Editor’s note: Jasmine Rand is an attorney with Parks & Crump, L.L.C., where she manages the firm’s Fort Lauderdale office and is head of its Civil Rights Division and is part of the team representing Trayvon Martin’s family. She is also an adjunct professor at Florida A&M University. She is on Twitter.
One year ago today, a bullet pierced 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s heart and the pulse of our nation.
When the general public initially learned of the tragic circumstances, a sense of outcry ensued as citizens struggled to reconcile the basic facts of the case with the law: George Zimmerman, 29, killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin — who was walking home from a 7-Eleven with Skittles and an iced tea, wearing a hoodie — because he looked “suspicious,” and the Sanford Police Department failed to arrest him. Throughout the past year, the controversy sparked continuous dialogue that evolved from a discussion on racial profiling, to an analysis of Stand Your Ground laws, and finally to a national examination of gun control and gun violence.
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University students initiated the discussion on profiling and captured the essence of the tragedy in a simple phrase, “I am Trayvon Martin.” On March 19, 2012, students rallied at the doorstep of the Sanford courthouse chanting, “I am Trayvon Martin.” The students demanded answers from prosecutor Norm Wolfinger. The protest ignited what became a national movement. By the end of the week, people all across the nation took Trayvon Martin’s cause on as their own regardless of race, nationality, or creed.
Friday, March 23, 2012, culminated in President Obama’s unforgettable statement, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” President Obama’s remarks served as one of the boldest statements made during the past year condemning racial profiling and the willingness of the American people to accept such an arcane practice (consistent with his record as a senator when he sponsored the End Racial Profiling Act).
The initial public outcry led to the release of the 911 tapes where the public heard cries for help, which many believe to be Trayvon Martin's. A seemingly supernatural force took hold of the nation as overwhelming support for Trayvon Martin mounted, and the world demanded the arrest of George Zimmerman.
Although the public perception shifted throughout the past year, it was Trayvon Martin who garnered international support — not George Zimmerman. From the clergy protesting in London, to the people in the Bahamas, to the reporters in Colombia, people on every continent made their position clear — hoodies up. With the world watching, state prosecutor Angela Corey announced her decision to charge George Zimmerman and arrest him for second-degree murder for the death of Trayvon Martin on April 12, 2012.
After Zimmerman’s arrest, public attention shifted from a debate on race and profiling to an analysis of Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws. SYG vigilantism infamously endows citizens with both a legal sword and shield: They allow a person to act as an initial aggressor and then cloak himself in a shield of victimhood by claiming that he subjectively feared for his life.
The national debate of SYG forced many states to examine whether to eliminate or modify the law, including Florida, which formed a task force headed by its lieutenant governor. The SYG law debate evolved into a universal examination of national gun control policies to help reduce senseless gun violence.
A few people heard the gunshot that killed Trayvon Martin as a call to end gun violence, but the notion did not gain much traction until after we heard the shots fired at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, the shots fired at Jordan Davis, the shots fired at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and most recently, the shots that claimed the life of Hadiya Pendleton. After this semiautomatic assault on our national conscience, Obama proposed a gun control package calling for congressional and executive actions aimed at eliminating senseless gun violence.
Although the Trayvon Martin case sparked national debate on race and profiling, Stand Your Ground laws and gun control, some questions remain unanswered one year later. Will George Zimmerman be convicted for the death of Trayvon Martin? Will states eliminate or modify Stand Your Ground laws? Will politicians enact gun control aimed at preventing senseless gun violence?
The answers to these questions will shape the sociopolitical landscape of our children’s futures. One thing is certain: Our nation has enough of its children’s blood on its hands.