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Zimmerman case: a story of two sons, a racial divide

Tracy Martin, left, and Sybrina Fulton, the parents of Trayvon Martin, say they look back at a national scandal and feel pride.

EL Nuevo Herald

Tracy Martin, left, and Sybrina Fulton, the parents of Trayvon Martin, say they look back at a national scandal and feel pride.

The last time she was on TV with her face obscured by shadows, George Zimmerman's mother explained that her son's roots are Afro-Peruvian.

In the 10 months since her teenage son was killed, Trayvon Martin's mom became a nationally known activist who mostly sleeps in hotels as she bounces from one speaking engagement to another talking about self-defense laws.

"As a mother, this is a job," said Sybrina Fulton, whose son Trayvon became a household name after Zimmerman shot and killed him in a townhouse complex in Sanford. "It is a position I never wanted."

Both women want to set the record straight about their sons. Each blames the other's boy for the tragedy. One lives in hiding; the other spent the year under the glare of cameras.

Their deep divide on the killing that rattled America underscores the sharp contrasts that mark the case that became one of the highest profile news events of 2012. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demand an arrest in the weeks after the Feb. 26 death of a black teenager at the hands of a Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer.

But when the clamor became so thunderous that Zimmerman finally found himself in handcuffs, so many people took such pity on the gunman that they gave him more than $200,000 in less than a month.

Even now, after the nation's news channels have moved on to other tragedies and the story that rocked the country fell off the front pages, both families are preparing for a murder trial that promises to reopen wounds and spark fears of civil unrest. As lawyers prepare for 2013's trial of the year, both Sanford and Miami have launched community relations projects. In Miami, civic leaders are clearly worried about reactions to the trial's outcome.

The case has raised the national conscience on issues of gun control, racial profiling, self-defense law and police bias. Zimmerman's family decries a media frenzy they believe distorted truth and justice. The Martins look back at a national scandal and feel pride.

"It was about to be swept under the rug, and I'm proud that it got thrust into national attention," said Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father.

He remembers a rally where his son's photo was posted alongside Martin Luther King's. Fulton reminded him of the caption: "Two Martins, Gone Too Soon."

"That picture sticks in my head," he said. "It blows our minds that our seed was in the same namesake as Martin Luther King."

Martin, a South Florida-area truck driver, had taken his son to Sanford, a community north of Orlando, to ride out a 10-day school suspension. Trayvon had been caught at Michael Krop High in North Miami-Dade with a small plastic bag containing marijuana residue. Suspended for the third time, the teen went to cool his heels at the townhouse complex where his father's girlfriend lived.

With his dad out for the evening, Trayvon went to the store for snacks. On his way back from 7-Eleven, he encountered George Zimmerman, an affable, exceedingly polite neighborhood watch volunteer who was in the insurance business and had a habit of calling police whenever he saw something awry.

Zimmerman had a license to carry a concealed weapon, a firearm he has said he carried everywhere except work. He says he was on his way to Target when he spotted someone lurking around in the rain looking in windows. After a series of burglaries at the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood, Zimmerman did what he had done several times before when he spotted black men he did not recognize.

He called the police. And, in a move that is likely to play a big role in the prosecution of his case, Zimmerman also got out of his car. The dispatcher advised against it.

He says it was to provide the police with an address. His detractors say it was to hunt down a black teen in a hoodie.

The girl Trayvon was talking to on the phone in the minutes leading up to his death said Trayvon was scared because a creepy guy was following him. She told him to run. Minutes later, the teenager was dead, and Zimmerman's life was about to be upended.

"After enduring a prolonged physical attack from Trayvon Martin, screaming for help countless times and receiving no help, and all the while in fear for my life, I shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense," Zimmerman wrote in a recent statement posted on his website. "I did not shoot to take his life, I shot to save my own."

Indeed, a photo taken at the scene showed Zimmerman with a swollen bloody nose.

"In the days and weeks following the shooting, a story was promoted that I am a racist and a murderer," Zimmerman wrote. "These untruths spread through the community, the government, and the nation, amplified by a media frenzy seeking ratings over truth."

While some residents blasted the police for a shoddy investigation, others said they saw Trayvon straddling Zimmerman as the two struggled on the ground. One man said the teenager was hitting Zimmerman "MMA-style."

"Mixed martial arts. I had never seen that sport, but I saw it on YouTube and was amazed at the savage manner they beat people," Zimmerman's mother, Gladys, told Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos in a recent interview.

She said none of it would have happened had Trayvon not attacked her son so savagely.

"George is not a racist. My family is not racist," she insisted, while speaking with her face obscured. "My children know their roots, and my roots are not white."

The Zimmermans blame the frenzy on Martin family lawyers, who brought in national civil rights leaders and ignored the fact that their son is Hispanic.

"There was a creation of a racial narrative, because basing the story on the merits of the crime was not sufficiently sensational to those who wanted to report more," Zimmerman's brother Robert told Univision. "Racism is a lucrative sport. Many people have their hands in a money bag, and there's a lot of money to be made."

Much of that criticism has been aimed at Trayvon's parents, who have collected donations for an advocacy foundation they created in their son's name.

The Zimmermans focus much of their ire on Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney whose constant media exposure forced law enforcement to take a second look at the case.

Crump thinks back on the furor, the day marchers shut down Broadway, the rallies in Sanford, the dozens of Miami-Dade schools where students walked out in protest, and feels no regret. He said history has shown that when blacks are killed by whites, particularly whites acting in a law-enforcement capacity, the only way to get a case going is by turning to the media.

Zimmerman case: a story of two sons, a racial divide 12/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 11:06pm]
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