Zimmerman Behind Bars
Forty-five days after their son was shot and killed by a man who considered him suspicious, Trayvon Martin's parents got a measure of vindication when Special Prosecutor Angela Corey charged George Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
On March 22, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Corey to take over the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Trayvon's death after the Sanford Police Department and State Attorney Norman Wolfinger declined to file charges against Zimmerman. Zimmerman, 28, admitted shooting the 17-year-old after he followed the honor student for several minutes. He said they got into a scuffle and he shot Trayvon in self-defense because he feared for his life.
Trayvon was unarmed, only carrying a pack of Skittles and a can of iced tea he'd purchased from a nearby 7-11 convenience store. His murder generated widespread outrage nationally and abroad, and forced America to confront its views on issues of race, racial profiling and vigilantism that would allow someone to follow a person, confront him, kill him and then claim self-defense.
"Just moments ago we spoke by phone with Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin," Corey said in the opening moments of an April 11 press conference in Jacksonville, Fla. "Three weeks ago our prosecution team promised those sweet parents we would get answers to all of their questions, no matter where our quest for the truth led us. And it is that search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this night."
"We did not come to this decision lightly. We do not prosecute by pressure or petition ... We're law enforcement. We enforce the law."
"... Remember, it is Trayvon Martin's family that are our constitutional victims and who have the right to know the critical stages of these proceedings."
The charges filed by Corey now set in motion the legal process that will determine Zimmerman's guilt or innocence. Second-degree murder is typically brought in cases when there is a confrontation or some type of fight that results in death but involves no premeditation to kill. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years behind bars when a gun is used.
Zimmerman, whose parents are Peruvian and Caucasian, is being held without bail.
Trayvon's parents have said from the beginning of their ordeal that their most urgent desire was a simple one. They are special guests of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, which is holding a four-day conference in the District.
"First of all, what I want to say is 'Thank God,'" said a visibly moved Fulton at a press conference immediately following Corey's in Jacksonville, Fla. "We wanted nothing more, nothing less [than an arrest] ... a heart has no color, not black or white, but red. I want to say thank you from my heart to your heart."
A clearly relieved Tracy Martin also offered thanks to the many thousands of people who joined in his family's quest for justice.
"He's in custody," he said. "It feels good to know that he's off the streets, considering the circumstances surrounding the case. I want to thank everyone for being so passionate about this. I said to myself that I would walk firm, hold hands in this journey with whites, blacks, Hispanics. The journey will continue."
Corey said that Zimmerman turned himself in shortly after the charges were brought but she declined to say where he was being held, citing concerns for this safety. She said she and her team did not bow to public pressure but took the facts in hand [to] prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. It was only after the process of re-interviews, scouring through reports, and gathering more evidence did the team come to the conclusion that they had amassed enough evidence to confidently charge Zimmerman.
Sharpton, who founded the National Action Network in 1991, said there's no cause for celebration.
"There is no victory, there are no winners here," he said gravely. "There should be no gloating. We're still mourning with this family. We will stand by them and monitor the case ... this should never have happened in the first place. Are we happy with the charge? The result says that if America comes together, we can change things. We have a shot at this."
Sharpton said he had misgivings about how this would turn out.
"Corey surprised me with the doubts I had," he said. "She's proven that my innate apprehensions were unfounded ... Gov. Scott asked to meet with us and said he was going [to appoint a special prosecutor]. I didn't trust Scott or his appointment. I want to thank him and the prosecutor. If we did not get this far, we would have condemned them. Only the facts should matter when you're dealing with issues like this..."
Corey's press conference came at the end of a sometimes bizarre 48-hour span. On the eve of the convening of a grand jury to hear secret testimony concerning the case, Corey decided to forego that option. Those familiar with her work as a prosecutor said that was in line with her aggressive approach in matters of this sort.
Then late Tuesday evening, Zimmerman's legal team – which he had hired last week – quit because they said they had not seen him and that he had not responded to telephone calls, emails or other forms of communication for 72 hours. The lawyers said their client talked to conservative talk show host Sean Hannity and even contacted Corey. Zimmerman – who was in hiding – launched a website where he offered his side of the story while soliciting funds for his legal defense.
Benjamin Crump, one of the family's attorneys, said Trayvon's parents, Sharpton and his team never doubted that justice would be served.
"Corey made no promises whatsoever," he told the audience and reporters. "She said 'we will look at all the evidence and not base any of this on public pressure.' We have always believed from Day 1 that if you looked at this fairly and without bias, you would have to arrest him."
Daniel Maree said he was so shocked and outraged when he heard about Trayvon's death that he developed a blog and a YouTube video to add his voice of protest to Trayvon's murder. He's also behind the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. Maree said he and his colleague Thenjiwe McHarris intended to present a signed poster of Trayvon from the Million Hoodies March.
"Zimmerman's arrest marks an important milestone in black, brown and poor peoples' quest for justice, equality and freedom," he said.
"I'm very pleased charges have finally come about. It's a step in the right direction," said Maree, 24, who was born near Philadelphia but raised in South Africa. "Now we have to look at the processes in laws and institutions that perpetuate racial discrimination. We'll be working with Justice for Trayvon Martin.org and start to attack these issues."
"When I first heard it was painful," the 27-year-old said. "I thought of Troy Davis, Sean Bell. This highlights the issues in which young black and brown bodies are perceived by civilians, informal and formal security, the police and others. People mobilized as a visceral reaction. We were able to do this because we're dealing with some very hurt people."
"For all the cases that were not elevated or publicized, Trayvon Martin was the opportunity for people to mobilize and express their pain, anger, frustration and the hope and desire for justice."
Anti-violence advocate David Bowers stirred up the March 24 crowd at the Washington, DC Justice for Trayvon Rally when he challenged them to have as much concern for every person who is murdered as they did for Trayvon.
"It's tragic that Trayvon was killed but it's just as tragic when black people are killed by other black people," said Bowers, founder of No Murders DC, to loud cheers. "Since I graduated high school in this city, thousands of people, most of whom look like me, have been murdered in this city. We need the same righteous indignation when a black man kills a black man or a black man kills a black woman as when a white man kills a black man."
Bowers, 41, said during an interview late Wednesday that while he was pleased to hear of Zimmerman's arrest, he isn't celebrating.
"When what should have happened happens, there's no cause to celebrate," said Bowers, a Northeast resident and vice president/market leader for Enterprise Community Partners. "The tragedy remains: a young man is still dead. I hope that for folks who have been focused on ensuring that justice was done – which is the right thing to do – they will have that same focus and zeal on everyone else who's murdered."
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, (D-Fla.), reiterated an often-expressed desire of those African Americans interviewed, that Trayvon's murder leads to some heartfelt and honest conversations around race.
"While this chapter in the Trayvon Martin case may be over, we still need to have an honest and open discussion of the hard truths that led to this tragedy. Trayvon's death must not be in vain. Racial profiling still exists in our country. There's a level of distrust between law enforcement and black men. These are difficult conversations to have, but we must have them so that there will be no more tragedies like Trayvon's," Wilson said.