It's Been 10 Years Since Trayvon Martin's Death And The Inception Of The BLM Movement

Emily Brown

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It's Been 10 Years Since Trayvon Martin's Death And The Inception Of The BLM Movement

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Ten years ago today, February 26, neighbourhood watch captain George Zimmerman ignored police orders and shot dead 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The incident led to a controversial second-degree murder trial and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The shooting took place in Sanford, Florida, where Martin was visiting his father after being suspended from his high school in Miami. The student was walking back from a 7-Eleven when he encountered 28-year-old Zimmerman, who called the police and told a dispatcher he had seen a 'real suspicious guy' who 'looks like he's up to no good'.

The dispatcher told Zimmerman they didn't need him to follow Martin, but he ignored their instruction and followed him anyway. There were no eye witnesses to their altercation, but people in the area reported hearing a gunshot moments later, which struck Martin in the chest. He was pronounced dead, and Zimmerman claimed the shooting came in self-defence.

Memorial to Trayvon Martin (Alamy)
Memorial to Trayvon Martin (Alamy)

Though Martin's death was initially briefly covered by local media, it wasn't until his family hired civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and gained connections to a publicist that they were able to increase the profile of Martin's case.

In a statement following Martin's death, then-president Barack Obama said: 'And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids... You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.'

In the weeks after the teenager's death, a Change.org petition calling for the arrest of Zimmerman was started and turned over to Martin's parents.

Per The MIT Press Reader, the petition read: 'It’s been nearly two weeks and the Sanford Police have refused to arrest George Zimmerman. In their public statements, they even go so far as to stand up for the killer – saying he’s 'a college grad' who took a class in criminal justice.

'Please join us in calling on Angela Corey, Florida’s 4th District State’s Attorney, to investigate my son’s murder and prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin.'

Celebrities began tweeting the petition and it soon surpassed 1.3 million people, while rallies were held in cities across the country.

On April 11, 2013, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, to which he pleaded not guilty. Three months later, following a three-week trial and more than 16 hours of deliberations, the all-female jury found him not guilty.

The decision to acquit Zimmerman inspired the founding of Black Lives Matter (BLM); a movement 'whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes'.

It began as a group of student activists known as the Dream Defenders held a 31-day occupation of the Florida Capitol building. As the BLM site explains: 'In the 31 days that followed, not only did we learn about the failed political leadership of those entrusted to care for the well-being of those vulnerable to harm and suffering, but we were also made aware of the persistent and revolutionary power of young people. And it was in this moment, too, that the beginnings of our global network began to coalesce and #blacklivesmatter as our rallying cry first emerged.'

Demonstration against George Zimmerman's acquittal (Alamy)
Demonstration against George Zimmerman's acquittal (Alamy)

Over the past nine years, the movement has received support from across the globe as it works for 'a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise'.

The Black Lives Matter hashtag was first used in a Facebook post from activist Alicia Garza in July 2013, according to the New Yorker, as she wrote 'a love letter to black people' as an affirmation for those who were devastated at the decision to acquit Zimmerman.

Over the years its usage spread and grew, and it has become prominent amid calls for justice in cases such as the deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

Black Lives Matter supporters (Alamy)
Black Lives Matter supporters (Alamy)

Meanwhile, supporters of the BLM movement have made their voices heard further by joining protests and demonstrations across the globe.

Critics of the movement have argued that 'all lives matter', but Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, has stressed that the movement is 'not taking away from anybody else's life', NPR reports, but about 'putting emphasis on Black lives because Black lives seem so... disposable.'

10 years after Martin's death, BLM is still encouraging people to join the movement to 'fight for Freedom, Liberation and Justice', and promises to 'continue to struggle alongside [Trayvon’s family and loved ones] and work to build a world befitting our children and future generations… a world where Black people are free.'

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org 

Topics: Features, Racism, Black Lives Matter, US News, Life

Emily Brown
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