In spite of high rates of gun deaths of young African Americans, Trayvon Martin’s case gained notoriety. At first his killing attracted only local media attention, but his determined parents campaigned for justice, condemning police incompetence and racial profiling through social media websites.
They launched a petition complaining when George Zimmerman, who had ended their son’s life, was released without charge.
In Washington, Congressman Bobby Rush called for a review of police practices: “Racial profiling has to stop. Just because someone wears a hoodie doesn’t make them a hoodlum.”
The furore reached the White House, as local and national law enforcement increasingly came under scrutiny. Race fuelled the debate along with anger over gun laws which have expanded the right of weapon owners not to retreat from a threat either in their homes or in public places.
The president got involved in the debate: “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
When the case came to trial, Zimmerman’s legal team did not rely on Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law. Instead it mounted a self-defence argument, with him saying he suffered injuries and statements taken from eyewitnesses which differed on some points.
In three weeks of testimony, it was never explicitly stated that Zimmerman – now wearing a suit – may have identified Trayvon as a criminal because he was black. There was mention of the teenager’s size, weight and what he was wearing, most notably his hooded sweatshirt.