Forty-four days after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was gunned down while walking to his father’s home in Sanford, Fla., his killer, George Zimmerman, has finally been charged with second-degree murder. Florida special prosecutor Angela B. Corey announced the charge April 11.
Zimmerman, who has claimed the killing of the unarmed teen was in self-defense, appeared briefly in court today. The judge found “probable cause” and ordered Zimmerman to be held pending a May 29 formal arraignment.
Florida’s pro-vigilante Stand Your Ground law enables Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. A judge could dismiss the charge if prosecutors fail to show Zimmerman was the aggressor.
After Sanford police failed to arrest or charge Zimmerman, Martin’s family appealed to the public with a petition on change.org, which went viral, collecting more than two million signatures.
The killing and failure to charge Zimmerman has been widely seen as an example of racism and racial profiling. Zimmerman, who is a white Hispanic, allegedly profiled Martin because he was African American. Zimmerman called 911 saying Martin seemed suspicious. The 911 operator told Zimmerman not to pursue the teenager, but Zimmerman confronted Martin anyway.
Martin’s family expressed thanks upon hearing of the arrest.
“We simply wanted an arrest,” Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton said. “We wanted nothing more, nothing less, we just wanted an arrest, and we got it and I say thank you, thank you, God, thank you, Jesus.”
It was Fulton’s and the entire Martin family’s love and determination that sparked a mass movement for decency and justice for Trayvon. Millions signed petitions demanding an arrest; protests – including Million Hoodie marches – swept the country and went international. Most recently, some 50 college students, calling themselves Dream Defenders, marched 40 miles from Daytona Beach to Sanford and protested outside the Sanford police station, shutting it down.
“I want to speak from my heart to your heart. Because a heart has no color, it is not black, it is not white, it is red and I wanted to say thank you from my heart to your heart,” Fulton told the media.
Tracy Martin said the multiracial movement for justice, of which the family has found itself the center, is just the beginning.
“We got a long way to go, and we have faith,” he said.
“The first time we marched, I looked to the sky and said, ‘I will walk by faith,'” he said.
“We will continue to walk by faith. We will continue to hold hands on this journey, white, black, Hispanic, Latino, we will march and march until the right thing is done.”
The Martin’s family tragedy and subsequent struggle has awakened a nationwide anti-racist movement challenging the killings of unarmed young black men, in many cases by police officers, that plagues the country.
As charges were announced yesterday, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NAACP joined forces to challenge National Rifle Association-inspired Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and the other 24 states where they exist. Bloomberg said the “shoot first” laws have made the states – and nation – less safe, and in fact have done “real harm” to public safety.
The data is there to prove it, he said, which is why law enforcement officials oppose the laws.
“In reality, the NRA’s leaders weren’t interested in public safety but in promoting a culture where people take the law into their own hands and face no consequences for it. Let’s call it by its real name – vigilantism.”
The NRA had a powerful ally in its campaign to promote “vigilantism.” The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a far-right, well-funded group that aims to pass anti-union, anti-environmental and other reactionary legislation in state legislatures, is also behind the “shoot first” laws, according to ColorofChange.org.
The group’s executive director, Rashad Robinson, said the National Rifle Association and ALEC “exported Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to more than 20 states across the country, jeopardizing the safety of Americans nationwide.”
Photo: Protester holds candy and iced tea as a symbol of Trayvon Martin, who was returning from the store carrying the items when he was killed by George Zimmerman. Werthmedia // CC