Blog Post #1: Trayvon Martin & The Lives That Matter Around Him

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKeavZAgTdE

Just a few days ago on February 5th was Trayvon Martin’s Birthday, he would have turned 25 years old. However, as Americans are woefully reminded every year, his life was cut at the age of 17 when he was followed, shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida on February 26th, 2012.  His death sparked what many believe to be the beginning of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and quickly became one of the most racially-stained and polarizing trials since the likes of Rodney King and OJ Simpson. What I aim to accomplish in this blog is to highlight the laws surrounding Trayvon’s murder, the impact it has made on society, and the various forms of activism surrounding “____ Lives Matter”.

 

If you haven’t watched the video yet, now is a good time. One of the most striking facts of this case that has faded away with time is that Trayvon was being followed for a long period of time by Zimmerman against the will of law enforcement. Here’s a link to the transcript of his phone call with dispatch: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/326700-full-transcript-zimmerman.html .

Zimmerman continues to mention “something in his hands” they discovered skittles and an iced tea after Trayvon was murdered. The most telling portion of this phone call is Zimmerman’s statement “Okay. These assholes they always get away.” Once being made aware that Zimmerman was following Trayvon dispatch said, “We don’t need you to do that”.

 

History tells us that there is no guarantee that the situation would have ended any differently had Zimmerman stopped then and police found Trayvon alive, running, in the dark, with something in his hands. Nevertheless, this was not the case, police arrived to find Trayvon dead, Zimmerman alive, and no evidence of what happened after that call except for Zimmerman’s word. This is the crux of what is so baffling to many folks across the country and the world, a civilian took the law into his own hands, followed another civilian without just cause and murdered them—all while being protected by the Florida’s Stand Your Ground (SYG) law. No judge, no jury, just suspicion of guilt worthy enough to pursue—ultimately leading to execution in the name of self-defense.

 

SYG laws are a byproduct of intense lobbying by the National Rifle Association, built with the intention of widening the bounds of self-protection, allowing weapons to be used under looser guidelines. To rewind, the legal description of acting in self-defense followed the precedent that you, as the victim of aggression, have a duty to retreat until you can no longer retreat; only when retreating is no-longer an option may you then defend yourself (Vilos & Vilos, 2010). Following the introduction of the Castle Doctrine and SYG laws in 2005, the duty to retreat was removed, allowing individuals to act with aggression at the presumption of aggression. To go a step further, these laws expand the locations where self-defense is necessary from your home (or castle) to one’s vehicle, place of work, and in some cases, any place one has a legal right to be.” (Hoestra, 2012).

 

Another issue with SYG laws is the fact that now the police are unable to justify whether someone like Zimmerman acted unreasonably, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor. A study conducted by Mark Hoestra at Texas A&M collected homicide data across states that adopted these laws and analyzed the correlation below; blue represents the state(s) with SYG laws while red is a control group of states who did not.

 

Hoestra, (2012) Link: http://www.ncdsv.org/images/TAMU_Does-strengthening-self-defense-laws-deter-crime-or-escalate-violence_2012.pdf

 

These graphs show a substantial uptick in homicides in states where SYG laws were enabled. Numbers indicate that the increase was about 8%, an additional 600 homicides per year; furthermore, this spike was the largest divergence in homicide data between these two groups of states in 40 years. The case being made here is that SYG lowered the cost of using lethal force, increasing the prevalence of homicides. In other words, the circumstances that required lethal force have been reduced and individuals responded in kind.

 

Contrarily, SYG laws don’t protect all individuals—3 months after Trayvon was murdered, Marissa Alexander (a black woman) was convicted for aggravated assault when she fired a single warning shot in self-defense from her abusive then-husband. In Jacksonville, Florida Marissa was sentenced to a minimum 20 years; following a successful appeal she served nearly 6 years. Widespread activism pointed a spotlight on her case, foiled it against Zimmerman’s and uncovered a myriad of Florida laws that have been cited as “overcriminalization” including the minimum 10-20 years in prison Marissa was forced to serve.

 

To circle back to the main point of this blog post, Trayvon Martin’s homicide kickstarted a modern age of social activism that snowballed over the following years to become what is commonly referred to as the Black Lives Matter movement. A timeline can be found here: https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/1040691/Black%20Lives%20Matter%20Timeline%20.pdf?sequence=1

This outlines the sequence of events that lead to Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi’s creation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This became a rally cry for Black people to counter what they were seeing on television every day. BLM as a phrase existed for many Black folks to adopt in their own way, an umbrella term that existed to connect each other while displaying to the world “Our lives have worth, they have meaning, they deserve to be lived”.

