see themselves as Black. They relate closer to Whites and therefore tend to mimic similar tendencies towards African-Americans.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh?

      Why would those be notable points? Are white people the only ones capable of racism? And does his age or looks make it anymore acceptable? The tragedy surrounds the fact that he was walking through and neighborhood, unarmed and heading for home, and he ended up shot. Even if you take the possible racism out of the picture, its still a crime that the shooter should be arrested for.

      If this was a white shooter and a white teenage victim it may not have made the national news, but it still would have been a crime.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. King LeTroll

    This was a bad thing. Something even worse – the fact that muslims continue to breath on this earth. That's the real problem.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ladypradege

      WOW!!! Muslims arent the problem ignorant white folks that are racist is the problem!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. danny

    The story ran on the network concerning Trevor Dooley and David James proves beyond reasonable doubt the racial bias that exists in the US .Whether or not Mr Dooley acted correctly he was promptly arrested and put before the court ,however Mr Zimmerman was allowed to go home ,with his gun (unbelievable), without any proper investigation.
    The paradox of these two stories shows beyond reasonable doubt that a serious racial problem exists in the US,that your laws concerning the use od deadly force needs to be reviewed ,and the need for one individual to own 47 weapons in a country in which no wars are being fought is frightening.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Solange822

    Wrong Genomega. This is no gang war. Im hispanic and I want Zimmerman in jail where he belongs. This isnt about the fact that the boy was black, although it is obviously a factor. The fact of the matter is this man pursued this kid, there is witness and audio evidence of it, was told by police to STAND DOWN, and then the kid ended up dead. Maybe Trayvon was scared for HIS life, and that is why ZImmerman has marks on him? Or is Trayvon not allowed to defend himself too? Wouldnt you be scared if someone was following you and chasing you? He was just a kid for god's sake

    March 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. john15:12

    Patrick is ignorant! So sad!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JT

    I feel this is a huge tragedy. I know everyone’s feelings are fueling anger, but I prefer to let the police investigation run its course before fueling the fire.

    Let the experts analyze the tapes. Let the experts reproduce the crime scene. Let he experts compile all the witness accounts. Let the experts determine what happened.

    None of us that listen to the tapes or hear accounts are getting the entire story. We shouldn’t rush to judgment. Until his is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt he is innocent.

    If after that the experts determine the man should be arrested then he should be arrested. If they determine race had a roll then it should be a hate crime charge as well. He should go to a very dark place for a very long time. If not the rest of his life or the possible forfeit of his own life.

    If however the experts don’t find cause to charge him or if he is brought to trial and found not guilty then we should respect that as well.

    Whatever the outcome is it will be unflavored by some, but should be respected by all.
    People have a right to hold public protest, organize groups to their cause, and even work to influence the laws that governor the outcome they’re displeased with.

    I guess I’ll I’m saying is before we say the local police chief should resign, the FBI should take over the case, or the man was a racist let’s let the investigation run its course.

    Justice for the boy maybe in the form of an arrest , conviction, and sentence. Or maybe in the form of a change to the “Stand your ground” law that allows for the self defense claim to be used so blatantly.

    The man isn’t going anywhere and neither is the evidence or the (alleged) crime so lets’ just see what plays out.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solitaire

      Investigation? Interesting concept. Usually when a person is involved in a shooting and is being investigated, they are placed under arrest, aren't they? Then bail might be set by a judge if the assailant looks like a good bet for not "going anywhere."

      March 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Allen

      You suggest that we trust authority to all-by-itself come to a proper solution. However the initial facts in this case demand that we NOT trust the authorities. An adult driving around with a loaded gun gets out of his vehicle to accost and kill a solo unarmed teenager, and the police response is to let the murderer take his gun and go home.

      Only forced national attention has any hope of causing the local community to come to any kind of decision that suggests the killed black teenager had rights.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Anonyous

    When a person assaults a person, the assaulted person has the right to defend themselves however they deem necessary. Martin decided to attack him, so Zimmerman shot him and sadly he's dead. Self-defense. The lesson: Don't physically attack people, and there won't be any problems.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • MikeyD

      Holding forth like a bigoted idiot and can't even spell your cowardly moniker correctly.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not Likely

      Zimmerman followed and attacked and then killed Martin. You can listen to it happen on the 911 tapes yourself. Please learn about things you intend to comment on.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ladypradege

      You ignorant dumb a**hole, Martin didnt attack Zimmerman until he kept harrassing him maybe we need to shoot you for your ignorance!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solitaire

      An eight year old threw a baseball at my car, ACTUALLY HIT MY CAR! I feel assaulted. Let me get my gun.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luek

      Anonymous I think you got it!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • shut up

      whn did he attack him? tht man chased him after he was told not too. if he would have listen the boy would still be alive!!!! U stupid. Need to line u up n beat the crap outta u thn shoot u.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rosecolored

    I agree this was most obviously racially motivated. That guy might have given a white kid a second glance but I doubt he would have been chased. That being said my only wish is that minorities would stop talking like every white guy out there is guilty for the crime of one. We are NOT all racists and I think I speak for everyone (trolls an exception) when I say this case has been a travesty of justice and Zimmerman should be in jail. I believe the national outcry from this will prevail and this idiot playing cops and robbers will end up in prison doing hard time..

    March 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John

    Why has this about race???? When blacks kill whites I never hear someone screaming race.. Maybe whites should start protesting.. We out number blacks 50 to 1...

    March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • maxiiscott

      @John. When Blacks kill Whites, it isn't called racism because they are usually arrested and prosecuted. This has racism all over it.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • shut up

      u need to ck ur facts White ppl are out num n this counrty. Yall dont out num us. But yea yall may wanna start n thn we can spray yall wuth water n let dogs n shoot u too.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solitaire

      It's obviously all about race TO YOU.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. nick

    Your IGNORANCE is showing.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Christi

    That 'stand your ground' law is bullsh-t. In the second story, a guy leaves his home, crosses over to a basketball court to argue with a man, got scared for his life and then kills the man in front of his daughter. This is why I hate guns. Keep them in your house. The hell are you bringing a gun to a park for? Guns are just too easy. Its too easy to end someone's life- whatever happened to talking things out? And if you take a beating, so what? Live to see another day.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
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