Sting of Trayvon Martin Shooting Evokes Questions on Racism, Vigilantism, Gun Laws

Barrington M. Salmon | 4/4/2012, 12:15 p.m.

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."