Trayvon Martin’s slaying has led to the single most popular petition in the history of Change.org: More than 2.2 million people have added their signatures to an online petition demanding an arrest in the case.
“It is easily the largest petition Change.org has ever seen," Megan Lubin, a spokeswoman for Change.org, told The Times. At various points, as many as 1,000 signatures were pouring in each minute. “We’ve never seen that before,” Lubin said. “It was pretty unprecedented and a milestone for a campaign on the site.”
And a new milestone is coming right up, likely helping boost the social media platform’s profile even further: A rally this afternoon in Sanford, Fla., led by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, will culminate with the Change.org signatures being presented to the Sanford City Commission. Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, are expected to attend that meeting.
The petition was started by Martin’s parents on March 8. It calls for a full-fledged investigation in the case, as well as the arrest of the acknowledged shooter, George Zimmerman.
The case has sparked national outrage. Martin, 17, was unarmed and returning from a trip to buy candy at a convenience store on Feb. 26 when he was spotted and followed by a neighborhood watch captain armed with a 9-millimeter weapon, officials said.
Zimmerman had been driving his car when he called police to report a suspicious black male in the neighborhood, authorities said. A dispatcher told Zimmerman he no longer needed to follow the youth, but Zimmerman continued to do so. Martin was soon shot and killed.
Zimmerman has told police he fired in self-defense; he has not been arrested.
Adding to the furor surrounding the month-old case are new details released by police that could help support Zimmerman’s claim that he was attacked by Martin. At least one eyewitness told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground and Martin striking him from above, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
A number of investigations are attempting to get to the bottom of what happened that day, including probes by the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI. A grand jury is scheduled to convene April 10.
But critics say it’s all too little too late, and note that the federal authorities became involved weeks after the shooting and then only in the face of growing public protests. They want action now.
Joining the Change.org petition in taking the nation’s temperature in the case is a new CNN poll that found that 73% of people questioned say Zimmerman should be arrested. The poll also found that 76% of the people questioned do not believe that neighborhood watch members should carry guns.
The survey also found that 55% of respondents approve of “stand your ground” laws that give legal protection to people who take extreme actions to defend themselves. Some believe that Florida’s “stand your ground” law allowed the police to release Zimmerman without being charged.
Change.org started in 2007, and gives users a fast and easy way to start an online petition. Since then, thousands of petitions have been created. Most get little attention, but every now and then, one rises above the fray.
Lubin said she believes that Martin’s petition has caught on because of public outrage -- and a desire by people to do something.
“People see Change.org as a tool,” she said. “Here’s a national tragedy, and it’s being plastered on the TV and the Internet every night and all day long. For the first time, people are realizing they don’t just have to sit there and be frustrated. They can do something.”
“This is a way for people to express their support for something, and in a way that just wasn’t possible 10 years ago.”
Lubin said that several hundred thousand of the Martin petition signatures have come from beyond U.S. borders.
“This is one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen,” she said. “It points directly to how social media is transforming stories like this and taking an incident and turning it into a movement.”
Until the Martin case, the website’s biggest petition was Create Caylee’s Law, which called for legislation making failure to alert law enforcement a crime when a child has been missing for more than 24 hours. The petition stemmed from another high-profile Florida case, that one involving Casey Anthony.
Anthony was acquitted last summer of any wrongdoing in the disappearance and death of her daughter, Caylee.