I can’t begin to imagine what it felt like when Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin were told that their son’s killer was found not guilty of murder. I can’t even begin to imagine what it felt like when the mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers of little black boys, impressionable black teenagers, and young black men heard the verdict. A terrible tragedy compounded by the fear that their son, nephew, grandson could, in reality, be next.
Despair is a debilitating emotion. It’s beyond understandable that many in the Sanford, Florida community where Trayvon Martin was killed would wallow in it now that the trial is over. But a movement that began the week the teenager was killed continues to show that despair has not crippled those who are protesting this verdict. In fact, the actions of citizens over the past 17 months have proven that Trayvon Martin did not die in vain.
Trayvon was killed on February 26, 2012, just three weeks after turning 17. A week later, his killing became a national story when his parents held a press conference calling for George Zimmerman’s prosecution. Three weeks later, the Sanford Police chief was forced to step down while a Change.org petition calling for charges in the case gathered over 1 million signatures. A special prosecutor was assigned to review the case and the Department of Justice got involved.
On April 10, 2012, thousands rallied around the country in a “Million Hoodies” march to commemorate the teen and demand that the police charge the killer. A day later, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.
Two months after that, the Sanford Police chief was fired. Today, the new police chief, who is Black, is intent on improving communications with the Black community in Sanford and has expressed a goal to weed out bad apples in the department.
After the verdict was rendered on Saturday, rallies and marches in protest sprang up all across the country and even as far away as the United Kingdom. The NAACP's petition to Attorney General Eric Holder to bring federal charges against Zimmerman received more than 300,000 signatures within 24 hours. And early this morning, in one of the quickest victories to date, Genie Lauren led a successful Twitter movement to pressure literary agent Sharlene Martin into rescinding the book deal she extended to Zimmerman juror B37, who sought to profit off of her role in the injustice done to Trayvon. After Lauren's repeated tweets and her Change.org petition to the agent went viral, Sharlene Martin sent Lauren a private message saying she would no longer represent juror B37 and then released an official statement at 12:59 a.m.
Clearly, the Revolution will be on Twitter.
In 2010, a national movement helmed by a group of young undocumented Latinos referring to themselves as DREAMers started much like this. For two years this vocal minority staged protests, sit-ins, rallies and marches, and galvanized the larger immigration community into action. Unafraid to speak out for their communities, their families, their rights, they ultimately sought and won the ear of congressional leaders and the president of the United States. It’s no coincidence that the country is much closer to immigration reform today than it has been since 2007.
And since Trayvon was killed, a host of groups and foundations have been set up in his name. His parents created the Trayvon Martin Foundation. There is also the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee. The Post-Trayvon Martin Committee for Justice and Redirection. The Dream Defenders. Countless groups have rallied under the “Justice For Trayvon” banner to ensure this stops happening to other Black boys and men. While it’s a bit premature to predict what will happen next as we continue the long crawl toward justice and equality, I’m hopeful that the changes that have taken place thus far are the beginning ripples of something positive and lasting.
Next month, when it’s time to celebrate the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington, we’ll know more about where this movement is headed. For now, the words of the Black Youth Project in Chicago, and those of other young community groups, serve as a reminder of what Trayvon Martin's life and death has meant to this world:
"In spite of what was said in court, what verdict has been reached, or how hopeless we feel, Trayvon did NOT die in vain. A mother should never have to bury her son. However, his death will serve as the catalyst of a new movement where the struggle for justice will prevail."
Solange Uwimana is an editor and senior researcher at Media Matters. Follow her on Twitter @DCGisenyi.