TRAYVON MARTIN

September 7, 2020

Summary

Trayvon Benjamin Martin, born February 5, 1995, was a school student who lived in Miami Gardens, Florida, with his mother, Sybrina Fulton. In February 2012, Martin was visiting his father, Tracy Martin in Sanford, Florida, USA when he encountered George Michael Zimmerman. Zimmerman shot Trayvon dead within 15 minutes.

Trayvon had only been to Sanford a handful of times. His fateful walk to the convenience store for a bag of Skittles and an iced tea on the evening of February 26 happened only because the teenager pleaded to leave the apartment, said Horton.”The only reason he got a chance to go to the store is because he begged his dad to go,” he said. At the time, his father and his fiancée had gone out to dinner and to watch a basketball game, leaving Martin at the townhouse, according to Martin family spokesman Ryan Julison.While walking to the store, Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend, whom he had been talking to for over 6½ hours throughout the day, the family’s attorney said, citing phone records. The girl, who did not want to be identified, said she told Martin to run, but he refused, the family attorney said. 

“What are you stopping me for?” Martin asked a man later identified as neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, according to the girl.”What are you doing around here?” Zimmerman asked in response.The girl said she then got the impression that an altercation was taking place and that someone had pushed Martin, because the headset fell out of his ear, and the phone shut off. Moments later, Martin was shot and killed. The details of what happened are still murky. Zimmerman has said through his legal adviser that he acted in self-defense after Martin attacked him. The family disputes that, and witness accounts vary.

Sybrina told CNN that she believes Zimmerman “hunted my son like an animal.”

Trayvon

“I am Trayvon Martin” has become the catchphrase for protesters expressing solidarity with the slain Florida teenager and outrage over his killing. Even President Barack Obama declared, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.

He was a shy kid,” said family friend and former football coach Jerome Horton. “He didn’t want to be the center of attention; that’s just not him.”He always walked with his hoodie and his headphones,” recalled Horton. “If he wasn’t on the phone, he was listening to music — anyone that knows him knows that.”

Just like almost any other teenager, Martin enjoyed listening to music — R&B was his favorite — going to the movies and the roller rink with his friends, friends and family said. When Martin entered high school, his childhood goals of a career on the football field were replaced with his dreams of working with airplanes.”He just loves getting on planes,” said his father Tracy Martin.

During the summer of 2009, his parents — who separated when Martin was 11, but shared custody — enrolled their 14-year-old son in “Experience Aviation,” a nonprofit program in Opa-Locka, Florida, that introduces young people to aviation. The seven-week program is the brainchild of Barrington Irving, the youngest person ever — and the first black pilot too be given the opportunity — to fly solo around the world, a feat he accomplished in 2007 at the age of 23.

Irving remembered Martin as “a polite kid” who enjoyed flying.”When I first met Trayvon he had a strong interest in football. He reminded me of myself because I had a strong interest in football until I fell in love with aviation,” said Irving. After graduating from the program, Martin spent the following summer as a volunteer, assisting new students enrolled in the aviation program. 

During high school, Martin also volunteered his time at the concession stand at Forzano Park where he played football since age 5, on a team coached by Horton and his father. 

“He would literally go to school and from school he would go to the park to volunteer to maybe about 8, 9 o’clock and go home,” said Horton. “That was Trayvon’s day, his week.” 

Martin’s mother transferred him from Miami’s Carol City High School to Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, closer to her home.”He was doing average in school, a little bit better when he was at Carol City and then I had him transferred,” Sybrina Fulton said, according to the Miami Herald. “I thought Krop was a better school and I wanted a different environment for him. My oldest son has graduated from there.”In his junior year at Krop, Martin’s favorite subject was math, according to his father. “He was just an average student,” he said.

How events unfolded

On 26 February 2012, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain called 911 to report “a suspicious person” in the neighbourhood. The police operator instructed him not to get out of his SUV or approach the person. Zimmerman completely disregarded these instructions. Moments later, neighbours reported hearing gunfire. Zimmerman acknowledged that he had shot Trayvon, but claimed that it was in self-defense. Zimmerman had bleeding to his nose and the back of his head, according to police officer Timothy Smith who attended the scene.

On 27 February, 2012, Trayvon’s father, Tracy, filed a missing person’s report regarding the fact that his son hadn’t returned from going to the store the previous evening. Police show Martin a picture taken from the crime scene, and he confirms the deceased teenager shown in the picture is his son, Trayvon.

Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee informed Tracy on March 12, 2012 that Zimmerman has not been charged because there are no grounds to disprove his version of the event, that he acted in self self-defence. However, the following day on 13 March, 2012, Sanford Police Department’s homicide detective Christopher Serino recommends Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter. Zimmerman had “failed to identify himself” as a concerned citizen or neighborhood watch member on two occasions that night. Serino reports that he thought Zimmerman’s head injuries were “marginally consistent with a life-threatening episode, as described by him, during which neither a deadly weapon nor deadly force were deployed by Trayvon Martin.” As a result, on March 14, 2012, the case concerning Zimmerman was turned over to Florida State Attorney Norm Wolfinger.

George Zimmerman

The Zimmermans went to the media two days later. In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel on 15 March, 2012, Robert Zimmerman, George Zimmerman’s father, wrote that his son has been unfairly portrayed as a racist, and that he is Hispanic and grew up in a multiracial family. The next day, March 16, 2012, authorities released seven 911 calls from the night of the shooting. In one of the 911 recordings, Zimmerman, against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, follows Martin. In another, a voice screams “Help, help!” in the background, followed by the sound of a gunshot.

Possibly due to the public outcry, on March 19, 2012, the Justice Department and the FBI announced that they had launched an investigation into Trayvon’s extra-judicial killing. The next day, on 20 March 2012, the lawyer for the Martin family, Benjamin Crump, held a news conference, in which he told reporters that Trayvon was on the phone with his 16-year-old girlfriend at the time of the shooting. The girl, who wished to remain anonymous, said she heard someone ask Trayvon what he was doing and heard Trayvon ask why the person was following him, according to Crump. She then got the impression that there was an altercation in which the earpiece fell out of Trayvon’s ear and then the connection went dead. Benjamin Crump is a Florida-based Civil Rights Attorney, who would later be engaged by the families of Mike Brown, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Jacob Blake.

By 22 March, 2012, almost a month after Zimmerman’s summary execution of Trayvon, a petition on Change.org calling for the arrest of Zimmerman, created by the parents of Trayvon, surpassed 1.3 million signatures. On the same day, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced that he was stepping down “temporarily” as head of the department, which had been heavily criticized for its handling of the fatal shooting. Later that day, Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed Angela Corey of the 4th Judicial Circuit as state attorney in the investigation, replacing Wolfinger.

23 March, 2012, saw President Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time on the growing controversy over Trayvon’s shooting, saying that the incident requires national “soul-searching. With no arrest and no charges in the case on the horizon, on 26 March 2012, a month after Trayvon Martin’s death, rallies took place in cities across the USA, including in Sanford, Florida, where the City Commission held a town hall meeting on the incident and its aftermath, at which Trayvon’s parents spoke.

 Zimmerman’s father turned to the media again on March 28, 2012, appearing on television to say that just turned 17 year old unarmed Trayvon had threatened to kill his armed 29 year old son and then beat him so badly that Zimmerman was forced to shoot, in fear of his life. In a further effort to sway public opinion and influence any jury that might be empanelled in the future, on 29 March, 2012, Zimmerman’s brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., appeared on CNN and said that medical records would prove that his brother was attacked and his nose was broken by Trayvon before he fatally shot the teen. The besmirching of Trayvon’s character had begun, as though he had no right to defend himself when being followed by a white man with a gun.

Four days later, on 2 April, 2012, FBI agents interviewed Trayvon’s girlfriend who was on the phone with him shortly before the fatal confrontation. The media were briefed again the following day on 3 April, 2012, with Zimmerman’s legal adviser, Craig Sonner, saying that criminal defense lawyer Hal Uhrig would represent Zimmerman and that Sonner would serve as co-counsel if the case were to proceeds.

7 & 8 April, 2012 saw Zimmerman launch a website including a link through which donations could be made to pay for Zimmerman’s lawyers and living expenses. On 9 April, 2012 Corey announced that she would not present the case to a grand jury.

By 10 April, 2012, Attorneys Uhrig and Sonner announced that they had lost contact with Zimmerman and no longer represented him. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on 11 April,2012. His new lawyer, Mark O’Mara, told CNN that Zimmerman had turned himself in.

On 20 April, 2012 Zimmerman’s bond hearing was held. Judge Lester set Zimmerman’s bond at $150,000. During the hearing, Zimmerman apologized to Trayvon’s family for the loss of their son. He was released on bail 3 days later on 23 April, 2012 and entered a written not guilty plea and waives his right to appear at his arraignment. On 15 May, 2012, a medical report by Zimmerman’s family doctor, taken a day after the shooting, shows Zimmerman was diagnosed with a fractured nose, two black eyes and two lacerations on the back of his head.

