03/26/2012 11:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Trayvon's Death Means for America


There are some events that transcend all others and taken on greater historic value and significance, perhaps even serving to reshape our culture, our laws and how we ultimately think. Trayvon Martin's death is such an event. And in terms of civil rights and race relations, the name Trayvon Martin will be forever etched in America's collective consciousness much in the same way as Rosa Parks, Emmett Till and Martin Luther King, Jr.

To be sure, all of the facts of Trayvon's death have yet to be investigated, uncovered and revealed. But on the surface, it would seem highly likely that an innocent 17-year-old black youth was stalked, confronted and provoked into some sort of dispute in which the young man, holding only an iced tea and bag of Skittles, was shot dead. His killer, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, remains free and has yet to be arrested or charged with any crime. Trayvon's killing has spurred impassioned protests nationwide, even resulting in an emotional statement from President Obama.

Zimmerman is hiding behind Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground Law," which permits the use of deadly force in cases of self-defense. But a 911 tape of his call while on neighborhood-watch patrol in the gated community where he followed and ultimately shot Trayvon clearly shows how he was told to stop pursuing the youth. This is the precise point where the law should no longer protect him, because it was the moment Zimmerman lost his right to claim self-defense and instead chose to put the life of another in grave danger. It was Trayvon, an unarmed young man being followed by a menacing older man with a 9mm semi-automatic weapon, who had more of a right to stand his ground.

As his grieving, shell-shocked father Tracy has vowed, Trayvon will not die in vain. His death has galvanized an entire nation in demanding justice. From his death I'm sure will come new legislation ("Trayvon's Law," which will protect innocent people from over-zealous civilian patrols) and amendments to old laws. You can bet that Stand Your Ground will soon exclude the pursuing and confronting of people. Police protocols will be changed. There will be schools named after Trayvon. There'll be documentaries and films preserving his legacy. Thousands of babies will be named Trayvon. And, justice will ultimately be served.

Trayvon was on the phone with his girlfriend at the time Zimmerman was following him. She told him to run. He said he didn't want to. And he shouldn't have needed to. Trayvon Martin stood his ground and he died for it. In America's chain of progress, he is already a major link.