Protests explode across country
over lynching of Trayvon Martin
Demand arrest, prosecution of
‘neighborhood watch’ vigilante
March 26 demonstration of some 8,000 in Atlanta against vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and police refusal to arrest the shooter. The action was one of many across the United States that day, the one-month anniversary of the killing. Many more are planned.
BY TOM BAUMANN
SANFORD, Fla., March 26—Over the last week, protests have erupted in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States in response to the modern-day lynching and police cover-up that took place here one month ago today. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old Black youth, was shot and killed by self-proclaimed “neighborhood watchman” George Zimmerman.
More than 2,000 people, students and workers, predominantly African-American, marched here today chanting “Arrest Zimmerman Now!” and “Shame on, Shame on, Sanford PD.”
In neighboring Georgia some 8,000 rallied at the State Capitol in Atlanta.
“Racism here is not uncommon at all,” said Shatee Hall, 39, a medical assistant and Sanford resident who came to the rally here as part of a contingent of five dozen members of her union, SEIU 1199 East. “There have always been racist issues with the Sanford Police Department. They’re not protecting and serving us.”
“The Florida I grew up in was racist as hell,” said William Turnbull, 61, a carpenter. “I thought it was going to change, but after Trayvon I’m not so sure.” Turnbull, who is Caucasian, held a sign that read, “If Trayvon Martin was white, he would still be alive.”
“I want to know what happened to my son and I want to prevent this from happening to another parent,” said Martin’s mother, Sabryna Fulton, at a Sanford City Commission meeting at the end of the demonstration.
“We’re not asking for an eye for an eye. We’re asking for justice! Justice! Justice!” said his father, Tracy Martin, who works as a truck driver.
The demonstration was the latest in a series of protests here. The largest, a rally of some 10,000 organized by Rev. Al Sharpton, took place March 22. That same day, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced he was temporarily stepping down “in hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to a city which has been in turmoil for several weeks.”
Martin, a 140-pound high school student from Miami, was in Sanford, 25 miles north of Orlando, visiting his father. He was walking with a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea he had just bought at a convenience store.
A 250-pound armed Zimmerman was conducting a vigilante patrol near the gated community where Tracy Martin’s fiancée lives when he spotted Trayvon Martin and called 911: “There’s a real suspicious guy. … looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around.”
“Now he’s just staring at me,” Zimmerman said as he kept watch on Martin and provided a description to 911. The dispatcher tells him that cops are on the way. “These assholes they always get away,” Zimmerman responded. He then tells the dispatcher that Martin has started to run away and that he is following him.
“We don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher says. But Zimmerman apparently pursues Martin on foot.
According to Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him at the time, Martin attempted to lose his follower. She overheard Martin ask Zimmerman, “Why are you following me?” and Zimmerman replied, “What are you doing around here?” The phone then cut off. Other 911 calls report an altercation ensuing, ending with Zimmerman fatally shooting Martin in the chest.
“Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer … climbed on top of [him] and slammed his head into the sidewalk,” the Orlando Sentinel wrote March 26, citing police sources. Zimmerman reportedly had a bloody nose and head wound.
Zimmerman, who had a license to carry a handgun, has still not been arrested or charged for the killing. “We don’t have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense,” Police Chief Lee said March 12. That same day, ABC News reported that the police allegedly “corrected” at least one eyewitness’s account. Cops tested Martin’s body for drugs and alcohol, but not Zimmerman’s.
Florida is among a number of states that in recent years have passed so-called “stand your ground” laws. The legislation makes it legal to use deadly force under threat of attack in public, even when there is a clear option to walk away from the situation.
Zimmerman was the head of a neighborhood watch group that works with the cops, Police Chief Lee told the Miami Herald. Zimmerman, 28, is of Peruvian and Caucasian descent. Before the incident and his disappearance from public view, he worked as a loan analyst at a mortgage risk-management company and was studying criminal justice at Seminole State College.
Family launches public campaign
This city of 53,000, where 30 percent of the residents are Black, has a history of vigilante violence and police cover-up. In 2005 there were protests after police waited months to arrest two security guards who shot and killed a 16-year-old through the window of their car, claiming self-defense. They were eventually arrested, but later cleared of charges.
The Police Department and city prosecutors tried to sweep the killing of Martin under the rug. But his parents mounted a public fight to prevent that from happening, taking part in demonstrations and speaking out on national TV.
More than 1,000 people turned out for Martin’s funeral March 3. On March 9 Martin’s family publicly demanded police release the 911 calls and make an arrest. By mid-March protests, especially following the March 16 release of the 911 calls, began spreading around the country.
Martin’s family publicly appealed March 18 to Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI to get involved in the case. The next day, state officials announced a grand jury hearing April 10 to decide whether to indict Zimmerman and the U.S. Justice Department announced the launching of its investigation.
NAACP President Ben Jealous called for the removal of Police Chief Lee at a March 20 protest meeting of 400 at a church here. The next day city commissioners passed a vote of “no confidence” that prompted the chief’s decision to “temporarily” step down.
Both parents took part in a demonstration of some 1,000 March 21 in New York City’s Union Square, dubbed the “Million Hoodie March.” Martin was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt when he was killed and donning hoodies has become a theme at protest actions, meetings and church services around the country. “My heart is in pain, but to see the support of all of you really makes a difference,” Martin’s mother told the crowd.
An action of some 250 people through the Black community of Liberty City in Miami was among many other demonstrations across the country that day.
Rayquel Fredricks, a friend of Martin’s, wearing an “R.I.P. Trayvon Martin” T-shirt, came with two friends. “He was like a little brother to me,” she told the Militant. “I would like to see George Zimmerman go to jail.”
On March 22, 300 students at Miami’s Carol City High School, where Martin attended his freshman and part of his sophomore year, walked out. The next day some 12,000 walked out at 31 schools in Miami-Dade County.
Opponents of the campaign to arrest and prosecute Zimmerman have attempted to smear Martin, emphasizing that he was serving a third suspension from the high school he attends in Miami for allegedly having marijuana residue in his book bag. The vilification campaign includes digging up and publishing a Twitter message from Martin’s cousin that suggests Martin may have been involved in a violent altercation with a bus driver.
“They’ve killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” said Fulton.
A CNN poll today suggests 73 percent of people in the U.S. are for the arrest of Zimmerman.
“What has to happen next?” CBS News anchor asked Tracy Martin in a March 23 interview.
“Arrest, trial, conviction, sentence for the murder of Trayvon Benjamin Martin,” replied the father.
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