A year after his death, Trayvon Martin — the Miami teen who was shot and killed inside a gated community in Sanford, Florida one year ago Tuesday — has come to symbolize many things: the fear black mothers have for their sons as they go out into the world, confronting police, or others who deem them suspicious; the fight over “stand your ground” and gun laws; or the wariness many African-Americans have for police, who many believe treat black victims of crime with less respect. But it is the question of what Trayvon Martin actually looked like, that final day of his life, which could become a central issue in the trial of the man who killed him.
George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin after a violent confrontation inside the Retreat at Twin Lakes last February 26th, says he spotted “a real suspicious guy” who looked “like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something,” and appeared to be in his “late teens,” according to the 911 call he made that night. Zimmerman says that the person he saw eventually attacked him, and that he shot Martin in self-defense.
In making that case, Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, has tried to focus attention away from the family photos released by Martin’s grieving parents: Martin smiling with his father, Tracy Martin; the teen on a skiing trip, or hugging his mother, Sybrina Fulton, saying in many cases those photos are years old — and that in any event, they don’t represent who Trayvon Martin was on the night Zimmerman spotted him. But it is two photos: one of Martin wearing a red t-shirt, and the now-iconic black and white picture of Martin wearing a hoodie — similar to the grey sweatshirt he was killed in, that O’Mara says have created an unfair and false representation of who Martin was on February 26, 2012.
The red t-shirt photo was taken in August of 2011, when Martin was 16 years old, according to Martin’s parents and their attorney, Ben Crump. Martin would have turned 18 this February 5th. O’Mara says that a truer representation of Martin on the night he died was the one captured by a security camera at the 7-11 where he purchased the candy and iced tea that were found near his body.
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“There are obvious differences found when comparing the photo of Trayvon in the red t-shirt, with more recent photos of Trayvon released by his family, and the 7-11 security footage of Trayvon the night of the shooting,” O’Mara wrote on GZLegalCase.com, the website devoted to the Zimmerman defense, in response to a series of articles on the case — and the varying images of Martin – by Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart. “On the surface, it seems like a ridiculous pursuit to note the difference between these photographs, but here is the important distinction: it is lunacy to think that the ‘fresh-faced’ boy in the red T-shirt could successfully physically assault George Zimmerman — which is George’s claim, and it is no stretch to believe that the young man pictured in the 7-11 security footage could.”
O’Mara calls the 7-11 image, which shows Martin at the counter, his hoodie over his head, making his purchase, “the most relevant photo of all, not because it makes him look anything other than what he was,” and he has no reservations about using it as part of his legal case.
“People have gotten upset, saying that I’m trying to demonize Trayvon for being who he [was],” O’Mara told theGrio on Monday. “Well we’re not. But if in fact we are going to look at a comparison of the personalities, which everyone has now done, and continues to do. You know, did George have inappropriate sexual contact with his six year old cousin when he was seven? That’s everywhere. Was he a punk because he got into a fight with a cop, and the charges were dropped? That’s all over the place. So the reality is, we are doing some comparison of the two, and it is a reality, that person who’s on that 7-11 video, I resist a suggestion that that’s demonizing Trayvon. That is exactly who Trayvon was that night.”
The Martins on Tuesday released two new photos of Trayvon to theGrio — both taken on February 18, 2012, eight days before he died. The photos show Martin riding a horse, and posing with family members at his mother’s birthday party. The family is adamant that nobody, including O’Mara, can make a judgment about what their sons look like, except them.
“How would he know what Trayvon looked like?” Fulton asked regarding O’Mara on Tuesday, after her attorney, Ben Crump, showed her the newer photos and prepared to forward them.
O’Mara said he joins those who have denounced blogs and websites that have posted fake pictures purporting to be Trayvon, including pictures of a young man wielding a gun, and a picture of rapper The Game, who is 28 years old and covered in tattoos. But he dismisses any suggestion that his vigorous defense of Zimmerman, including pointing to that 7-11 security camera footage, has played into the hands of those in whom the case has, in his words, brought out the worst.
“Now people come in and say, oh well you make him look like a thug,” O’Mara continues. “No. You’re just making him look that way because you think he looks like a thug. No. That is the person who my client spied, and focused on. Good, bad or indifferently, that’s who he is, and who he was.”
And the attorney doesn’t shy away from the other portrayals of Martin in court, which he says are part of his obligation to provide a fulsome defense of his client.