Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI — The death of a South Florida teenager at the hands of a neighborhood crime watch captain could have dropped off the public radar after a Central Florida police chief decided there was no probable cause for arrest of the admitted killer.
But the victim’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, were not prepared to let that happen.
Although they are divorced, the two have been working together with their lawyer, Benjamin Crump, to keep the story of their son, Trayvon Martin, in front of the media and the community.
Fulton, who lived with Trayvon in Miami Gardens, and Tracy Martin, a Miami-Dade County resident, are trying to garner enough public support to force a full investigation into the Feb. 26 shooting. They also want State Attorney Norm Wolfinger to press charges against George Zimmerman, who has admitted that he shot Trayvon. The parents say they do not understand why Zimmerman has not been arrested.
Zimmerman, a 44-year-old white Hispanic, has said he acted in self-defense against Trayvon, who is African-American.
Trayvon was on a visit with his father to Sanford, a town of about 55,000 just north of Orlando. He was walking through the Twin Lakes townhouse complex where Tracy Martin’s girlfriend, Brandy Green, has lived for the past four years. Zimmerman, who had been conducting nightly patrols in the community following a spate of burglaries in the area, said he did not recognize Trayvon and had called Sanford police to alert them that Trayvon could possibly be up to no good.
Tracy Martin said his son, who was a junior at Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School, had gone to a nearby 7-11 convenience store for a can of ice tea and a bag of candy and was walking back to Green’s house when Zimmerman spotted him. Trayvon, who was serving a 10-day suspension from school for frequent absences, was not armed.
Some neighbors in the housing development reported that they believed they heard Trayvon screaming for help. Crump recently held a press conference saying that he interviewed Trayvon’s girlfriend who was talking on the cellphone with Trayvon, who had told her that someone was following him. Additionally, 911 tapes, reportedly so horrific that Sybrina Fulton could not bear to hear all of them, contained the screams she believed to be Trayvon’s right before Zimmerman’s gun was fired.
Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee has said there was no reason to doubt Zimmerman’s self-defense account, a provision that is protected by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which the Legislature passed in 2005 allowing residents to use force – even deadly force – if it is in self-defense.
Seminole NAACP Branch President Turnery Clayton, a retired county deputy sheriff, said he and other community leaders have met with Lee and Zimmerman. He faults Lee for not releasing the 911 tapes earlier.
“I have called for the police chief to be terminated,” Clayton said. “The police department failed to make an arrest where there was probable cause. The 911 tapes prove that Zimmerman was not defending himself.”
Though they have yet to see charges brought against Zimmerman, Fulton and Martin are seeing a groundswell of support from people around the world, as well as local residents and college students, clergy and top civil rights leaders, entertainers and sports figures.
The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI also are now involved in the investigation, with Florida Gov. Rick Scott pledging to provide any resources needed. On Wednesday in Tallahassee, black lawmakers called on Gov. Scott to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation.
Local protests and marches attracting hundreds of participants already have taken place in Sanford. Thousands marched on Sunday in nearby Titusville, and several other demonstrations are being planned in Sanford, Tallahassee and Miami.
Additionally, national civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, and celebrity radio host Michael Baisden, are co-hosting a rally along with Central Florida pastors and community leaders at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, March 22 at Fort Mellon Park, 600 East 1st St., Sanford.
More supporters are expected next week at rallies planned by civil rights organizations, community leaders and clergy.
“I am outraged,” said NAACP Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze, who is working with Clayton on a March 31 “Justice for Trayvon Martin March and Rally.”
“People say there is no need today for a NAACP, but injustices like this show us time after time that there is a need,” said Nweze, who wrote a letter to the U.S. Justice Department calling for an independent investigation into the shooting.
Photo: AP Photo/Florida Today, Craig Rubadoux
INCREASING RALLIES: Rev. Glenn Dames, senior pastor at St. James AME Church, leads people in a prayer at the Titusville Courthouse on Sunday, March 18 in Titusville, Fla. A rally was held demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, a black, Miami-Dade teenager fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer.