Equal Protection Under The Law….Trayvon Martin Death?

The tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an African-American youth, has been covered heavily in the media[i] and online[ii] and brings into question whether or not there is equal protection under the law for African-Americans.  As Trayvon parent’s aptly stated, their “…son didn’t deserve to die.” Trayvon Martin was just 17 years old when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything besides walking home with a bag of Skittles and some iced tea in his hands…”  Being a young black man in a hoodie made him “suspicious” to George Zimmerman, who got out of his SUV, tracked Trayvon down, confronted him, and fatally wounded Travyvon.1 Zimmerman couldn’t see past Trayvon’s race and hoodie to the promising young man he was—a football player, a horseback rider, a hero who pulled his father from a burning kitchen.2 Trayvon was young, he was alive, he was beautiful.

The victim did not have a history of violent behavior or an arrest record. Zimmerman, on the other hand, has a history of violent behavior and an arrest record. Was it rational for the police to conclude that an unarmed 17 year old youth would attack a 28 year old man that was armed with a gun and out weighed him by 100 pounds?

The story of Trayvon Martin’s senseless shooting death and the police response has garnered both national and international attention and has resulted in protests across the country. Martin’s death February 26, 2012 at the hands of a volunteer Neighborhood Watch leader, George Zimmerman, in a small, gated Florida community has rippled through many corners of the nation’s justice and political system and raised questions about the relationship between the black community and police in small towns.

Zimmerman, 28, pulled the trigger on the unarmed Martin as he walked home from a convenience store. The police officers engaged in the investigation of the death of Trayvon Martin assert that Zimmerman was not charged because of a Florida law, Stand Your Ground, that makes it difficult to arrest and prosecute homicide suspects who claim self-defense. Given the facts of this case, the police department’s conduct has caused some to question whether or not there is equal protection under the law for African-American’s in the state of Florida. There have been similar cases in the state of Florida where the victim of a violent crime was African-American and the perpetrator was white and there were little or no sanctions imposed by the “justice system” for the commission of a serious crime.

Because of the petition posted on Change.org by Trayvon’s parents and the interviews that were granted to media outlets, the conduct of the officers on this case has and continues to have a high level of scrutiny. There are a great many questions about the police handling of this case including but not limited to: (1) Why did the police check the victim’s blood for drugs and alcohol and failed to so for the shooter? (2) Did the police seize the shooter’s weapon?; (3) Has the weapon been tested for finger prints; and (4) Did the police interview any of witnesses that heard the cries for help? The online petition requests that the “general public” engage in the requisite actions[iii] to help ensure that justice would prevail.

Trayvon’s parents’ cry for justice has been heard around the world; and it has served to ignite protests, across the United States including but not limited to: a “Million Hoodie March” in New York City and a rally in Sanford, Florida, the location where the shooting took place. The rally in Sanford was led by, civil rights activist, Al Sharpton. Further, Trayvon’s parents have amassed more than 600,000 signatures on their online petition calling for charges to be filed against the shooter. As protests spread across the nation in response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, President Obama weighed in on the controversy Friday, saying it’s imperative that authorities investigate every aspect of the case.

“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” President Obama said. “I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

At the protests related to this death, many protesters have donned hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin. On the day he was fatally shot, the Florida teen was spotted wearing a hoodie by his killer, George Zimmerman. The article of clothing reportedly made Martin appear suspicious to Zimmerman. Assuming for the sake of argument, Trayvon appeared suspicious to Zimmerman. The question remains, why did Zimmerman exceed his authority as a volunteer Neighborhood Watch member. The Neighbor Watch handbook simply encourages its members to simply report the “suspicious” person(s) and/or crime to the police. Despite the Neighborhood Watch manual’s clear instruction on what is to be its members’ response to “suspicious” person(s)  and the statement by the 911 to Zimmerman that the police were coming and he needn’t pursue the person, Zimmerman pursued, confronted, shot, and ultimately killed an unarmed person.