It may be difficult for many to remember but there was a time in the early 20-teens where black death was excessively televised. Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe” screams followed by his death was cycled and recycled through social media, reporters recorded their pieces while Mike Brown’s body lied on the asphalt in the sun for hours in the background, bodycam, police car, and civilian footage of black people dying were released and pushed through televisions, computers, and smartphones at a near bi-weekly rate. Another body desecrated, another name to remember, another story that is tattooed on the brain of Black people, another cycle to see victims become criminals and criminals become martyrs.

 

In almost a call & response fashion, “allies” that didn’t want to seem as “radical” adopted the term “All Lives Matter”; a move that directly took the spotlight away from those names and the injustices that lead to their death. “All” then shifted to “Blue”, eventually becoming a shield to protect law enforcement but especially police officers who fired shots or choked or in some manner killed unarmed Black people and received little to no repercussions anyway. A movement that was created to protect victims of police brutality was co-opted and weaponized against the very same folks who were physically victimized in the first place.

 

Personally, Trayvon Martin’s life has a significant and intimate connection to my own. I turned 17—Trayvon’s age—four days before he was murdered. I didn’t just see Trayvon, I saw myself; a teenager with his whole life ahead of him, on the brink of starting the process to decide his own future. A kid who was bad at chemistry, liked the color orange, wanted to go to college, and most importantly, a Black child living in America—unaware of what the world has defined you as against your will. It’s one thing to know about racism, it’s another to know the fact that your life, no matter how you live it, is endangered BECAUSE or racism.

I sat there as my parents (immigrants themselves) fought with how to deliver this truth to me and my siblings,

“He looks black”.

I saw the media comb through his life for excuses to justify that he deserved to lose his life,

“he’s got something in his hands, I don’t know what his deal is”.

I argued online with my friends and classmates about how it didn’t have to end this way,

these assholes, they always get away”.

.     .     .    .   .   .

 

Trayvon’s death breathed life into so many activists today, his memory reminds me that this world was not built to protect me, his parents remind me that fighting can be a form of grief, not just sorrow. His death opened my eyes and ever since then it’s been his life that has given mine meaning. Happy Belated 25th Trayvon Martin, Rest In Power.

 

 

Vilos, James. D., and Evan John Vilos. 2010. Self-Defense Laws of All 50 States. Guns West Publishing.

 

Cheng C, Hoekstra M, Cunningham S, et al. Does Strengthening Self-Defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence? Evidence from Expansions to Castle Doctrine.

 

5 Replies to “Blog Post #1: Trayvon Martin & The Lives That Matter Around Him”

  1. I remember when this happened and the news coverage afterwards. I also remember being shocked and sad that George Zimmerman got away with it as well. The stand your ground law seems way to vague and up to interpretation which unfortunately only allows more people like Zimmerman to continue to be racist and get by with murdering people by calling it “self defense”. I really can’t wrap my head around how he could call it self defense when he was the one who followed Trayvon and confronted the teenager after being told not to. I also recently saw in the news that Zimmerman is now suing the Trayvon’s family as well as making a movie about the incident. I feel bad for the family who is once again being victimized by this man. Regardless of what Trayvon may or may not have been doing in Zimmerman’s preception, taking a young innocent life is something Zimmerman SHOULD feel bad about but instead he seems to want to profit off of a horrible situation. Furthermore the lawyer representing Zimmerman in this new case is clearly racist as shown from the long history he has had of suing black law makers and creating racist conspiracy theories. Another thing that came from this case that bothered me was when the Black Lives Matter movement started to get momentum, I started seeing a LOT of Blue Loves Matter bumper stickers. It felt like a complete disrespect for the discrimination that black people have faced over time. No one has ever said cops lives don’t matter but as history has shown, plenty of racist people have said black lives don’t matter which is why the black lives matter slogan was such an important statement to begin with. I know as a white woman I will never fully understand what it is like to be in constant fear just walking down a street in the U.S. but I really do hope that as more and more diversity and inclusion conversations take place, that the future generations will have it easier than the past generations one day.

