Black Lives Matter: The Lost Life Of Trayvon Martin

This year marked the sixth anniversary of the teen’s death. Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. In the aftermath of his death, Trayvon’s life impacted many around him and his memory was the inspiration behind a huge civil rights movement led by African-American activists. A petition to charge Zimmerman received so many signatures it set a record for the website. Then a famous rapper got involved in Martin’s story, and Zimmerman threatened to hurt him. Read on to see how that played out…

The Gated Community Where Martin Died Was Crime-Ridden


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The Retreat at Twin Lakes is a gated community in Sanford, Florida. In the year prior to Martin’s death, police were called to the community over 400 times. There were one shooting and eight burglaries. Residents also reported that there were dozens of break-ins in the neighborhood, which frightened many of them. In September 2011, residents decided to start a neighborhood watch program to handle the criminal activities. George Zimmerman was appointed program coordinator. Zimmerman had contacted police on numerous occasions from 2004 to 2012 over various problems, including loud parties, potholes, and other disturbances. By 2011, many of his calls were related to criminal activity.

George Zimmerman Often Called Police On Suspicious People


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As the months passed, Zimmerman’s calls to police focused in on people he thought were suspicious. When asked, he would note their race, and all of them were black males. On February 2, 2012, he reported a man looking into the windows of an empty house. The suspect disappeared before police arrived. In another incident, workers saw two men hanging outside of a woman’s home in which a laptop and jewelry were stolen. The following day, police found the laptop in a young black man’s backpack. It was the same man Zimmerman had claimed was looking into windows on February 2nd.

Zimmerman Shot Martin After An Altercation


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On February 26th, Zimmerman was driving home when he saw a young man walking around in the neighborhood in the rain. Zimmerman called police on the non-emergency number, claiming he noticed a suspicious person in the neighborhood. He voiced his concern about recent break-ins. Zimmerman said the individual may have been on drugs, had one hand in his waistband, was wearing a dark hoodie, and was looking at homes. Zimmerman then told the dispatcher that the man was running. Zimmerman started following him, but the dispatcher told him he didn’t need to do that. Zimmerman hung up the phone at 7:15 p.m. and shot the teen 70 yards from where he was staying with his father’s fiancee.

Police & Paramedics Were Unable To Resuscitate


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Police arrived on the scene at around 7:17 p.m., just seconds after Zimmerman had an altercation with the young man. Zimmerman, who was licensed to carry a firearm, admitted to officer Timothy Smith that he had shot Trayvon. Officer Smith confiscated the weapon and handcuffed him. The officer noticed that Zimmerman’s back was wet and covered in grass. Zimmerman’s nose was bleeding, and so was the back of his head. Two other officers arrived on the scene and attempted to revive the teenager. Shortly after paramedics arrived and after doing CPR, they declared Martin dead at 7:30 p.m.

Was It Self-Defense?


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Zimmerman told police that he had yelled for someone to help him but no one did. He was taken to the Sanford Police Department, and investigators questioned him for about five hours. They also gave him a voice stress analysis to see if he was lying about the incident. He passed, which indicated he was probably telling the truth. Authorities kept his firearm, a Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm semi-automatic pistol, and his clothing. Zimmerman’s wife came to the station with some clothes and was allowed to take him home. At that point, police believed that Zimmerman had acted in self-defense.

Zimmerman Avoided Arrest Due To The Stand Your Ground Statute


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Zimmerman was not arrested for the killing of Martin due to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute. According to the police chief, Zimmerman was allowed to defend himself. Stand Your Ground means an individual can use force without backing off in order to protect and defend themselves and/or others. Citizens of the state are also allowed to use lethal force if they believe they are physically in danger. However, if a person is able to safely retreat from danger, he or she can not use a claim of self-defense. The day following the shooting, Zimmerman reenacted the incident on video for police.

Martin Was Initially Listed As A John Doe


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Martin had no ID on him, and his cell phone had malfunctioned, so police were unable to identify the body. He was taken to the morgue and listed as a John Doe. Two days later, his father, Tracy Martin, filed a Missing Person report early in the morning. Later that day, police were able to identify the teenager. The family pressed for an investigation. In March 2012, the state’s attorney office determined there was not enough evidence to charge Zimmerman for Martin’s death. They had concluded that Zimmerman had acted in self-defense based on the testimony he had given police.

Several Agencies Investigated The Case & Questioned Zimmerman’s Acquaintances


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In late March 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott tasked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with investigating the shooting. The Justice Department also announced it was looking into the incident, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation started its own investigation into the case. The FBI interviewed witnesses, checked out Zimmerman’s background, and looked to see whether Martin’s civil rights were infringed upon. In July 2012, Sanford Police Department’s lead investigator, Chris Serino, told the FBI he believed Zimmerman’s actions were based on Martin’s clothing, not his race. Neighbors and coworkers did not have anything negative to say about Zimmerman.

Witnesses Gave Conflicting Accounts About What Happened


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One witness claimed he saw Martin on top of Zimmerman punching him. He heard Zimmerman yell, “Help,” so he called 911. Other witnesses claimed they heard a young person and a young man in a scuffle, a gunshot, and then Zimmerman either straddling Martin on the ground or walking away. Another person said they saw the teen throwing punches at Zimmerman, but he was unsure which of the men was calling for help. Martin was on the phone with a friend moments before the incident, who said at Zimmerman’s trial that it was unclear who started the incident.

Zimmerman’s Family Went Into Hiding, Martin’s Family Drew National Attention To The Case


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Following the shooting, Martin’s father retained civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and two other lawyers. The team helped draw national attention to the incident in March 2012. It wasn’t long before protests started popping up, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. While the case was being investigated, Zimmerman’s wife and parents started receiving threats, so they went into hiding. Zimmerman lost his job due to safety concerns. In April, Zimmerman launched a website in which he asked for money to support his legal defense and for day-to-day living expenses. Under the advice of counsel, he did not include info about the shooting on the website.