By 1 June, 2012, Judge Lester revoked Zimmerman’s bond and ordered him to surrender within 48 hours after the prosecution argued that Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie Zimmerman, had misrepresented their finances when Zimmerman’s bond was originally set in April. On 3 June, 2012, Zimmerman surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. 6 days later, Zimmerman’s wife was arrested and charged with perjury.

A judge set Zimmerman’s bond at $1 million on 5 July, 2012 and the following day he was released from jail after posting the required 10% of the $1 million bond. 12 days later on 18 July, 2012, Zimmerman, appearing on Fox News’ “Hannity” show, gave his first television interview since the shooting, saying he would not do anything differently.

Apparently in error, on 9 August, 2012, a photo of Martin’s body and Zimmerman’s school records were mistakenly released by prosecutors. Special Prosecutor Corey’s office issued a statement asking reporters to “please disregard and do not use the information contained in the initial e-mail. It was inadvertently attached.”

On 7 December, 2012,  Zimmerman sued NBC Universal claiming that they had edited the 911 call he placed on the night of the tragic event. He stated in the lawsuit that NBC unfairly made it appear that “Zimmerman was a racist, and that he was racially profiling Trayvon Martin.”

The following year on 9 February, 2013, The Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation hosted a “Day of Remembrance Community Peace Walk and Forum” in Miami. It takes place four days after what would have been Martin’s 18th birthday. On 5 April, 2013, Trayvon’s parents settled a wrongful-death claim against the homeowners’ association of the Florida subdivision where their son was killed.

Finally on 24 June, 2013, 16 months after Trayvon was murdered the trial of Zimmerman began with an all-female jury. 20 days later on 13 July, 2012 the six-woman jury found Zimmerman not guilty. They had three choices: find Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder; find him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter; or find him not guilty. The jurors deliberated for more than 16 hours before reaching their verdict.

Aftermath

Shellie Zimmerman, the wife of George Zimmerman, pleaded guilty on 28 August, 2013, to a misdemeanor charge of perjury. She was placed on probation for one year, required to perform 100 hours of community service, and ordered to pay court costs. She was also required to file a letter of apology within 30 days to Judge Kenneth Lester, who presided over her husband’s case at the time the perjury was committed.Prosecutors said Shellie Zimmerman lied when she told Lester during an April 2012 bond hearing for her husband that the family was indigent. In fact, they said, George Zimmerman actually had about $135,000 at the time. Recorded jailhouse phone calls between the couple caught the two speaking in code about their finances. By pleading guilty to a lesser charge of perjury not in an official proceeding, she avoided the original third-degree felony offense — perjury during an official proceeding which placed her at risk of a prison sentence.

In 2014, The Trayvon Martin Foundation, a social justice organization, was established on the campus of Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, Florida.

On 17 May 2013, Zimmerman accused Trayvon’s parents of profiting from his death.

“Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin did everything they could to capitalize on her son’s death,” Zimmerman told the Daily Beast. “They didn’t raise their son right. He attacked a complete stranger and tried to kill him.”

The same day, he sold the gun with which he used to murder Trayvon for $139,900, saying that part of the proceeds from the sale would be used to, “fight BLM [Black Lives Matter] violence against Law Enforcement officers, ensure the demise of Angela Corey’s persecution career and Hillary Clinton’s anti-firearm rhetoric”. He had placed the murder weapon for sale on a website and the accompanying words for the advert said, “Many have expressed interest in owning and displaying the firearm including the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC. This is a piece of American history. It has been featured in several publications and in current university textbooks.”

 On 5 December 2019, Zimmerman filed a $100 million lawsuit against Trayvon’s parents. The chief allegation in the lawsuit is that Trayvon’s parents’ attorney, Benjamin Crump attorney helped to swap out a reluctant witness, Brittany Diamond Eugene, for her half-sister, Rachel Jeantel, and helped prepare her to deliver false testimony. The suit accuses Trayvon’s parents, prosecutors and state authorities of going along with the alleged ruse.

On September 6, 2020, Tennis player Naomi Osaka wore a Trayvon Martin mascot warm-up and pre-match events at the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the US Open. Naomi beat Anett Kontaveit to advance to the quarter-finals.

Sources: CNN, The Guardian, The Daily Beast

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