It’s been more than a month since 17-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by self-appointed neighborhood-watch captain George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, on February 26.
Since the case burst onto the national consciousness over the past month, there have been protests, unending questions about the facts in the incident, a national debate about the wearing of hoodies and plenty of reaction from the hip-hop community about what other issues may be beneath the surface of the shooting.
“There is a general understanding from society that the law will work when it is supposed to and, when the facts support one understanding of a crime, that the law will do what it is supposed to do to make sure everyone is vindicated in the way they should be,” said Donald F. Tibbs, associate professor of law at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law. Tibbs, who focuses on the intersection of race, law, civil rights and criminal procedure, told MTV News that one reason the case has created such an uncomfortable feeling for some is that the facts so far seem to suggest that Zimmerman shot an unarmed teen for no apparent reason and that “most people’s sense is that once you kill someone, you’re arrested by the police … [but in this case] he shot and killed someone and the police let him go. Not because of anything we know based on objective evidence, they let him go on his word that he acted in self-defense.” Witnesses have emerged who claim that Martin attacked Zimmerman on the night of the shooting, which police officials have said bolsters their decision not to arrest the shooter. However, others who claim to have seen the alleged scuffle have said Zimmerman appeared unhurt afterward and that they did not see Martin act in an aggressive manner.
If that’s all it takes — telling police that you didn’t commit a crime — then Tibbs wondered how anyone gets arrested. Police have the right to arrest someone and prosecutors the right to pursue a case, but, Tibbs said, “It never stops at the very beginning [of the process]. It has to get started before prosecutors stop it.” If Zimmerman were to eventually be charged in the case, Tibbs speculated that he could be hit with first-degree homicide or perhaps manslaughter if there were evidence he fired during the commission of an act in which he was provoked.
“People are drawn to this case for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Questions of young black men who are called suspicious for doing nothing but minding their business, police failing to do their job, the racial bias by police officers against a young black man, questions about the criminal justice system not working … people wanting to feel the system of justice is right … [and a sense] that the story Zimmerman is telling just doesn’t sound right.”
Here’s a timeline of the events in the Martin case:
February 26: Martin is found shot and killed, with several eyewitnesses telling police they heard a fight, then a cry for help and a gunshot. Zimmerman, 28, is seen standing over Martin’s body while wielding a handgun and reportedly sporting a bloody nose and a wound on the back of his head. Martin is pronounced dead at the scene, and police find no weapons on him, just a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. Martin claims he killed Martin in self-defense and police do not arrest him or administer a drug or alcohol test.
March 9: Martin’s family demands the release of the 911 tapes and/or the arrest of Zimmerman. A week later, Sanford Police Chief Billy Lee said there was no evidence to dispute Zimmerman’s assertion of self-defense. Police say they could not arrest the shooter because he was protected by the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law that allows Floridians to shoot someone they reasonably believe is threatening them and to stand put and use their weapon in such a situation.
March 16: Public outrage about the case begins to spread as a Change.org petition from Martin’s family asking for Zimmerman to be prosecuted gathers more than 250,000 signatures in its first few days. It currently has more than 2.2 million signatures.
March 19: Martin’s 16-year-old girlfriend tells the family attorney that she was on the phone with Trayvon when Zimmerman began following him and she heard pushing and then the phone line went silent. The U.S. Justice Department launches an investigation into the case. A day later, a Sanford PD spokesperson admits to ABC News that investigators may have overlooked a possible racist remark by Zimmerman — who has a Hispanic mother and white father — during a conversation with dispatchers in the moments before the killing of Martin, who is black.
March 21: Hundreds of people take to the streets of New York calling for justice in the Martin case during a protest dubbed the Million Hoodie March, so named because of Zimmerman’s assertion that his victim looked “suspicious” in his hooded sweatshirt. The protest was attended by Martin’s parents in their first public appearance since the shooting. Once the story began to make national headlines, members of the hip-hop community and artists including Spike Lee, Big Boi, Tichina Arnold, Wyclef Jean and Roots drummer ?uestlove began to rally their social-media followers to express outrage about the shooting. Police Chief Lee gets a “no confidence” vote from the city council on March 21.
March 22: Young Jeezy speaks to MTV News about the Martin killing, saying, “I feel very deeply as a community leader and as a product of my culture … I feel like we all got to get together and stop this, ’cause I have a son his age and I just feel like that could’ve been either of our children.” Police Chief Lee steps down temporarily from his post due to the mounting pressure over the case, and thousands rally in Sanford in an event organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton to demand Zimmerman’s arrest.
Compton rapper Game tells MTV News that he believes a deeply rooted racial bias is behind the shooting. “I think that from the beginning of mankind, we as a people have always been targeted,” he said. “For some, reason people don’t think that they need any excuse to kill us, beat us, hit us, run us over, disrespect us or anything like that … I’m far from racist. I’m very educated and intellectual and I understand how life works and how people of all colors exist under the sun, but it just seems like more than not black people are, I don’t know, there’s always some negative occurrence that goes on in our existence. This is just another reminder that stupidity still exists.”
March 23: President Obama calls for an investigation into the incident during a White House press conference. “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” the president said. That same day, 50 schools in Florida hold walkout protests, and ?uestlove goes off on Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera for comments the veteran newsman made in which he said, “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman.”
March 25: Zimmerman’s friend Joe Oliver says Zimmerman “couldn’t stop crying” after the shooting and was “extremely remorseful” about it. Oliver, who is black, also said he’s never seen evidence that Zimmerman harbors any racial bias.
March 26: Florida rapper Plies releases the tribute single “We Are Trayvon Martin,” featuring the lines, “I never thought wearing no hoodie could cost you your life/ And I never thought you could just kill somebody and get out the same night.”
March 27: Reports emerge that Martin had been suspended from school for possessing a baggie with traces of marijuana before he was shot. Police confirmed that Martin had no juvenile offender record and the victim’s family lashed out at what they said was an attempt to “kill” the teen’s reputation.
March 28: Nas, Killer Mike, Prodigy and Bun B drop in for an episode of “RapFix Live,” and Bun tells host Sway, “This is just another reminder of the world that we live in. … Unfortunately, it takes incidents like this terrible tragic murder of Trayvon Martin to bring this back to America’s consciousness.” Illinois Democratic Representative Bobby Rush is escorted from the floor of the House of Representatives after pulling on a hoodie and sunglasses in honor of Martin.
March 29: Though Zimmerman originally told police that Martin knocked him down with a punch to the nose and then slammed his head repeatedly into the ground, a police surveillance tape emerges from the night Martin was shot and shows no blood or bruises on Zimmerman. His brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., said medical records will prove his brother was attacked and that his nose was broken by Martin.
March 30: Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett said he overruled local police and prosecutors in ordering the release of the 911 tapes in the case in response to a request from Martin’s family.