WASHINGTON (NNPA)–On the night of Feb. 26, Tracy Martin and his girlfriend had gone out to dinner in Sanford, Fla., leaving his 17-year-old son, Trayvon, behind at the townhouse with plans to watch the NBA All-Star game scheduled to be televised at 7 p.m. from Orlando’s Amway Center.
Trayvon decided to walk to a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store to pick up a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea before settling in to watch East v. West all-stars. On his way back to the gated community, however, Trayvon was stalked by George Zimmerman, a non-Black neighborhood watch captain armed with a 9 millimeter handgun and a head full of stereotypes about African-American males.
|GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, left, and TRAYVON MARTIN
According to 911 tapes, Zimmerman, 28, told the emergency police dispatcher that he had spotted a suspicious young male walking in the neighborhood. “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He is on drugs or something.” Zimmerman said, “These —holes. They are always getting away.”
When the dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following the young man in his vehicle, Zimmerman confirmed that he was. The 911 operator said, “OK, we don’t need you to do that.” Still, Zimmerman continued to follow Trayvon, who was unarmed. At one point, Zimmerman got out of his SUV, confronted Trayvon and fatally shot him in the chest.
Tracy Martin was unaware that his honor roll son, who was visiting from Miami, had been killed around 7 p.m. that Sunday.
Martin, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton; Benjamin Crump, the family lawyer; Al Sharpton and former New York Gov. David Patterson participated in an exclusive 1-hour telephone conference call last Thursday with more than three dozen publishers from the NNPA.
Martin told publishers how he learned that his son had been killed.
“I had been out to dinner. When we got back between 10:15 and 10:45, he wasn’t at home….,” Martin said. “I made several attempts to call his cell phone and it was going straight to voicemail. I called my nephew’s cell phone and it was going straight to voicemail. So at that point, I figured they had been in the movies because they would always go to the movies.”
Tracy Martin and his girlfriend went to bed. But the next morning, the day Martin and his son had planned to return to Miami, he learned that Trayvon still wasn’t back in the house. Tracy called his nephew again, this time reaching him and learning that Trayvon wasn’t with him.
“My third call was to a non-emergency number at the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department and I informed them that I was filing a missing person’s report. I let them know it hadn’t been 24 hours, but it was unusual for Trayvon not to return home. I told them we were supposed to be leaving that morning when we woke up. They asked me a few questions about him: date of birth, height, complexion, weight and they told me they would dispatch a unit. Five minutes later, she called me back and asked what was he last wearing. I gave them a description of the clothes that he had on last. She said a unit would be out,” he said.
At that point, Tracy Martin still had no clue that his son was dead.
He said, “I got up, got on clothes, went outside because I knew my kid was going to walk back up to the door. Instead, three cars pulled up to the door, one of them an unmarked police vehicle.
“He asked me if I had a recent picture of Trayvon and it just so happened that I had taken a picture in my camera, maybe a week or two prior to the incident. I showed them the picture. He told me to give him a second. He walked to his vehicle, retrieved a folder and asked could we go into the house. We walked into the house. He told me he was going to show me a photo and that he was going to ask me if this was my kid. And he pulled out the photo. From that point, it’s been like a nightmare.”
That nightmare was compounded by the decision not to arrest or prosecute Zimmerman, who admitted killing Trayvon. Led by Attorney Benjamin Crump, the family has been making the rounds of national television programs to share their story—and to express their outrage that Zimmerman hasn’t been brought to justice. Protests, many of them led by college students, have taken place across the country.
“In the Black community, we all see Trayvon in ourselves,” Sharpton said. “We all subconsciously know that we’re born as suspects rather than citizens and that’s what Trayvon was—he was a suspect.”
After three weeks of mobilizing on social media, keeping the story alive in Black newspapers and African-American radio, the mounting pressure forced Sanford, Fla. officials to release the 911 tapes. Those tapes—which show that Zimmerman disobeyed the 911 dispatcher’s directive that he not follow Trayvon—along with the decision not to arrest Zimmerman, forced Police Chief Bill Lee to temporarily step down as police chief on Thursday.
On April 10, a grand jury will be convened to determine whether Zimmerman should be indicted. Both the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division and the FBI are looking into the case to determine if any federal statues were violated.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has appointed a Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection to investigate how such tragedies can be avoided in the future. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll will chair the special panel. Rev. R.B. Holmes, Jr, publisher of the Capital Outlook in Tallahassee, will serve as vice chair.
Sharpton led a rally Thursday night of more than 30,000 people in Sanford, many of them arriving from around the nation.
Referring to the police chief, Sharpton said, “We did not come here for a temporary leave of absence. We came for permanent justice—arrest Zimmerman now.”
On Friday, President Obama expressed concern about the case.
“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state, and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened,” Obama said. He added, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Sybrina Fulton is still living with the pain of her son’s death.
“It just reminds me of an awful dream,” she said in the conference call with NNPA publishers. “It just seems like the pain goes away temporarily and then it comes back. It just feels like my heart is just heavy. I still have tears, I still cry. It’s just difficult. Each day is just difficult to get by.”
Sanford police claim they couldn’t arrest Zimmerman because he was protected under Florida Statute 776.013 (3), the state’s stand your ground law that gives citizens broad protection if they are acting in self-defense.
Crump called it a case of racial profiling.
“He used every stereotype for a Black man you can use,” the lawyer said. “He said, No.1, he looked suspicious. No.2, he must be high. No. 3, he’s looking to break in some place. And the police took that as gospel.”