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For more than a month after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., hundreds of thousands of angry protestors across the United States and in cities around the world, took to the streets.
Their demand: That Sanford authorities arrest and charge the man who shot and killed Trayvon – George Zimmerman. Forty-four days later, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
The case comes full circle this week with the selection of an all-female jury. That done, the Zimmerman murder trial will begin, and America will once again be embroiled in a case that generated widespread outrage in many quarters and exposed a deeply polarized nation.
The Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler said while it’s difficult to predict an outcome, there will be a great deal of pressure on Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson and a criminal-justice system which is viewed by most African Americans with a jaundiced eye.
“It’s a lot of pressure on the court. It has to be fair and impartial, but to many conscious, concerned black people they cannot be,” said Hagler, a longtime community activist and pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast. “There really are concerns that a simple decision may let Zimmerman go which may cause all types of problems.”
The shooting on February 26, 2012, ignited a ferocious national debate about race, vigilantism, racial profiling, equitable justice and gun control after Zimmerman admitted shooting Trayvon with his 9-mm. handgun. He got out of his pickup truck, followed Trayvon and he said the pair got into a fight at the Retreat at Twin Lakes community.
Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watch captain, contends that Trayvon circled back and attacked him as he walked back to his truck – punching him in the face and slamming the back of his head on the sidewalk repeatedly.
Akosua Tyus, president of the Washington, D.C. branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), declined to speculate on how a jury might rule, but said the trial removes one of NAACP’s major concerns: That Zimmerman is tried in a court of law.
“The trial will allow blacks to learn about how the courts and the criminal-justice system work,” said Tyus, who has headed the D.C. branch for three years. “It will also shed light on racial profiling which is still a serious problem.”
Tyus, 30, acknowledged the contentious nature of the case.
“There will be people who are upset on both sides of the table. It has become a racially divisive [case], but what’s most important for the NAACP is that Zimmerman is tried and that the criminal-justice system runs its course,” she said. “The error was his not being charged initially [and his] not [being] arrested.”
Trayvon’s parents had said from the beginning of their ordeal that their most urgent desire was justice for their slain child. They were special guests of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and were attending a four-day conference in the District when Corey announced her decision.