A life remembered

Finding lessons in wake of Trayvon Martin’s tragic death

Americans must challenge themselves to learn from the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American boy who died at the hands of an overzealous wannabe cop.

Sadly, one of the lessons is that—despite the progress America has seen in the years following the civil-rights movement—racial stereotypes persist even in relatively young demographics. George Zimmerman, who was acquitted on Saturday of all charges related to the teen’s death, was 28 years old when he shot Martin.

Zimmerman had seen the high-schooler—a black kid—walking through his neighborhood in a gated Florida townhouse community and wrongly assumed the teen didn’t belong in the neighborhood and that he was up to no good. So he followed Martin and phoned law enforcement. Only Zimmerman had a gun and, in spite of a police-dispatcher’s advice to not follow the teen, he did so anyway and, ultimately, killed him.

A neighborhood-watch coordinator, Zimmerman made the mistake of stereotyping Trayvon Martin. Tragically, many in the nation, following the teen’s death, were eager to buy into those stereotypes.

Indeed, his death brought out the worst in some people, including fringe media that besmirched the dead boy’s name. Trayvon Martin was a good kid. A teacher described him as an A and B student “who majored in cheerfulness.” However, many outlets portrayed him as a dangerous thug and a druggie. Somebody dug up photos of him flipping off the camera. He was vilified for having trace amounts of marijuana in his system. Oh, and he wore a hoodie.

If those things are a condemnation of our youth, parents around the nation should have a lot more empathy for Martin’s family. If those things justified Zimmerman’s pursuit, almost any teen boy could have died in Trayvon Martin’s place. But Zimmerman didn’t follow Trayvon Martin just because he wore a hooded sweatshirt. He followed Trayvon Martin because he was black.

Anyone who says otherwise is delusional.

Trayvon Martin—armed only with the package of Skittles he’d purchased—likely feared for his life when he noticed he was being tailed by a man who greatly outweighed him. But we’ll never know exactly how the teenager felt because George Zimmerman silenced him.

Another lesson is that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is fatally flawed and needs repealing.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said as much during a speech this week. The law—passed in Florida in 2005 and placed on the books in more than 30 other states since then—allows citizens to use deadly force to defend themselves from the threat of serious harm or death, even outside of their homes. And, as the Martin case has shown, it extends to those who instigate a conflict, as Zimmerman did when he stalked his teenage victim through a neighborhood.

In Florida alone, cases of “justifiable homicide” have tripled since Stand Your Ground was enacted. Thankfully, there’s no such law in California.

Zimmerman’s attorneys did not expressly use the law as a defense. But police, familiar with the statute, initially refused to arrest him because of it.

There’s something very wrong with that.

The fact that an unarmed teenage boy was gunned down while on an outing to buy candy—while the man who shot him to death is free to live his life—is an outrage.

We can only hope that a Department of Justice investigation warrants the pursuit of civil-rights violations. Zimmerman should not get away with taking the life of an innocent child.

Trayvon Martin may not be here to give his side of what happened the night he was killed. But this certainly isn’t the end of his story.