  2. First of all, let me start by saying you have a great way of communicating your feelings and ideas and thoughts in such an elegant way and I enjoyed learning from this post.
    I was not very well educated on what sparked the BLM movement. I knew about the young black male who was murdered for no reason, but I did not know about the black female who killed her husband and was sentenced. The law applied to the white male, but not to the black woman, and that is frustrating and baffling to me. Like I had said in someone else’s post (I think Sam’s), there is this double standard when it comes to laws and ideals that it sickens me. We are supposed to be “ONE NATION. […] INDIVISIBLE WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.” But, truthfully, we are not. We are divided and we do not provide liberty and justice for all who DESERVE justice. Trayvon deserved justice, but he did not get it. He got away and then went on to SUE Trayvon’s family, as if it wasn’t enough as it was.
    Thank you for helping me to see another side of the stories and for sharing your personal connection to this story. I was under-informed about much of this issue, and I really only heard about the movement after it had already gained a lot of traction, so the source of the movement’s start was unclear to me. I also appreciate how you said “Rest In Power” instead of Rest In Peace. I think that was a powerful message in and of itself.

  3. When this happened, I was 3 months away from graduation. I went to a high school that had the IB program, but it wasn’t in the best part of town. When news of this broke out we had to go on lockdown for weeks because so many people were rioting in the streets/neighborhoods. On a regular basis, we as blacks are used to losing our lives to gun violence amongst our own people, (which is still not good but true), however, when news broke out about this, it echoed throughout the communities. This had struck a nerve in the black community.

    What bothered me the most about this trial was how he went from a young teen that just had skittles and an ice tea in his pocket to “oh he has smoked marijuana in the past”. They tried everything in their power to make it seem like he was a delinquent, a thug and deserved to be shot in cold blood. We see this more and more on the news when a black person is on trial they had to be doing something wrong, they will dig up that you stole a candy bar when you were 5 and that validates you being killed or in jail for life. But when a white person is caught red-handed for a crime, they can go on trial, cry a few tears, plead insanity, and will get 10 days probation. Yet we are supposed to have faith in the justice system. Why? When there is no justice for people of color/minorities. I see so many people on social media saying, “just comply with the cops are our friends”, but they don’t even realize that we comply and still get shot. If we look like we are in the wrong neighborhood the cops are called on us or worse we get shot. So when black lives matter came out I was shocked by how quickly it began to trend. Unfortunately, that was short-lived as we could no longer just say black lives, we had to encompass that all lives matter. Because they didn’t want to finally admit that America really is racist and does have a problem with those that have been marginalized by an oppressive power. They didn’t want to show that black lives were just as important as our white counterparts. No, we got brushed to the side once again and then the media had the audacity to then make it seem like we weren’t being considerate of everyone’s lives!
    Yes, this movement was able to truly showcase how racist America was and still is to this day. You would think we would learn but we still haven’t.
    I truly appreciate how you have written this article.

  4. This is a wonderful post. It is so sad that the beautiful life of a young man with a promising future would end that way. Nevertheless, we are encouraged to know that death could not silence him. His voice is still being heard through the movement (#BlackLifeMatter) that was spurred by this death and the conversation that ensued about police brutality and racial discrimination. Just like you said, his death has given rise to many of today’s activists and has been an inspiration to countless people. I still remember how his death forced President Obama to become more outspoken in the debate about racial discrimination. Here is some of Obama’s remarks about racial discrimination following George Zimmerman’s acquittal — “There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happened to me – at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.”
    His remarks highlight the discrimination African Americans face daily and remind me of my own experience as a black person.

  5. Another powerful post that enlightened me and answered some questions I had in mind but never had chance to look into. Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately racism is still the major issue in the states. However, I appreciate every movements people organize to stop it.
    In Blacksburg,I had a fearing night on July 4th 2017. My friend who is a Black girl ran the red light and I was in the car with her. She did it by mistake for sure as I witnessed but then we were pulled over. The car was a very old Texas plate car. We stopped in Squares parking lot and she was super nervous and scared. No lies I was scared too. However, we should be feeling secured when the cops are around but the feeling here is completely opposite. When she stopped the car, I looked around. 7 cops cars surrounded us in the parking lot and 2 more cars were blocking the entrance of the parking lot. I was feeling the pressure in a way that I questioned myself if we did something rather than running a red light. The cop was holding his hand light to my face. We had one police officer talking to my friend and another one was waiting next to my door and holding his light. I never felt this much nervous in my life before and I hope i wont feel it again. Since then I have seen many people who are pulled over in downtown/ campus area but I have never seen 9 cops cars at the same location.

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