In the age of rapidly shortening attention spans and the mass media hopping from one story to the next, it is fairly remarkable that the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, one year ago Tuesday, continues to resonate in the consciousness of many Americans.
Most of this is because of a dedicated group of activists, bloggers, social media aficionados and members of the media, mostly the black press, who have been diligent in ensuring that what took place on a cool, rainy night in Sanford, Fla., deserves to remain out into the open and not become a drive-by media story.
And no doubt it has been the vigilance of Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, who have attended many high-profile events like the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend and the NAACP Image Awards, walking red carpets and telling anyone who would listen that their son should be justice for their son’s death. They have been shepherded through this process by their attorney, Ben Crump, who has transformed his law practice into a 2013 version of Johnnie Cochran: Committing himself to social justice and being one of the first folks black parents call when their child, mostly young men, have been shot and killed.
Even though the trial of George Zimmerman isn’t set for June — almost 18 months after the fatal shooting — a lot of things have changed and are in the process of being debated.
First, while everyone continues to focus on Zimmerman and whether he will invoke a “stand your ground” law defense, efforts are underway in the Florida Legislature and other states to get rid of such laws, or drastically change them.
Florida Democratic State Rep. Alan Williams has introduced a bill in the legislature that would do away with the “stand your ground” defense, which law enforcement personnel and district attorneys have said makes their job harder when prosecuting shootings. Many believe the Florida legislature won’t overturn the law, but changes have been bandied about by the Republican majority, which is a good thing.
The death of Trayvon exposed a shadowy, corporate-funded group that has been the leading force behind “stand your ground” laws, and once the light hit them, their involvement in other issues such as voter ID laws was made public as well.
The American Legislative Exchange Council is one of those non-descript groups formed to assist corporations fighting tax policies on the local level and advance an economic agenda. But they use their war chest to expand into other controversial areas. It wasn’t until Change.org led petition drives for major corporations to pull out of ALEC that the group disbanded some of these efforts. Had the consciousness not been raised after Trayvon’s death, ALEC would still be going about their business, writing laws that are unjust to many Americans.
Trayvon’s death also awakened the inner fighting spirit of many young folks, as well as African Americans in sports and entertainment. One of the biggest recent examples was when the Miami Heat donned black hoodies to show their solidarity with the millions who protested Trayvon’s death.
History is replete with athletes who made it clear that life wasn’t all about sports. Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Kareem Abul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and others were athletes who refused to hide away in the locker room. They used their platforms to speak to societal ills and bridged the gap between activism and entertainment.
The likes of Jamie Foxx, Cedric the Entertainer and many others in Hollywood have stood up and answered the call of activist-entertainer to use their celebrity for more than just the next project. They have gone down to Orlando, Sanford and Miami, standing in solidarity with Trayvon’s parents and bringing attention to the issues surrounding his death.
But what is most needed is for his death to spark an uprising among people of conscience, similar to what Emmitt Till did in 1955. It was his lynching death in Mississippi that sparked the Civil Rights Movement, radically altering the course of this nation.
It’s time for America to move beyond the me-focused mindset and understand that this is about others. We can’t be silent about police misconduct or brutality. We need to stand up so our communities don’t turn into killing fields.
For every Trayvon Martin, there are thousands of others who don’t get the media attention, but they deserve justice, too. This isn’t about black or white; it’s about what’s right and wrong.
No matter what happens in the trial of George Zimmerman, understand that without those who marched, protested, tweeted, Facebooked, lit candles and wore hoodies, Zimmerman would be walking around free and would have never seen the inside of a courtroom. “Stand your ground” would exist with nary a peep of opposition, and we would all be living our lives as if all is good and great in the world.
One young man ended up dead in Sanford, Fla., but a heckuva whole lot has changed for the better as a result.
Yes, Trayvon Martin did not die in vain.
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Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.”