Trayvon Martin Killing: Racially-Motivated Murder or Act of Self-Defense?


Live Update: The Department of Justice and FBI are examining the circumstances of the Trayvon Martin killing according to CNN's Roland Martin:

The killing of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin has touched off a fierce debate over race, violence, and equal treatment under the law.

Here are the details: On February 26, Trayvon was visiting a house with his father in a gated townhouse community in Sanford, Florida (outside Orlando). Trayvon left the house and walked to the local 7-Eleven. On his way back, George Zimmerman, a white 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain, called the police because the boy looked “real suspicious,” according to a 911 call released late Friday. Even though the operator told Zimmerman not to pursue Trayvon, he did anyway, getting out of his car and confronting the boy.

According to the New York Times' Charles Blow, "Trayvon had a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. Zimmerman had a 9 millimeter handgun. The two allegedly engaged in a physical altercation. There was yelling, and then a gunshot. When police arrived, Trayvon was face down in the grass with a fatal bullet wound to the chest."

Zimmerman was taken into custody, but said he acted in self-defense, so he was questioned and released with no charge.

Celebrities have begun to weigh in on the case: Most notably, Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons tweeted, “Trayvon Martin didn’t die so we can create a race war he died so we can promote better understanding. We must start honest dialogue…pls join our facebook page as we seek justice for Trayvon Martin.”

But, so far police have still not charged Zimmerman with a crime. Trayvon's parents have created a petition on (with close to 400,000 signatures), in which they call for Norman Wolfinger, Florida's 18th District State's Attorney, "to investigate my son's murder and prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin."

In the petition, his parents say: "When Zimmerman reported Trayvon to the police, they told him not to confront him. But he did anyway. All we know about what happened next is that our 17 year-old son, who was completely unarmed, was shot and killed. It's been nearly two weeks and the Sanford Police have refused to arrest George Zimmerman. In their public statements, they even go so far as to stand up for the killer - saying he's "a college grad who took a class in criminal justice."

The case has reignited a furious debate about racial-profiling, vigilante justice, and equal treatment under the law. The police chief said: "Our investigation is color blind and based on the facts and circumstances, not color. I know I can say that until I am blue in the face, but, as a white man in a uniform, I know it doesn’t mean anything to anybody.” 

Read more details here.

Respond to the details of the case: Do you think race played a role in Trayvon's killing? Does this case highlight underlying racial problems with the U.S. justice system?