Geraldo Rivera has asserted that the victim’s hoodie could have precipitated the shooting and death of Trayvon Martin. How can a hoodie be responsible for the death of Trayvon? Many protests have asserted that George Zimmerman’s pursuit and fatal shooting of Trayvon was not the result of the victim’s attire but rather a racist act which should be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law. The case has resonated for many who assert that Martin died because of stereotypes of young black men as violent criminals. Trayvon’s death is already being compared with high-profile and historic civil rights cases. Currently, an edited photograph has circulated throughout many social media sites that compare Martin to Emmett Till, a young man lynched by white men in 1950s Mississippi.

How should we look at this tragic death? Was it simply the act of self-defense?  Was the shooting an act of racism by Zimmerman? Professor Mark Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, was asked to comment on the conduct by Zimmerman and the resulting tragic death of Trayvon Martin. Professor Neal stated that, “It’s not about these individual acts of racism. It’s about the way that black males are framed in the larger culture … as being violent, criminal and threats to safety and property.”

Public outrage has helped to bring national attention and a federal investigation to the case of Trayvon Martin. Travyon’s parents have asked that the public continue to build pressure to demand George Zimmerman be brought to justice.

Here’s what you can do to obtain justice for Trayvon Martin:

1. Sign the petition here: http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin

2. Plan or attend a solidarity rally in your city. There are actions springing up all over the country as people continue to voice outrage over the murder of Trayvon. You can find a list of actions here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/justice-for-trayvon-martin/updated-upcoming-events-across-the-us-3212012/350015705040795.

3. Pass around articles about Trayvon and the petition on social networking sites and e-mail lists.

4. “Like” the Justice for Trayvon Martin Facebook page to stay updated about this case.

Trayvon’s story is already inspiring millions in the call for justice and an end to racial violence. It also moved writer/activist Kevin Powell, Akila Worksongs, Jasiri X and the folks at MoveOn and ColorOfChange to record a new powerful video “A Song for Trayvon.” Please watch it and share it with your family and friends to inspire more people to join this growing movement: http://moveon.org/SongForTrayvon?id=38007-18765278-XWgISwx&t=2

Source(s): www.change.org. www.cedp.org. www.nytimes.org. What Happened to Trayvon Martin, Explained, Politico Mojo, David Corn, Kevin Drums, and The News Team, March 23, 2012. President Obama Addresses Trayvon Martin Shooting, Amy Powell, March 22, 2012. The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and The Today Show. Trayvon Martin: Zimmerman was not following Neighborhood Watch ‘rules,'” Chicago Tribune, March 24, 2012, http://www.moveon.org/r?r=273396&id=38007-18765278-XWgISwx&t=6 .  “Calls for justice rage on a month after Trayvon Martin’s killing,” CNN, March 26, 2012, http://www.moveon.org/r?r=273406&id=38007-18765278-XWgISwx&t=7. “Obama: Shooting death of Trayvon Martin a ‘tragedy,'” Newsday, March23, 2012, http://www.moveon.org/r?r=273398&id=38007-18765278-XWgISwx&t=8 . “Obama: Shooting death of Trayvon Martin a ‘tragedy,'” Newsday, March23, 2012, http://www.moveon.org/r?r=273398&id=38007-18765278-XWgISwx&t=9. “Trayvon Martin’s Family Calls For Arrest Of Man Who Police Say Confessed To Shooting (UPDATE),” The Huffington Post, March 8, 2012, http://www.moveon.org/r?r=273399&id=38007-18765278-XWgISwx&t=10.

Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art


[i] Just to name a few, The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and The Today Show have all covered the death of Trayvon Martin which occurred in February of 2012.

[ii] Mother Jones, Politico, Care.org

[iii] Public activism has played a pivotal role in bringing national attention to the case and ultimately leading to a top-to-bottom review of what happened that day. A wellspring of social media grew by the day and became relentless, demanding that the spotlight return to Sanford. It’s the only way to galvanize people in such cases, says Neal, the Duke professor.

“If folks aren’t on Twitter tweeting stories and giving particular testimonies; if you don’t have artists doing videos on YouTube talking about what Trayvon might have experienced … I don’t think we get a moment where suddenly the Justice Department is saying we need to investigate this case,” Neal says.

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