Martin was walking home from a convenience store wearing a hooded sweatshirt, when Zimmerman started following him, telling a police dispatcher there was a “real suspicious guy” walking through the gated community of the Retreat at Twin Lakes. Martin tried to run away and Zimmerman followed him, according to what Zimmerman told 911.
According to Martin’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him moments before he was shot, Martin asked Zimmerman, “Why are you following me?” Zimmerman replied, “What are you doing around here?” Then the phone went dead.
Zimmerman, who worked as a loan analyst and was studying at Seminole State College to become a cop, claims he shot in self-defense. According to police reports of Zimmerman’s account, Martin, who was unarmed, punched him and knocked Zimmerman to the ground. Zimmerman, whose mother is Peruvian and father Caucasian, was taken to police headquarters then released without charges that same night.
More than four weeks after Martin died, cops still have not interviewed his girlfriend, reported the New York Times.
Frustrated by the stonewalling of the police department and city prosecutors, Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, got in touch with lawyer Benjamin Crump two days after their son’s death and began organizing to demand Zimmerman’s arrest. They called on leaders of Black rights organizations and others to back their fight, pushed to get the case into the media, and took part in demonstrations from Florida to New York.
“If it was a Black man who had killed a white, he would be arrested and they would throw the whole jailhouse at him,” said Bernice Hawkins, in front of her home in Bookertown, an African-American neighborhood here.
More than 1,000 people from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, many on buses organized by churches or the NAACP, joined thousands of Sanford residents on the mile-long march. Health care workers with Service Employees International Union Local 1199 had a contingent that included members from South Carolina and Florida.
Residents of the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Goldsboro here took part in the action as it passed through. Some chanted from their yards, others joined the march.
“This is the first protest I have ever gone to,” said Vincent Lester, 38, an unemployed worker from Ocala. “The racism, the stereotypes. I felt compelled to come..”
Smear campaignA campaign to justify the lynching has sought to smear Martin’s image, painting him as dangerous. This has included digging up Facebook photos of Martin with gold teeth and tattoos and emphasizing the fact that he was suspended three times from his Miami high school, the last time for allegedly having marijuana residue in his backpack.
“I have tattoos. I have gold teeth. I’ve had ‘gangster’ pictures taken of me,” said Sanford resident and cosmetologist Leticia Sessions, 37. “So what? Does that mean someone can say I’m suspicious and shoot me?”
“This is a small town, but I have friends from all races,” Jeffrey King, 21, from Sanford said at the rally. “If Zimmerman had shot a white guy, someone who looks like me, I think he would be in prison..”
In the days leading up to the march, the controversy continued to deepen as Zimmerman’s brother and father, a retired magistrate judge for the Supreme Court of Virginia, took the offensive to claim that Martin was the aggressor.
ABC News reported March 27 that one Sanford police investigator wanted to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter, but was overruled by the State Attorney’s Office for the county.
In a police video released last week of Zimmerman as he arrived at the Sanford police station after the killing, Zimmerman showed no obvious evidence of cuts, bruises or blood on his clothes. But ABC TV broadcast a digitally enhanced video April 2, which appears to show a pair of welts on the vigilante’s head.
“They keep saying on the news that Zimmerman was afraid for his life,” Hanh-mari Watson, 13, told the Militant during the demonstration. Watson lives in the Retreat at Twin Lakes where Martin was killed. “If he was so afraid, why was he following Trayvon in the first place?”
Stand Your Ground lawTrying to calm down the continuing protests, the Sanford City Council March 26 named Darren Scott, a Black cop who has been on the police force for 23 years, acting police chief to take the place of William Lee, who announced he was temporarily stepping down, although he is still being paid. Lee came under fire after saying that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law prohibited Sanford police from arresting Zimmerman, because there was no evidence Zimmerman did not act in self-defense.
When worker-correspondents from the Militant asked about the new police chief the day before the march, five men at a barbecue in a mostly Black neighborhood just laughed. “They need to disband the whole police force and start all over,” said Calvin Donaldson, as the others nodded.
“When I was young, it used to be you couldn’t go into a store, and restaurants would only give you food through the window,” said Violet Robinson, 60, in Goldsboro, remembering the days of Jim Crow segregation. Schools were not desegregated in Sanford until 1970. “Things are a little bit better. You can use the store bathrooms now and our children go to mixed schools but they want to change that too.”
“What happened with Trayvon is nothing new,” said Joseph, a Black worker who declined to give his last name, when getting off first shift at an electronics plant outside Sanford. “We face it all the time. It’s part of what’s going on with everything else, police brutality, discrimination, unemployment..”
A handful of Caucasians were tense and would not talk about the case to the Militant. Others said they thought Zimmerman should be arrested.
Amanda Gross, 20, said that she has some doubts after seeing pictures of Martin with tattoos and reports of him allegedly boasting of being in fights. “But that’s no reason to shoot an unarmed kid,” she added.
“The police should have kept Zimmerman when they had him,” said Patricia Jackson, a waitress who is Caucasian. “There’s still a lot of racism.”
Florida Gov. Richard Scott named Angela Corey to prosecute the case, replacing the state attorney whose district covers Sanford and who recused himself. Corey is expected to decide soon whether or not to prosecute Zimmerman or send the case to a grand jury.
The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are also investigating the case.
“Everyone should have the same rights,” said Mary Hollingsworth, 59, a member of the United Auto Workers union at the Lockheed Martin aerospace plant near Ocala, during the march. Referring to lynchings that used to be common occurrences before the rise of the Black liberation struggle in the 1950s and ’60s, she said, “The world has changed. They can’t do it like they did back then anymore.”
“I worry that something like this could happen to my son,” said Ena Blake, a nurse originally from Jamaica. She lives in a predominantly Caucasian area, and often other residents “tell me to go around to security,” not believing she lives there.
Martin lived with his mother in the suburb of Miami Gardens. Earlier protests here included walk-outs by students at more than 30 high schools and a rally in the Black community of Liberty City. On March 28 more than 2,000 people marched through the Little Haiti neighborhood to protest.
More than 60 students marched from nearby Augsburg College. A bus from Mankato State University, 80 miles away. A group of youth brought signs demanding justice for Fong Lee, a 19-year old Hmong youth killed by a Minneapolis cop in 2006.
The flyer advertising the march included photos of Ramarly Graham, Sean Bell, Danroy Henry and Amadou Diallo—all Black males killed by the New York cops since 1999.
“My son died tragically the same way, he was unarmed,” Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarly Graham said at the event. “We can’t have our kids keep getting gunned down by police officers, and now civilians.”
Two protests in Omaha included a rally at the Malcolm X Center and a candle light vigil called by the Omaha Star, a Black Community newspaper.
An action in Lincoln March 31 marched from the Black community to the Nebraska state capitol.