Grand Jury to be Convened April 10
Since she learned about the murder of Trayvon Martin a month ago, Nikki Trahan said her emotions have shifted between sadness, incredulity and fear.
Trahan, 40 and mother of a 13-year-old, said she has watched the tragedy play out involving a child who could very easily be her son, Mikey.
"It scares me to death. I have always treated him with a very loose leash," she said during an interview on Sunday, April 1. "[But] he wanted to stay with friends two or three months ago and I told him no. It's the neighborhood and police, people who don't like you. I had to break it down and a few months later, this happened to Trayvon."
"As a mother, it's very scary. My son is 13 and the only thing I think about is keeping him alive, for real. I don't press him too much about a lot of things because he will have enough stress on him for the rest of his life."
Trahan, a North Philadelphia resident, said she quizzes her son routinely about what he needs to do if he's stopped by the police.
"He said he won't say a word," she explained. "He has been instructed to ask for his mother and a lawyer ... he'd be repeating that. 'I want to talk to my mother or a lawyer.' I'd rather they take him into an office where other people are. It's a safeguard to keep him safe."
But what has struck Trahan and other parents is the apparent futility of preparing their children to deal with encounters with law enforcement. Now, they have to factor in the actions of ordinary citizens who take the law into their own hands.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy has brought that reality into stark relief.
Trayvon, a 17-year-old honor student, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who admitted that he shot the teenager in self-defense. After the Feb. 26 incident, Zimmerman was not arrested because of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law.
Trayvon's death has sparked a wildfire of protests and rallies around the country. The case encompasses questions about vigilantism, racial profiling and gun laws. People are incensed about the fact that Trayvon was unarmed and minding his own business, that he was pursued by someone who judged him solely on his color and mode of dress, and most of all, that Zimmerman, 28, remains free.
Last week, lead homicide investigator Chris Serino wanted to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter, however, according to a number of sources, Serino was instructed not to press charges because State Attorney Norman Wolfinger determined there wasn't enough evidence to lead to a conviction.
Both Police Chief Bill Lee and Wolfinger stepped aside two weeks ago in the wake of the firestorm of public fury surrounding the way they handled the investigation.
"He's gonna get off. They may arrest him but he won't serve any time," said New Jersey resident Horatio Fenton of Zimmerman. "They [Sanford Police Department] have to appear as if they're doing something about it. They'll find some diversion. They're trying to buy time. It's going to be something that fades away unless we keep up the protests, keep up the pressure."
Fenton, a federal employee and father of a 24-year-old son, said Americans' attention span is too short.
"If we don't make an effort to keep this in the public eye, if we don't keep it visible, it will disappear," he said. "They are going to purposely drag out the trial until things die down. We're not taking it anymore. We're not going to take it and shut up."
Fenton and his family emigrated from Jamaica to South Florida in the 1970s and he lived, worked and studied there for almost two decades.
"Florida just has a history of racism which is one of the reasons I'm not there," he said. "I had to get out of there with my family. The racism is just blatant and there's no shame."
"There has been very little change in race relations since the 1970s. It's still very southern, including the Miami metropolitan area. A white man feels he can do anything to a black man and get away."
Fenton said that it's a lack of respect for black people that makes others feel that they can take advantage with impunity.
"The police chief stepped down temporarily. Temporarily? I just found out that the acting police chief is black. Is that a coincidence? It's so typical, like we can't see through their ploy."
Last week, the police department released a videotape showing a handcuffed Zimmerman alighting from a police car, unaided. Although the videotape is grainy, there appears to be no evidence of a broken nose, or the types of injuries associated with someone who claims to have had his head pounded on the pavement by Trayvon.
The case has dredged up the always volatile issues of race, class and color.
The past week could best be characterized as 'death by a thousand leaks', as George Zimmerman's friends and family – aided by right-wing publications, media outlets and pundits – seek to air their side of the story and paint the 17-year-old as a thug and contributor to his own demise.
By their descriptions, Zimmerman's brother and father said their relative was one step away from death.
Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, appeared before a House panel last week and at demonstrations in Sanford and Miami, as participants elsewhere around the country continued to demand Zimmerman's arrest. A series of protests around the District highlight the desire for District residents to see justice done. A vocal group marched in front of the White House and another gathered at the Justice Department. A number of students from area high schools and universities have also participated in civil actions in support of the slain teenager.
Former Howard University Law School student Kevin Cunningham is credited with being among the first to bring the case to public attention.
"I have been working on this since March 8," said Cunningham, 31, a Kentucky native. "I fell in love with social media during the Egyptian revolution and I had been working and studying social media and decided to jump in."
Cunningham, who is white, said he got a message about the case on a listserv and started a petition with Change.org, then posted it to Facebook and Twitter. The petition gained momentum. Celebrities and others helped spread the word on Twitter by retweeting it and when 10,000 people signed up, Change.org transferred the name to Trayvon's parents.
"We have 2.2 million signatures now. I just got the ball rolling," said Cunningham. "The first 10,000 signatures are the hardest."
Cunningham – social media coordinator for KinderUSA, a Palestinian children's charity – said this case was so over-the-top, it caught his attention.
"It seemed like crossing a new red line for civilians to kill people," said Cunningham, who graduated from law school in 2009. "He sees a kid, stalks him, kills him – a grown man versus a kid. It was very disturbing. It involves an element of race, class and culture."
Anthony Barnes, a father of two boys, 16 and 12, described Trayvon's death as the needle that burst the pus of corruption, racism and deception in Sanford.
"This is just another example of what happens when we continue to engender an ignorant society," said Barnes, 47 and a federal government employee. "Clearly, this is not the first time this has happened in Sanford ... It took the death of a teenager to bring out this system of corruption. I can't count the amount of people who have died to make sure this didn't happen."
"We would never know about this if this couple didn't say that enough is enough. Clearly, it looks like he shot the boy for nothing. He felt he could get away with this which is so upsetting to me. It is a gated neighborhood. Why did he need to protect it? He was not a part of this watch. He was captain of a one-man watch. This is bizarre," said Barnes, a Laurel, Md., resident.
Trahan said she is still at a loss to grasp the reality of the shooting.
"I wish I had more concrete answers. I'm so sickened by the whole thing," she said. "I don't know, I just don't know. He ignored the dispatcher and pursued the boy. It's raining, half dark and you're going to get out of your car and followed this boy? There was no one around. [Zimmerman] should have stayed way back. He put himself in that young man's space."
"I don't know how people are listening to the  audiotapes. I would be [messed] up for weeks to hear this child screaming for his life. It sucks, the hard reality of it all. There's a bounty on the heads of our children. That's a sad condition for my son, for all our children."