The parents of slain black teenager Trayvon Martin on Monday angrily lashed out at reports that their son was suspended from school because of marijuana, accusing authorities of continuing to demonize the memory of the victim in order to support George Zimmerman, the man who shot him.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Martin’s father, Tracy, and mother, Sybrina Fulton, said their son was again being made a victim. Martin was killed during a confrontation with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer on Feb. 26.
Zimmerman, 28, told police that he shot in self-defense, but the family has dismissed Zimmerman’s version of events and has repeatedly called for his arrest.
“The only comment that I have right now is that they’ve killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” Fulton said.
“I‘d just like to say that even in death – and Trayvon is gone, he will not be returning to us – that even in death, they are still disrespecting my son. And I feel that’s a shame,” Martin said.
Led by local and national civil rights activists, hundreds of people have gathered in Sanford, Fla., to mark Monday’s one-month anniversary of the shooting. The case has sparked protests from coast to coast, even becoming an issue in the presidential campaign: After President Obama called the shooting a tragedy, some GOP opponents accused the only African American to be elected president of the United States of trying to politicize events.
Into this racial tinderbox came the latest reports that Martin was in Sanford, his father’s city, because he had been suspended for 10 days from his Miami school after the remains of marijuana were found in a plastic bag in the teenager’s book bag. The family had previously said that the teenager had been suspended but hadn’t given the details.
“Whatever Trayvon was suspended for had absolutely no bearing on the night of Feb. 26,” the family’s lawyer Ben Crump told reporters. “Once again law enforcement is attempting to demonize the victim.... It is irrelevant, completely irrelevant. The most important thing in this whole tragedy is that George Zimmerman disobeyed the police dispatcher and initiated a fatal encounter.”
A month after the incident, passions remain high in Sanford. Monday’s day of protests was expected to culminate in a rally and confrontation at a city commission meeting Monday evening. The family was expected to speak at the meeting and, anticipating a large crowd, officials moved the session from City Hall to the Sanford Civic Center.
Martin, who was unarmed, was shot at close range by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, on Feb. 26. Martin’s family and supporters have criticized police handling of the case, and a special state prosecutor has been appointed to investigate the shooting. The U.S. Department of Justice also is assessing the incident to determine whether a hate crime was committed.
Just before the shooting, Zimmerman had called police to report a suspicious person, Martin, and was told to stand down, according to tapes of the telephone call released by police. Zimmerman continued to follow Martin, however, and told police after the shooting that he had been attacked by Martin. Police have said that Martin was bleeding from the head when they arrived.
Police have defended their decision not to charge Zimmerman, but police chief Bill Lee Jr. ultimately was forced to step aside after the city commissioners gave him a vote of no confidence.
At an earlier news conference, city officials named a 23-year veteran of the Sanford police department, Capt. Darren Scott, an African American, as acting chief.
“I know each one of you — and everyone watching — would like to have a quick, positive resolution to this recent event,” Scott told reporters. “However, I must say we have a system in place, a legal system. It may not be perfect but it’s the only one we have. I urge everyone to let the system take its course.”
In addition to questions about what happened the night of Feb. 26, there are questions about Florida’s stand-your-ground law and whether that gives a potential shooter more grounds to argue self-defense.
At a community forum earlier on Monday, Rep. Dwayne L. Taylor, of Daytona Beach, said he will push to repeal the law, passed in 2005. The law allows a person to respond with deadly force, under certain circumstances, is he or she feels threatened.