The parents of Trayvon Martin greeted the filing of second-degree murder charges against the man who shot and killed their son with tears of thanks and a call to continue fighting for justice.
At an emotional, televised news conference from Washington, D.C., Sybrina Fulton, the teenager’s mother, fought back her tears.
“First of all, I want to say: Thank God,” she said Wednesday evening. “We simply wanted an arrest. We wanted nothing more, nothing less than an arrest and we got it. And I say: Thank you. Thank you, Lord; thank you, Jesus.”
“I just want to speak from my heart to your heart because a heart has no color,” she added, alluding to the racial overtones of the case. “It’s not black; it’s not white.”
Tracy Martin, the teen’s father, called the charges just a beginning: “We’ve got a long way to go and we have faith.”
He added of the shooter: “It feels good to know he’s off the streets. I feel very good just … knowing he’s off the street, that he’s in custody, that the wheel’s starting to turn in our favor.”
The shooting has become the epicenter of a series of national demonstrations calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin on Feb. 26. The 17-year-old was walking through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., at the time.
Zimmerman’s attorney said in televised interviews Wednesday that his client would plead not guilty to the charge, which was announced just after 6 p.m. Eastern.
Attorney Mark O’Mara urged people not to jump to conclusions about his client’s guilt, adding that he hopes “the community will calm down” now that charges have been filed. Zimmerman has acknowledged shooting Martin but says it was in self-defense.
Outrage over the shooting of the unarmed teenager was ignited via social media, and the furor eventually spread to the presidential campaign, the White House and the nation’s first African American president.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who became one of the public faces of the weeks of protest, was relatively muted in claiming victory, congratulating Florida Gov. Rick Scott and special prosecutor Angela B. Corey for helping the family.
“If we did not get this far, we would condemn them,” Sharpton said. “We must say -- despite that we are from different political parties and different political persuasions -- tonight maybe America can come together and say that only the facts should matter when dealing with the loss of life.”
“This is not about gloating; this about pursuing justice,” he said.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the family, argued that any objective look at the evidence demanded that the case go to court and that Zimmerman be charged.
“It’s about justice, justice, justice,” he said, adding later: “This is only first base. We are on first base in this game of justice.”
Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense will be a key part of the legal proceedings that lie ahead. If convicted of the second-degree murder charge, he could face life in prison.
“We did not come to this decision lightly,” Corey said at her news conference, alluding to the intense publicity surrounding the case. “Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition.”
She said Zimmerman, 28, had turned himself in, but she would not say where he was being held.
“I will confirm Mr. Zimmerman is indeed in custody. I will not tell you where. That is for his safety as well as everyone else’s safety,” she said. But Corey confirmed Zimmerman was in Florida, “within the custody of law enforcement officers.”
Given the complications of the case, Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense, and the decision to assign a special prosecutor to the case, the case moved relatively quickly.
“It didn’t take long,” she said. Corey also said she could not comment on anything Zimmerman might have said when he turned himself in, or speculate on what kind of sentence prosecutors might seek if he were to be convicted. However, she made clear that prosecutors are confident in their case, despite Sanford police officers’ failure to file charges themselves.
“We have to have a reasonable certainty of conviction before we file charges,” Corey said.
Corey said she had notified Martin’s parents minutes before the announcement was made.
“Just moments ago we spoke by phone with Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. It was less than three weeks ago we told those sweet parents we would get answers to all their questions … and it is the search for justice for Trayvon that has brought us to this moment. “
The shooting sparked national protests, but social media fueled the campaign to arrest Zimmerman. Change.org was a key player.
“Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin, began the campaign on Change.org after Sanford police declined to charge Zimmerman with a crime. In just a few weeks, the petition became the largest in Change.org’s history,” the group said.
“Trayvon Martin’s parents have used the power of social media to accomplish something truly remarkable,” Change.org senior campaigner Jonathan Perri said in a prepared statement.
“Their petition on Change.org turned a local tragedy into an international movement for justice, inspiring millions to take action. Sybrina and Tracy can finally take solace in the knowledge that their son’s killer will be charged – and that the 2 million people who joined their Change.org petition have been heard.”