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Matt Semino

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Trayvon Martin: The Heart of a Wildfire

Posted: 04/ 3/2012 11:11 am

Spreading like a wildfire, outrage over the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has ignited an explosive national dialogue about the tumultuous and fractured status of race relations in the United States.

Rallies held across the country by prominent civil rights leaders, politicians, clergy, community organizers and celebrities such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Chaka Khan, Betty Wright and Alonzo Mourning, among others, have called for George Zimmerman's immediate arrest and dramatic social change in response to Martin's death. At its heart, this human tragedy is fueling what has been a long-simmering but essential outpouring of emotion and frustration concerning deep-seated divisions within American society.

Trayvon Martin is forcing a difficult but brutally candid reexamination of the institutional and legal structures that continue to perpetuate ingrained racial inequity in our nation decades after the civil rights movement. Although this case is now seared into the public consciousness, it remains unpredictable which direction the wheels of justice will actually turn. Many may not be satisfied with the ultimate outcome. Still, the protest cries that this story is generating must continue beyond its now uncertain journey through the legal system, even if Zimmerman is not found culpable.

Each day, new evidence and conflicting accounts emerge as to what transpired on that dark, rainy February evening in Sanford, Fla. Although full-scale state and federal investigations are currently underway, it could be months, if ever, before Martin's family, the public and the media get the answers they are so desperately seeking and deserve. Most recently, Martin's family has sought a Justice Department review of why state prosecutors overruled the recommendation of lead homicide investigator Chris Serino to press manslaughter charges against Zimmerman. Right now, there are many more distressing questions than satisfactory revelations, only serving to exacerbate the national despair.

George Zimmerman's infamous 911 call where he was told by a dispatcher not to pursue Martin, recent voice analysis of the emergency 911 call where a person is heard screaming for help, accounts told by eyewitnesses as well as Martin's girlfriend, and initial versions of the released Sanford police surveillance video paint a picture of Zimmerman as the initial aggressor. This evidence also looks to flatly refute his claims of self-defense.

Yet, now, newly enhanced versions of that same surveillance video released by ABC News, leaked police reports and recent statements made to the media by Zimmerman's brother, father and friend Joe Oliver seem to construe a different portrait of the man, his version of events and his credibility regarding claims of injury at the hands of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman's family members and friend have also stated that he is not racist.

With Florida currently limiting the public release of records connected to the case as it proceeds with its criminal investigation, it has become even more challenging to evaluate what the truth really is. Greater details will likely emerge if it is determined that there is sufficient probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman and file criminal charges against him.

In a recent interview with HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell, special prosecutor Angela Corey suggested that the public will eventually have a clearer picture of what actually happened. She stated,

"Florida is a full discovery state. We want the nation and the world actually to know that. Everything that we get our hands on will be furnished in discovery and once it is furnished in discovery, I believe people will have a much better idea what this case is about."

As this divisive case is expected to go before a Seminole County grand jury this month, the painful realities of our society that Trayvon Martin now represents are finally being voiced. From Washington to Hollywood to Main Street, Martin's story has struck a cultural nerve that demands effective policy response. In death, Trayvon Martin stands in the eye of a tempestuous storm that is forcing us to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

At its most humanistic level, a mother and father are mourning the senseless loss of a child, questioning why this happened to their son. Through this lens, we are recognizing that racial profiling and stereotyping is an ugly, embedded part of our culture. We are challenging the efficacy of "Stand Your Ground" laws, analyzing whether they provide an unjustified license to kill and have a disparate impact on minority groups. We are questioning why too many young African American men are incarcerated and losing their lives daily to violence. We are acknowledging that institutionalized racism exists. We are finally seeing what Trayvon Martin means.

Whether or not George Zimmerman is arrested, charged criminally, brought to trial and found guilty or innocent, the open gashes on our skin will continue to bleed. They will only begin to heal when the knives causing these wounds are taken away from violent hands.

IN SESSION Anchor Christi Paul, IN SESSION Correspondent Jean Casarez and Attorney Matt Semino Discuss the Trayvon Martin Case on March 30, 2012