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Trayvon Martin: The galvanizing effect of the murder of a black boy

Updated on December 9, 2014
Emmett Till
Emmett Till
Till's open casket photo
Till's open casket photo
Trayvon Martin and a family memeber
Trayvon Martin and a family memeber
One million hoodies
One million hoodies

Not in vain

In 1955, Emmett Louis Till was brutally murdered by two white men after he had the nerve to whistle at a white woman and/or ask her out on a date. He was 14-years-old when he took the trip from his home in Chicago, IL to Money, MS. His mother was reluctant to let him go on the trip because she knew how racist the South was and she knew her son, “Bobo”. He was a teenager and given to bouts of boasting. She decided to allow him to visit his Southern relatives anyway.

During this time, the Civil Rights Movement had struggled to gain traction. There had been some significant victories, but there had not been a signature incident that brought all factions together as one. The death of Till was that event. After Jet Magazine published a picture of Till’s body in his casket, the movement changed. Till died in August and Rosa Parks would stand her ground in December. The outrage over the death of a teenager and the subsequent sham trials brought together the forces that would become the Civil Rights Movement.

During the years since the Civil Rights struggle, Blacks in America have continued to complain about unfair treatment based simply on the color of their skin. Yet that struggle has been largely disorganized and ineffective until February 26, 2012. That was the day that Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Sanford, FL. Martin was shot by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, while coming back from a 7-11 with a bag of skittles and an iced tea. Zimmerman reported to police dispatchers that Martin looked suspicious and on drugs. Despite being warned not too, he followed Martin and confronted the teen. Part of that confrontation can be heard on 911 tapes. There are screams and then a gunshot and the screams fall silent. Zimmerman broke every neighborhood watch rule that night, including carrying a weapon and following and confronting Trayvon.

Martin’s death may have been just another side story on the evening news were it not for social media. The story was kept alive and grew into a new moment that has galvanized and educated Americans on the dangers of profiling and stereotypes. Martin did not die in vain and his death has brought America face-to-face with racism in her midst.

Martin is this generation’s Till. His death must be the catalyst to change a system that is racist and suspects young men of color simply because of what they look like and the clothes they wear. His death is the rallying cry and the impetus for change in American justice. Hopefully, it is the thing that will change hearts and make us all take a better look at ourselves and what we can do to fight intolerance.

Zimmerman may not be a racist, but his actions are part and parcel to a racist society. I hope that the bullet that took Martin’s life becomes a symbol of change. If it makes one person speak up the next time they hear a racist joke, Trayvon did not die in vain. If it causes one person to think differently when a black man walks by, Trayvon did not die in vain. If it changes the gun laws and makes states take a look at the Stand Your Ground Laws, Trayvon did not die in vain. If it cause each of us to look a little bit differently at the Trayvons of the world, then his death is not in vain.

Let’s make sure that Trayvon’s death is not in vain. RIP Trayvon.


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    • drmiddlebrook profile image

      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Unfortunately, for many, it will not be until an overzealous "neighborhood watch" person accosts someone else and then confronts them, simply for walking down the street, that it will become clearer to more people why so many are upset over the verdict rendered in this case.

      I, for one, don't want to (and do not intend to, mind you) answer to any fellow private citizen who might follow or stop me, delaying my enjoyment of my life, whether it involves chilling out with a friend while enjoying Skittles and iced tea, or something else, to ask why I am walking anywhere I decide to walk to as a free citizen of these United States.

      I think if every person who walks down a street today in America, for any reason, was followed, stopped, confronted, or accosted by someone they do not know--of any race or ethnicity--someone demanding to know where/why they were walking as if they had no right whatsoever to walk there or to be where they were, most people would find that to be a violation of his or her civil liberties.

    • profile image

      StevenHammond 4 years ago

      First of all, you are going under the assumption that this WAS murder. It clearly was not. This was a case of self defense and the jury agreed. You are as guilty as the rest of our useless-as-tits-on-a-bull lamestream media for trying and convicting a man of a crime BEFORE HE WAS EVEN CHARGED.

    • Royshub profile image

      Royshub 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thank you for writing this.

      I was so shocked, saddened and outraged when i saw this through a tweet posted by will smith or one of his followers. The tag line was a girl arrested for throwing flour on kim kardashian but nothing done to the guy who shot Treyvon Martin.

      What is wrong with us? Every man woman and child in THESE UNITED STATES that I LOVE so much. Have the EXACT same rights. And i like most others are outraged that NOTHING happened to the guy who shot this innocent kid! Only through our speaking out is this now being looked at.

      Thank you again for writing this.

      WE are ALL important and as a nation of free-will individuals we should act upon this because

      You, I, you're neighbor, the guy or gal you don't know MATTER!

      We should not go silently into the night

      Freedom and Justice for all.

    • profile image

      Jeep 6 years ago

      Anyone that gets ticked off at someone else can use deadly force. If this was a white kid vs. a white adult, there wouldn't be an issue.

    • LadyLyell profile image

      LadyLyell 6 years ago from George, South Africa

      Read with interest!

      As a Christian I can not condone the killing of another human.

      Racism can cross the color line either way as you would know neither being acceptable.

      I am a white woman who was violently attacked by a number of black men who were shouting "kill the white... woman" would also disgust you I'm sure. My car was stoned beyond repair while I was inside and the shock left me with a stutter for five years.

      Having done much social work in Africa to help needy black people has always and always will be one of the most rewarding times in my life.

      My sincere sympathy to the family of this young boy, such a sad loss.

      PS:- The reason I eventually left Africa was the last time a black man put a gun at my head while his friend robbed me. I am lucky to be alive so I can relate to the terror of this young upright citizen

    • LHwritings profile image

      Lyndon Henry 6 years ago from Central Texas


      Again, thanks for your continuing effort to publicize the Trayvon Martin case and the pattern of American racism that has led up to it. I've voted this Up and Useful.

      The upswell of mass outrage (black AND multi-color) is good, but this mustn't focus just on an act of individual racist murder, or even just the racist culture that permeates American society. It needs to target the POLICIES and the SYSTEM that foster this.

      Trayvon's murder was unleashed by a law intended (through wink and nudge subtext) to empower white bigots to blow away blacks at their whim. But this law itself has been unleashed by a campaign at the top echelons of U.S. society to rev up the racist oppression of the black population -- de-funding public education (Tea Party GOP and Obama); cracking down on union rights and especially public worker unions, with heavily nonwhite memberships; ending "welfare as we know it" (Clinton administration); victimizing black and Latino maritime and longshore workers (Bush administration); de-funding healthcare, especially for low-income (black, Latina) women; disenfranchising lower-income blacks, Latinos, and others via new "voter ID" laws and extra requirements that portend a return to "poll tax" obstacles.

      Hunt-and-kill murders of blacks are most of all given the nod by the increasingly overt racism of the Tea Party GOP, and the acquiescence of top Democrats -- and the outrage over the death of Trayvon Martin needs to build a fightback against that.