Commentary: A Year After His Death, Trayvon Martin’s Story Continues to Resonate

The killing of Trayvon Martin sparked international attention to a senseless death, which has continued to this day.

Posted: 02/25/2013 04:00 PM EST
Trayvon Martin

(Photo: Courtesy of the Martin Family)

Sybrina Fulton still considers herself to be an average working woman and mother. She still goes to work regularly and remains committed to her surviving son.

“I’m still the same person I have always been,” she told me in a recent conversation. Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, has traveled a journey in the last year that has all at once been heartbreaking, harrowing and deeply inspirational. Her life is a far cry from what it was prior to the events of Feb. 26, 2012.

It was one year ago that her 17-year-old was walking in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, to return to the home of his father’s girlfriend. What followed was a story that has shocked and horrified people.

The unarmed teenager was shot to death on that February evening carrying nothing more dangerous than a bad of Skittles and a can of iced tea. He was pursued and shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer who had been advised over the phone by police officers not to follow him.

Since that February night, the lives of Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, have been nothing if not unsettled and uncommonly hectic. It is the dispiriting odyssey of families whose lives have been devastated by the epidemic of gun violence.

Trayvon’s parents often told me about how they felt as though a part of their bodies had been cut out when their son was killed by George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer, who is awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder. “After what happened with Trayvon, my life will never been the same,” Fulton told me once. “This is something that I will never get over.”

Since Trayvon’s death, the nation has been rocked by the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the killing of Hadyia Pendleton in a park on Chicago’s South Side and many, many more horrific and unnecessary deaths.

But what gives the Trayvon story such additional heft is the way his parents responded to the tragedy. They became outspoken voices against gun violence, advocates who promoted conflict resolution practices, and champions in the fight against Florida’s senseless and dangerous Stand Your Ground law. They have even started a foundation whose goal is to seek to ensure that other families will be spared the anguish they live with daily.

If there is any consolation for Sybrina Fulton and her family, it is the fact that there are others — hundreds of thousands — who have stood with them, offering their prayers, their condolences and, most important, their resolve to make the Trayvon Martin tragedy a call to action in seeking to eliminate gun violence and absurd laws like Stand Your Ground in Florida. Such laws represent little more than state-sanctioned vigilantism, take the law in your own hands behavior.

The deep consolation that Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin felt from others was evident when they attended the first large-scale rally on their son’s behalf at New York City’s Union Square Park.

It was a month after Trayvon had been shot. They had done countless television and telephone interviews with the media. But what they had not experienced until then was the connection that thousands of Americans felt with them.

I rode in the minivan with the family to the park and afterward from that “Million Hoodie March.” They were profoundly moved and heartened by the reception they received from thousands of New Yorkers who cheered for them, carried placards with Trayvon’s image and offered words of sympathy.

“Wow,” Tracy Martin said to Sybrina Fulton and me while riding from the event. “I had no idea that people felt so strongly about our son. I’m speechless.”

She responded: “I never knew so many people were touched by what happened to Trayvon.” She then turned to me, saying, “This is incredible. This something I will never forget. People seem to care about Trayvon.”

One year later, they still do.

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