Ben Crump, politicians reflect on impact of Trayvon Martin’s death and legacy 10 years later
EXCLUSIVE: Crump, who served as the attorney for the Martin family, and U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson spoke exclusively to theGrio. President Obama also shared remarks on Twitter.
Ten years later, the fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin remains an unforgettably tragic American story.
On Feb. 26, 2012, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman chased down and killed Martin, an unarmed Black teen wearing a hoodie in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. He notably had only a bag of Skittles and iced tea in his possession.
The shocking killing made national headlines and shook the globe. A decade later, the name Trayvon Martin has become synonymous with the broader social justice movement for Black lives, as he became a martyr in the ongoing trend of what activists and elected officials have called a modern-day era of lynchings of Black men and boys.
Trayvon Martin’s story gained national momentum when then-President Barack Obama recognized the commonality of the moment as a Black man in America. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Obama said when asked about the case in the White House Rose Garden in March 2012.
The media was miffed by Obama’s comments at the time, though it was obvious to others, particularly in the Black community, what the then-president meant. President Obama would clarify his remarks a year later after the ruling in the Zimmerman murder trial that found him not guilty.
“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” said Obama during a press briefing. “And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here. I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
President Obama spoke out on the 10th anniversary of Trayvon’s death on Saturday, tweeting, “It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Trayvon Martin was killed. Leading up to this anniversary, I reflected on what his death meant to me as president, as a Black parent, and as a Black man—as well as what it meant for our country.”
The tweet included a New York Times Opinion video featuring Obama reflecting on Trayvon’s death as “the thing we fear most” as parents. “Then when you found out the circumstances, I responded specifically as a Black parent and as a Black man.”
“The idea that this teenager who was walking down the street could be considered so threatening that a private citizen could initiate a confrontation resulting in that teenager’s death,” said Obama, who said he could have easily been Trayvon as a teenager. “Maybe the only thing that separated us was luck.”
U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida represented the district where Martin was killed. “The murder of Trayvon Martin by Mr. Zimmerman started a movement throughout this country. It generated Black Lives Matter and other organizations,” U.S. Rep. Wilson told theGrio.
The congresswoman lamented that ten years after Trayvon Martin’s young life was cut short, Black boys and young men continue to be killed by police and white vigilantes.
“Even with that, even with America standing up and saying, we won’t take any more. And after all of that, all of this movement and fighting and protesting and calling out our issues. Black boys are still murdered, still profiled like animals in the street. So I don’t have a good report card for America today. I wish I did,” she said.
Congresswoman Wilson was moved by the highly publicized murder case in her district. “I went to the floor every day, at least 15 days, making a speech saying that Mr. Zimmerman should be arrested [and] egging the officers and people in Sanford, Florida, to bring Mr. Zimmerman to trial and still they brought it to trial, but they found him not guilty,” Wilson recalled.
Zimmerman’s acquittal was largely due to Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law and his defense that he feared for his life.
Harvard Professor Caroline Light has examined the controversy over the Stand Your Ground law, but particularly dived into the issue after Martin’s killing. Light told theGrio that “there are several scholars who have framed Stand Your Ground laws as a solution looking for a problem. In other words, we already have self-defense laws that protect people who reasonably use force to defend themselves from a forceful threat. Stand Your Ground laws take away the duty to retreat in any space where a person can legally be.”
She added, “I feel like in this case, both Trayvon’s race, as well as his gender, played a factor. So the fact that he’s a young Black [teen] played a significant role in framing this notion of reasonable fear. So that George Zimmerman could reasonably claim that he was fearful and positioned himself as a victim rather than as a perpetrator of aggressive armed violence.”
The case also brought now famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump into national prominence. Crump, who served as the Martin family’s attorney, told theGrio exclusively, “It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years. How far have we come in America’s quest for equal justice under the law? How far have we come for our quest to achieve racial justice in America?”
Trayvon Martin is part of a long line of deadly stories of Black men and boys. A recent highly publicized case similar to his was the case of Ahmaud Arbery. Unlike Martin’s killing in 2012, the three white vigilantes involved in Arbery’s murder were convicted in November and sentenced to life earlier this year. Crump represented the family of Ahmaud Arbery.
“Ahmaud Arbery we saw in the Deep South in Brunswick, Georgia, that a jury of 11 white people and one Black person convicted the three-member lynch mob who legitimized arbitrary jogging while Black,” Crump told theGrio. “And so that tells us we are making progress, but we have such a long way to go because for those three convictions, we can give you 30 that there was no accountability that was just as horrendous.”
Crump added, “We have seen in recent months with the conviction of Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd was a significant proclamation. We saw with the conviction of Officer Kimberly Potter for killing Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota when she claimed she pulled her taser and pulled a gun and shot him in the chest also convicted.”
Despite recent cases of Black killings that resulted in convictions, Crump described this moment as a “journey to justice.”
“We can take a couple of steps forward, but like any journey, you have to step back. But when I think of Trayvon Martin, I just think about how we have to keep our eyes on the prize because, without Trayvon Martin, I don’t know if we would have got a conviction for George Floyd,” said Crump. “And so that is part of Trayvon Martin’s legacy. He raised a consciousness level in the United States of America to the plight of marginalized people of color.”
The story of Trayvon is being told by his mother Sybrina Fulton who has continued to hold up the name of her son. In 2012, she established the Trayvon Martin Foundation with Trayvon’s father Tracy Martin. Fulton is featured in an exclusive interview with Gayle King for the ten-year anniversary of his death on CBS Saturday night.
During a preview of the exclusive interview, Fulton told King, “The pain is still fresh, the hurt is still fresh, the disappointment and sadness is still fresh. So it seems like it happened recently and I have to remind myself that it’s been 10 years.”
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