It was February 2012 and a young Trayvon Martin was on his way home with a pack of skittles and an iced tea. Dressed in a hoodie on that rainy fateful day in Sanford, Fl., 17-year-old Trayvon would never make it home. He was shot and killed by a self-described neighborhood watcher. That man, George Zimmerman, wasn't arrested the night of the killing. Nor was he arrested in the weeks immediately following the tragic death of Trayvon. It wasn't until his parents, attorneys, we at National Action Network (NAN) and others around the nation rallied for justice on behalf of a young teenager whose promising life was so violently cut short, that we began to see change. That is precisely what Trayvon's family had been asking for from the beginning -- accountability. Why was it that a man who admitted to killing their son was able to roam the streets freely? Why was he never arrested, and why was there not a thorough investigation? On Monday, we watched as jury selection in the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial began. It took some time to get here, but this is exactly what Trayvon's loved ones and all those on the side of progress wanted: a day in court.
When I first learned of the tragic case involving Trayvon Martin, I was shocked and in disbelief. I could not understand how an individual who admitted to shooting a teenager to death was never even arrested. It has always been my position that no matter what the defendant's alleged reasoning or defense may be, he should have been arrested and the matter properly investigated. If you don't follow the basics of law and order, then how are we to believe that justice will be delivered effectively? That is why we organized. That is why we rallied. And that is why we marched in Sanford a few weeks after the dreadful incident. Thousands from around the country gathered in Florida as we demanded the arrest of George Zimmerman. We chanted and peacefully protested the Sanford police department's failure to properly handle this case. We never rendered our own verdict; we instead urged authorities to follow proper protocol and have him arrested, an investigation put into place and a court of law to decide. This week, nearly a year and a half since Trayvon's death, that day has finally arrived.
There are those who try to criticize and diminish the work that we do. They try to paint us as the abusers, when we are just highlighting the abuse. They try to make us into the aggressors when we work to give voice to the voiceless and the oppressed. They try to make people believe that we are in the wrong when we are just shedding light on the wrong in society. But that's ok. Because we know that we're on the side of justice, and we believe that all of us should be striving for a better tomorrow. One where the police won't assume the role of judge, jury and executioner. One where a person who commits murder will be arrested no matter what his/her story or personal background. One where local police departments will do their job and federal intervention will not be required. And a world where everyone will be equal in the eyes of the law.
I have met with Trayvon's parents and their attorneys several times. Even today, the pain in his mother's eyes is as vivid as ever. Nothing can and nothing ever will replace the joy she received from her son. But what has added an undue burden to her grief has been the lack of an appropriate police investigation from the beginning. The seemingly endless organizing, and advocacy work on behalf of her son has undoubtedly taken its toll. But it's because of her devotion and the devotion of Trayvon's father in seeking justice that we are now all paying attention. If they weren't the initial advocates for their son, it's likely that this case may have just been swept under the rug. Despite the horrific loss of their precious Trayvon, they remained active because they knew that their son's killer hadn't even been arrested, nor charged with anything. Zimmerman was free to walk around as if nothing had occurred; meanwhile Trayvon's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, would never hug their son again.
This week, all eyes are again on Sanford, Fl. as the Zimmerman trial gets underway. It has been a long time coming. As jury selection takes place, we are going to see many methods of distraction. But none of it can negate the fact that Zimmerman stands accused of second-degree murder in a court of law. It is now up to the judge and a jury of his peers to listen to the facts and make a decision. But for a boy whose voice has been silenced forever, we can take a semblance of comfort in knowing that we did not give up.
For those who think that protests and marches are outdated or unnecessary, guess again. It's only through advocacy that justice prevails. And prevail it must.