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The Death of Trayvon Martin


The shooting death of unarmed, 17-year-old Florida resident Trayvon Martin allegedly by neighborhood block captain George Zimmerman, and the subsequent inactions of law enforcement officials in Sanford, Fla., about investigating the case, have had a profound impact on America.

The impact is evident from rallies of thousands in Sanford, to the “Million Hoodie” march in New York, to “hoodie Sunday” in nationwide churches last Sunday, to demonstrations on college campuses including Howard, (D.C.) Clark Atlanta University, Paul Quinn (Texas), to the simple yet powerful reality of a young woman returning from a downtown Los Angeles rally on the bus and wearing a T-shirt with Martin’s photo with a can of Arizona ice tea and bag of Skittles sitting on the seat beside her.

But according to Hope M. Hill, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Howard University, she has seen the impact take an unexpected turn.

“There are 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds who are questioning and making comments like ‘will they shoot me; could they shoot me,’” said Hill, who specializes in looking at the impact of violence and trauma on the community, especially children.

“I’m hearing more third- and fourth-graders with more questions and concerns about their own safety.”

Typically Hill said children this age would not even be paying attention to the news to hear about such happenings. But they are hearing people talk about it and seeing it on the news.

In fact, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the increased volume of news that children are now exposed to–television channels and Internet services and sites which report the news 24 hours a day, detailed and repetitive visual coverage of natural disasters and violent acts for example–can lead to a greater negative impact such as youth questioning their safety and whether they could become a victim.

Hill says the impact has not been as dramatic on teens and pre-teens, because in many cases they, especially Black boys, have been schooled on what to do, and what not to do. This is especially true, when the police pull them over.

“However, all the circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martins’ death raise so many questions that it is a cause for a lot of concern and unsettling questions that we are going to need to address with our young children.”

While she hesitated to apply her comments to all Black children, Hill speculates that the reasons why the Martin case has drilled down so far into the psyche of young children is . . . . “One of the expectations is that someone is going to be found and arrested, someone will have to answer to the criminal justice system. For them in a very concrete way, kids are taught that there are consequences to every action. When you commit even some small infraction, there are consequences,” continued Hill. “This young man’s life was taken away in a flash and no one was arrested. There was no normal procedure of a basic toxicology report (on Zimmerman), even though there was one on Trayvon.”

This, noted Hill, underscores what many people have been talking about for years–that the value of young African American men is simply less than others. Their lives are not taken as seriously.

The long-term impact of this case is that “just because we have a Black president in the White House doesn’t mean that race is no longer important. It’s very telling to me to have the president speak about it.

“Racism is more than just perception, feelings and sensitivities. Bottom line racism is about power and access to privilege and resources. Until the people who have it are willing to share, racism is going to still be an issue,” added the scholar, whose research interests include race, media, and cultural studies.

He is also the father of two 14-year-old sons, who themselves often wear hoodies.

Hunt compares the Martin killing to the beating of Rodney King and notes that because of the whole image and perception of the Black male as threatening and menacing, the police and others can mete out their own punishment because they “fear for the their lives.”

Despite the painful death of Martin, Hill believes some positive things will come out of the case.

“I think some serious discussion and revisiting of the issue of discrimination and bias and some of the negative expectations about African American men will happen–and certainly the Stand Your Ground laws. They are now looking at the other 20 states that have these laws and really questioning.”

Both Hill and Hunt point out that unfortunately what happened to Martin is not new. Other people’s perceptions and beliefs about the menacing nature of African American boys, and increasingly Black girls, has led to injury or even death.

Locally the cases of 19-year-old Tyisha Miller, 13-year-old Devin Brown, and 15-year-old Latasha Harlins echo the Florida killing and are examples to note.

By Cynthia E. Griffin
OW Managing Editor

Trayvon Martin: Boyz in the hoodies

By Juliana Norwood
OW Staff Writer

As the Trayvon Martin case continues to unfold, two diametrically opposed camps are attempting to sway public opinion.

On the one hand are those who see the shooter George Zimmerman as a good citizen simply “standing his ground”; on the other are those who think he went out of his way to harass and perhaps murder a young Black man.

The Orlando Sentinel recently reported that the Sanford police have called Zimmerman’s account of the altercation between him and the slain 17-year-old teenager consistent with evidence that has been turned over to the prosecution.

Most telling, however, is a Sanford police video obtained exclusively by ABC News Wednesday, showing Zimmerman arriving handcuffed in a police cruiser the night that Martin was killed.

The video shows no blood or bruising on Zimmerman, who claimed Martin punched him in the nose, knocked him down and slammed his head on the ground. The initial report said Zimmerman was bleeding from the back of the head and nose.

Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, is a retired Orange County magistrate (judge) who resides just outside the town of Sanford, where Martin was killed.

According to reports, the elder Zimmernan recently wrote to the Sentinel in defense of his son, asking that the public not jump to conclusions. He insists that his son did not follow Martin as he walked through the gated community.

“He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever,” according to the letter. “The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth. At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event become public, and I hope that will be soon, everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media.”
On the other hand, many others might be outraged by the fact that 28-year-old Zimmerman has three felony-type cases that have been mysteriously closed. He was previously charged with domestic violence, resisting an officer without violence and resisting an officer with violence. All the charges were dropped.

In spite of the arrests, Zimmerman was licensed to carry a 9-mm handgun.

T. Smith was the first officer to arrive at the scene of the shooting, according to the police report. He took Zimmerman into custody. A part of Smith’s report reads:

“I then noticed that there was, what appeared to be a Black male wearing a gray sweater, blue jeans, and white/red sneakers laying face down on the ground. The black male had his hands underneath his body. I attempted to get a response from the black male, but was met with negative results. At that time. Sgt. Raimondo arrived and attempted to get a pulse on the black male but none was found. At that time, Sgt. Raimondo and I turned the black male over and began CPR. Sgt. Raimondo did breaths and I did chest compressions.”

Interestingly, Raimondo was tied to an alleged police cover-up in 2010, when Justin Collison, the son of a Sanford police lieutenant, punched a homeless Black man, but was not arrested.

Raimondo didn’t press charges at the advice of his superiors and nothing was done until video of the incident surfaced on Youtube and local news outlets brought more media attention to the incident.

A month passed before Collison was arrested and charged. That incident led to the retirement of former Sanford Police Chief Brian Tooley and a subsequent investigation into the department’s conduct.

Zimmerman’s mother is Peruvian, which may explain why the term Hispanic has been used to counter the perception that the shooting of Martin might have been a racist act.

Here are some observations of Sanford police conduct from Harry C. Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, who writes in his column, Beyond the Rhetoric:

“First, they showed no regard for the family of Trayvon. Here is a corpse of a teenager with his cell phone in his pocket. They made no attempt to locate his family, which could have been done in minutes via the cell phone. It wasn’t until his father called police that they informed the family.
“Secondly, they took the shooter’s word on what happened. Whenever a policeman shoots an individual his weapon is taken for testing; he is given a blood alcohol and drug test and then he is assigned to desk duty until a thorough investigation is completed. Sanford police took his weapon, but did nothing else. In fact, they performed a drug test on Trayvon for some reason.

“There are a lot of things that don’t add up. Why was this watchman following Trayvon, who was walking directly home from a convenience store? The watchman’s 911 call sounds like someone drunk, but yet they never test him. He weighs more than 100 pounds over Trayvon’s weight, but yet he says Trayvon was beating him up.

“The police ignore the claims of Trayvon’s girlfriend, whom he called claiming a person was following him. They need to do a run on the shooter’s weapon to see if it has been used in other shootings. Why haven’t they begun a grand jury investigation? Why isn’t there an autopsy done on Trayvon? That might show the entry of the bullet and if he was shot lying on the ground as opposed to attacking the watchman.

“This is a pure tragedy, but there is more to it than the great loss suffered by the Martin family. It is the reminder that Black young men are at risk whenever they intermingle in the same environment as policemen or guards. Emmett Till, Rodney King and now Trayvon Martin are just a few reminders that if you are a parent of a Black male, you have much to fear.”

The Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where the tragedy occurred was supposed to be a safe secluded place where families could plant roots and raise their children. That was the intent in 2004, when construction began on the 263 two-story townhouses. The complex was complete with a community pond, clubhouse, pool, and pass code entry gate to keep out strangers and danger.

Zimmerman, who moved into the community in the summer of 2009, was no stranger to the 911 dispatchers. Records show that almost as soon as he moved in he began calling to report suspicious activity ranging from bikers popping wheelies, to neighbors leaving their garage doors open. He called the police just about every time he saw someone he assumed didn’t belong. Over the course of the time he lived in the community, his 911 call transcripts filled nearly 30 pages.

The problem is, with the change in the economy and the effect it had on the housing market and the increase in foreclosures, it was suddenly more difficult to know who belonged in the neighborhood and who didn’t. When the community began renting properties, new residents came in and old residents left out. Martin had visited the neighborhood numerous times before to play football with the other youth in the community.

After a few break-ins happened at Twin Lakes, Zimmerman’s calls seemed to zero in on Black males engaging in “suspicious activity,” although the races of the burglars weren’t determined.
Nevertheless, Zimmerman’s vigilante actions have shaken the once peaceful community where now, even with their great wall, many residents fear for the safety of their own children.