Local activists and residents plan to hold a rally and vigil in response to the shooting death of a teenager that has attracted national attention.
On February 26, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in the gated community of Sanford, Florida.
Martin was walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house after visiting a convenience store. Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, 28, spotted the teen and called police. Zimmerman told police there had been a series of break-ins in the neighborhood and that Martin looked “suspicious.”
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” said Zimmerman to the officer.
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Zimmerman also said he had been following Martin which police told him not to do. The two then got into an altercation which resulted in Martin dying from a gunshot wound to the chest. The circumstances leading up to that confrontation have been heavily disputed.
Zimmerman was armed with a 9 millimeter handgun while Martin was unarmed. The teen was found with only a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.
Zimmerman told police that he acted in self-defense after Martin attacked him. He has not been arrested. The Florida State attorney and the FBI are now investigating the case while a Grand Jury will launch a new investigation next month.
Martin’s death and the fact that Zimmerman has not been arrested sparked a national outrage. Many believe Martin, who is black, was the victim of racial profiling from Zimmerman, who is described as white by police and Hispanic by his family.
The Sanford Police Department has also received massive criticism for not arresting and charging Zimmerman. Florida Police Chief Bill Lee defended the department’s decision by referring to Florida’s “Stand your ground” law which states that Florida residents have the right to use force if they feel they are being threatened. Critics claim however that Zimmerman was the clear aggressor in the situation. The attorney for Martin’s family says that testimony from the teen’s girlfriend refutes Zimmerman’s claim that Martin attacked him. The attorney says Martin’s girlfriend spoke to him on the phone moments before his death. According to the attorney, the girlfriend claimed Martin told her he was being followed by Zimmerman and was trying to run away.
Rallies in honor of Martin have been held nationwide. Philadelphia activists plan to hold one of their own in Love Park next Monday at 6:30 p.m.
“We want people to bring their passion but we don’t want it to be an angry mob,” said community activist Chris Norris, the rally organizer. “What we want to do is have this be a platform where we can talk about how we can use this to leverage unity.”
“I think he should have been arrested from day one,” said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, referring to Zimmerman. As director of local group Mothers-in-charge, Speight helps parents who are dealing with the loss of a child due to violence. She plans to attend Monday’s rally.
“I was heartbroken number one to hear of yet another young man senselessly murdered,” said Johnson. “And that’s what it was, it was actually a murder.”