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Trayvon Martin 10 years later: The death of Trayvon Martin changes the nation

Trayvon Martin's last night began with a trip to the convenience store, where he bought candy and a drink.

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Trayvon Martin 10 years later: The death of Trayvon Martin changes the nation

The confrontation ended with a neighborhood watch volunteer and a shot fired. Trayvon Martin was found dead on the streets.

It was not what one would have expected, but the tragic deaths of Black teens has rarely attracted even brief attention.

The killing of this unarmed, baby-faced, hoodie-wearing youth by a stranger 10 years later still reverberates -- in protest, in political partisanship and in reactionary response to racial injustice and social justice.

"It was what broke everyone, all at once," Nailah Sommers-Polite, codirector of Dream Defenders (an organization that was founded in Florida following the protests after Martin's death) said.

"We are the Trayvon Martin generation. We are the people who were inspired to take action by it."

It took place on February 26, 2012. Martin was visiting his father at a gated community near Sanford, Florida. This is a suburb of Orlando. On his way back to the store, Martin was spotted by George Zimmerman (then 28), a member the neighborhood watch.

According to the initial police report, Zimmerman called authorities to report a suspect person. Zimmerman claimed he was following him, but he got out of his car armed with a gun.

Zimmerman told authorities that Martin attacked him during the confrontation, which forced him to use his gun in order to save himself. Zimmerman was released.

Sybrina Fulton, Tracy Martin's parents were outraged from the beginning. They also questioned Zimmerman's story. Their son was "suspicious" because he was Black. Zimmerman's family insisted that Zimmerman, their brother and son, who identified themselves as Hispanic, were not racist.

Media attention was heightened in March and others joined the fray, first locally, then further afield.

Many Black people felt that Trayvon was being profiled for his race. This resonated with their own life experiences. They saw their own weaknesses in Trayvon's death.

Jonel Edwards, another Dream Defenders co-director, said, "It felt as if, Oh wow, it can't walk down street, even within the realm of my daily life, normal happenings. That could have easily been myself.

It was particularly striking in 2012 when Barack Obama was the first Black president of the United States. Some believed that America had made a significant improvement in its racial history, while others thought otherwise.

Martin was still alive. The Rev. said that the United States had elected a Black president, and had a Black attorney General. "They are still killing us and have not even arrested the killer. We all knew our children were still vulnerable." Al Sharpton met Martin's family early on and Ben Crump, their attorney as they tried to draw attention to his death.

There has been outrage for years over police killings of Black men, such as Amadou Diallo's 1999 killing, Sean Bell's 2006 killing, and Ramarley Graham's 2006 killing, just weeks prior to Martin's death. Jenner Furst co-director of "Rest in Power": The Trayvon Martin Story, stated that Zimmerman was not law enforcement.

He stated that the person had not been issued a badge. "This person was not trained to use a firearm in an emergency situation and had not been trained in conflict management. They also didn't have the skills necessary for identifying who is at risk.

Sharpton said that "the fact that it wasn’t a police officer made it more egregious" and that authorities didn’t take any action. "Here's a wannabe security guard... There's no reason to reluctance."

Many people turned to the internet to express their grief after Martin's passing. The potential of social media as a platform for protest had been demonstrated, and the trend has now gone into hyperdrive.

Kevin Cunningham was a Howard University law student who was 31 years old and working as a consultant in social media for a Muslim group. He had been fascinated by the power of the internet since seeing the role it played during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. A petition was posted on Change.org by Cunningham calling for Zimmerman to be prosecuted. It soon received over 10,000 signatures.

The number of signatures grew exponentially after Martin turned over the petition to Martin's parents. Martin made a personal appeal for support for Zimmerman’s prosecution. Celebrities encouraged people to sign the petition on social media. The petition was signed by more than 2.2million people.

Cunningham stated, "It was just the right time and place as far as that social media adoption and just kind of the right egregious cases that was able touch people's heart."

Zimmerman created a website to solicit donations for his defense. However, his online critics were numerous. Social media brought together many people to protest events like the Million Hoodie March. There were also celebrities and everyday folks who posted photos of themselves in hoodies with the hashtag "I am Trayvon Martin."

LeBron James was then playing for the Miami Heat. He posted an image showing him and his teammates in hoodies with their heads down.

Obama was himself drawn into the controversy, framing it in ways no other president could.

"I can only imagine the pain these parents must be going through. Obama stated, "I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think of this boy, I think of my own children."

"If I had to have a son, he would look like Trayvon."

Zimmerman was convicted of second-degree murder six weeks after the shooting. He would be acquitted in the following year. The violence that Trayvon Martin's murder unleashed did not end.

The verdict inspired Alicia Garza to write a Facebook post, a hashtag was created by PatrisseCullors, and a social media strategy led by AyoTometi. Black Lives Matter was born, a movement that combats racism and racial violence towards Black communities.

Many of the protestors who were angered by Martin's death marched to protest Michael Brown's murder. He was 18 years old and unarmed. The incident occurred in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. This happened just weeks after Eric Garner was shot to death by New York City police.

Edwards of Dream Defenders said that Trayvon Martin's moment "really opened our eyes." He also added that there was more to the general consciousness that began in 2012 and exploded in 2014.

The 2020 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police drew a large number of people from all over the country and around the globe.

Furst, the film director, said that Trayvon Martin's story was what happened after the George Floyd tragedy. "And so many people said that this could never happen again.

However, public anger sparked a response. Some people took offense at Obama's statements of affinity to Martin and saw protests as antipolice chaos and disorder.

While Martin's death and its aftermath have been acknowledged by many, others question whether it was sufficient to change the country.

Sharpton was disappointed by the lack of federal legislation, but he said that a "cultural shift" has occurred.

He referred to Ahmaud Abery's case, a 25-year-old Black male who was chased and shot by three white men in 2020 after he ran through their Georgia neighborhood. Although the shooter claimed self-defense in this case, almost all of the jury was white.

Sharpton stated, "I believe Trayvon changed the culture so people started to look at things differently and nothing to my mind personifies that more then Arbery." Sharpton said, "These two young men are the pillars of where we are in terms of race.


 

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