Written by Julian Kimble (@JRK316).
(Scroll down for the most recent updates in the case.)
Above, that's 17-year-old Trayvon Martin of Miami.
He lived the typical life of a high school junior, playing sports and planning for college. He was researching schools like Florida A&M University, Bethune Cookman, and the University of Central Florida to pursue his dream of becoming an aviation mechanic. This will never come to pass.
Martin was visiting relatives in Sanford, Florida, on February 26 when he was fatally shot by 28-year-old George Zimmerman after leaving a local 7-Eleven. Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch, called local police before the shooting to report Martin's "suspicious activity."
Though a 911 dispatcher told Zimmerman that police would respond and directed him not to pursue Martin, he continued. Zimmerman eventually confronted Martin—with a loaded 9 millimeter handgun. A struggle ensued, which other residents called the police to report. By the time authorities arrived, Martin was dead just 70 yards from the house where he was staying, killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Zimmerman was detained, questioned, and released. He explained that he was acting in self-defense, that he was legally permitted to carry the weapon he was armed with. Martin, on the other hand, was armed with a pack of Skittles and an iced tea.
The 911 calls from the night Zimmerman shot Martin were recently released. We understand if you don't have the stomach to listen, but here's an important moment from the second call, where Zimmerman explains his "logic":
There's a real suspicious guy. ... This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something. It's raining, and he's just walking around, looking about. ... Now he's coming towards me. He's got his hand in his waistband. ... Something's wrong with him. He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what he's doing. ... These assholes, they always get away.
The other 911 tape includes the sound of Martin screaming in pain, as well as the shot that killed him. Neighbors have also said they heard Martin crying, pleading for his life before the gunshot.
Zimmerman has been described as a "loose cannon" who "had called police numerous times to report incidents" in the months prior to the shooting. His record was initially reported as "squeaky clean," but it was revealed that he was arrested in 2005 for resisting arrest and battery of a law enforcement officer.
What was it that made Martin seem so suspicious? Could it have been the presence of a black teenager wearing a hoodie in the gated, predominantly white Retreat at Twin Lakes community? Zimmerman's father, George, described his son as a "Spanish-speaking minority with many black family members and friends," who "would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever."
Trayvon Martin's death speaks to the heightened sense of awareness that black males must carry. Realizing that you may be deemed "suspicious" or "fit the description" is too heavy a burden. Trayvon Martin was a son, sibling, student, and athlete—the only description he fit was that of a common teenager.
Martin was buried on March 3. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested or charged, but Martin's murder has been presented to the FBI. Martin's parents have started a petition and a rally was planned for today in Sanford.
More on this as it develops.
UPDATE: Listen to this footage from one of Zimmerman's calls. It's difficult to discern, but it does sound like Zimmerman mutters "fucking coons" under his breath around the 2:21 mark.
New information emerged today, as a 16-year-old girl—who was on the phone with Martin moments before he was shot—recalled the final moments of his life today at a press conference held by the Martin family attorney, Benjamin Crump:
"He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man," Martin's friend said. "I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run."
"Trayvon said, 'What, are you following me for,' and the man said, 'What are you doing here.' Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn't answer the phone."
The girl's phone records (last image) show that she was on the phone with Martin just before his death. They also refute Zimmerman's claims that Martin was the aggressor.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice released a statement last night saying that its Civil Rights Division and the FBI will investigate Martin's death. Zimmerman remains free, but hopefully a grand jury can bring justice to the situation.
UPDATE: Following intense criticism, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee has temporarily stepped down. Lee continues to defend his department's investigation, but believes he has become a "distraction" to it.
This remains a far cry from the justice the public is seeking.