Trayvon Martin one year later: Has anything changed?
A year ago Tuesday — on the evening of Feb. 26, 2012 — George Zimmerman confronted an unarmed 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin in an Orlando-area gated community, and shot him dead. Zimmerman was not arrested for a month and a half, relying on Florida's permissive "stand your ground" law, but a national public outcry prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to appoint a special prosecutor, Angela Corey, to the case; she charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder on April 11. (See The Week's timeline of events.) At the request of Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, there are no marches or speeches planned for Tuesday in Sanford, the town where Martin was shot while walking back to his father's place from a convenience store with a packet of Skittles and bottled iced tea. Martin and Fulton will instead attend a vigil in New York City. Martin's violent death sparked a national conversation on gun violence, gun laws, and race and justice — Martin was black, Zimmerman is half white, half Hispanic. But has anything changed?
Life has certainly changed for Zimmerman, who is living with his wife, Shellie, in a house in an undisclosed location while they await trial. Shellie Zimmerman is facing perjury charges for allegedly lying under oath when she claimed that she and her husband were broke. George Zimmerman has an April 22 court date to argue that he should be granted legal immunity under the state's "stand your ground" law, and assuming that motion is denied, his trial is set to begin on June 10. Both Zimmermans are unemployed, though they've raised at least $314,000 from supporters for George's legal defense; George Zimmerman has reportedly gained 100 pounds.
Meanwhile, the push to "change state self-defense laws in Martin's name has petered out," says Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News. A coalition of civil rights groups and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a "Second Chance on Shoot First" campaign, but nothing has passed in Florida or the other five states where lawmakers tried to revisit "stand your ground" laws, and a task force set up by Gov. Scott advised last week that the law is fine and shouldn't be repealed. At the same time, Bloomberg and other gun-control advocates have moved on to pushing federal legislation after the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That's not to say Martin's death had no effect, says UCLA constitutional law expert Adam Winkler. "Trayvon Martin really stalled the move for more permissive gun laws," Winkler tells Yahoo News. "Newtown ended it."
For the Sanford community, the anniversary of Martin's shooting "is a time for waiting," says Rene Stutzman at the Orlando Sentinel. Certainly "what happened then — rallies in major cities across the country that drew throngs of people; saturation news coverage; allegations of racism and a police cover-up; speeches on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives — is not happening now." But Sanford is working to fix one of the underlying problems exposed by Martin's death — "long-standing distrust by the black community of the Police Department":
• On Feb. 14, Sanford hired a new police chief: Cecil Smith, a 25-year veteran from Elgin, Ill., who is black.
• It recently created a new police unit designed to aggressively go after gun violence, gangs, and drugs, things that have disproportionately harmed Sanford's black community.
• It created a blue-ribbon panel, co-chaired by a retired criminal judge who's white and a pastor who's black, that is working to improve police and community relations. [Orlando Sentinel]
"Trayvon Martin did not die in vain," says Roland Martin at CNN. His death "continues to resonate among the consciousness of many Americans," which is a remarkable feat "in the age of short attention spans" in the media and general population. "But what is most needed — more than just keeping the focus on Trayvon — is for his death to spark an uprising of awareness and consciousness, maybe similar to what Emmett Till's death did in 1955. Till's lynching death in Mississippi helped spark the Civil Rights Movement."
For every Trayvon Martin, there are thousands of others who don't get the media attention, but they deserve justice, too. This isn't about black or white; it's about what's right and wrong, fair and unfair. No matter what happens in the trial of George Zimmerman, those who marched, protested, tweeted, Facebooked, lit candles, and wore hoodies know that without all of that collective action, Zimmerman would be walking around free and would have never seen the inside of a courtroom. Stand-your-ground laws would exist with nary a peep of opposition; and we would all be living our lives as if all is good. [CNN]
A lot of the reason we're still talking about the killing is the "vigilance of Trayvon's parents," says CNN's Martin. Their tireless advocacy, and the work of attorney Benjamin Crump, "has made it hard for people to forget." But they are in limbo, too. "Our focus shifted from the burial to an arrest," Fulton tells The Washington Post. "Now our focus is a conviction." That means, first, that Judge Debra Nelson must rule that Zimmerman's actions aren't protected by Florida's "stand your ground" law. "We can live with a jury verdict," Crump tells The Washington Post. But if Zimmerman walks away with immunity, both Fulton and Crump warn that it will set a terrible precedent. Still, if Nelson does let Zimmerman walk, "we will respect the rule of law," Crump adds. "And we won't do what George Zimmerman did when he got out of his car, profiled and pursued Trayvon, and took the law into his own hands."