Hoodies & Skittles Became Protest Symbols


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Martin’s mother created a petition for Zimmerman’s arrest, and over 2 million people signed it, making it’s largest petition in its history. Martin died wearing a hoodie, so many embraced the article of clothing as a symbol of the case. Several professional athletes, including Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James wore hoodies to pay tribute to the teen. At 7-Eleven Martin reportedly bought Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, so they too were used as protest symbols. Several teens at Florida high schools staged walkouts, and people around the nation attended rallies calling for Zimmerman’s arrest.

Prosecutors Charged Zimmerman With Second-Degree Murder


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In April 2012, prosecutors filed an affidavit of probable cause against Zimmerman that involved a second-degree murder charge. Prosecutors believed Zimmerman profiled Martin as he was walking to his father’s fiancee’s home from a nearby 7-Eleven. They believe Zimmerman thought Martin was a criminal and didn’t belong in the neighborhood. When Zimmerman called the dispatcher, he was told a police officer was on the way, and he should wait for him. Meanwhile, Martin was on the phone with a friend and told her a man was following him. Martin tried to run home, but Zimmerman followed him. Prosecutors believed Zimmerman followed Martin, ignoring the dispatcher’s request to stop his pursuit, and confronted him.

Zimmerman Publicly Revealed His Version Of What Happened In July 2012


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During an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Zimmerman told his version of the story. He said after the dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow Martin, he returned to his vehicle after determining where Martin had likely fled. He claimed Martin came back, confronted him, and punched him in the face. Zimmerman was knocked down, and Martin started hitting his head against the ground. Zimmerman said he yelled for help. While Martin was on top, the teen saw the gun and threatened to kill Zimmerman. Eventually, the two started struggling to get it. Zimmerman grabbed it and shot Martin in the chest.

Zimmerman Apologized For Taking Martin’s Life


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During his interview with Hannity, Zimmerman said he did not regret his actions. He really thought Martin was acting suspiciously in the rain because he walked between houses and didn’t look like he belonged there. Zimmerman also said he wished things had turned out differently. He explained: “I do wish there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life. I want to tell everyone, my wife, my family, my parents, grandmother, the Martins, the city of Sanford and America: I’m sorry that this happened. I’m truly sorry.”

Zimmerman’s Wife Served Probation For A Misdemeanor & Family Continued Fundraising


Zimmerman had a bond hearing on April 20th. His bail was revoked after prosecutors claimed Zimmerman did not disclose the funds he received from his personal website. He was released with a higher bail amount. His wife, Shellie Zimmerman, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor perjury in August 2012 and was sentenced to community service and one year of probation. Zimmerman and his parents continued to run websites in which they asked for donations to help with the legal defense. In January 2013, Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, also asked for money, claiming the case could cost up to $1 million.

Zimmerman Was Found Not Guilty


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Zimmerman’s trial started in June 2013 in Sanford, Florida. The jury found him not guilty on July 13th. One criticism was that prosecutors charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder, which required attorneys to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was guilty. With the evidence they had, it was very difficult for them to prove their case. Activists tried to get the governor to pass The Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act to repeal the Stand Your Ground law and outlaw racial profiling. In February 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice stated: “there was not enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution.”

The Verdict Prompted The Black Lives Matter Movement


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Just days after the verdict, President Barack Obama talked about the trial and race relations during a speech in the White House Press Room. He said he identified with the teen and that he too had endured racial profiling before he became a senator. People from more than 100 cities protested racial profiling and called for the repeal of the Stand Your Ground laws. After Zimmerman was acquitted of murder, a Facebook page inspired by the case featured the phrase “black lives matter.” It started a movement against racial profiling, racial inequality, and police brutality. The movement accelerated following the deaths of two African Americans in 2014.

Zimmerman Had Other Problems Following His Acquittal


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In September 2013, Zimmerman’s estranged wife claimed he threatened her and her father with a gun. The police didn’t press charges. Two months later, Zimmerman’s girlfriend claimed he pointed a shotgun at her. He was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon. The girlfriend later asked that charges be dropped, and eventually, prosecutors dropped the case. Zimmerman was arrested in 2015 for throwing a wine bottle at his ex. Charges were dropped after she recanted the story. In 2016, Zimmerman claimed a man punched him at a restaurant after he recognized who he was. That same year he was removed from a bar for yelling at a waitress.

Jay Z Produced A Trayvon Martin Docu-Series & Zimmerman Threatened To Beat Him


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In 2017, Jay Z produced a documentary series about Martin. Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story is based on the book Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin, by the teen’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. The film covers themes such as “race, politics, power, money, and the criminal justice system” surrounding Martin’s death as well as its aftermath. Zimmerman claimed a film crew trespassed on his property and he threatened the rapper. He told the Orlando Sentinel: “I would beat him as if I was Solange,” referring to the rapper’s sister-in-law punching him in an elevator.

Jay Z’s Response To Zimmerman’s Threat


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Zimmerman added in his rant against Jay Z: “And he would find himself coming out of the south side of a gator if he comes to Florida and bothers my family.” In March 2018, Jay Z hit back at the threats Zimmerman made last year in a song called “Top Off.” He raps on the track: “Meanwhile Georgie Porgie sinnin’ and sendin’ me threats. Save your breath, you couldn’t beat a flight of steps. Try that [expletive] with a grown man, I’ll kill that [expletive] with my own hand.” The tune was produced by DJ Khaled and was released on March 2, 2018.

The six-part documentary series is set to air July 2018 on the Paramount Network.