Even though Trayvon Martin was not killed by a police officer, but by a neighborhood watch coordinator – George Zimmerman – Martin’s case is important because Zimmerman’s later acquittal officially started the Black Lives Matter movement.
On 26th of February, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator. Zimmerman had followed Martin for a few minutes because he perceived the teenager as suspicious. He called the police but ended the call before the shooting. Martin is said to have reacted to being followed and an altercation between the two occurred, which led to Martin’s death and to Zimmerman being injured.
Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, was not initially charged by the police. However, he was later charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter after a public outcry which saw protests, student walkouts, and comments from public figures such as Reverend Al Sharpton and President Barack Obama.
Zimmerman was criticized because he was carrying a gun and because he followed Martin. The neighborhood watch he was a part of was overseen by local police, and police officers who had met Zimmerman stated that they previously discouraged him from intervening in dangerous situations and advised him to instead call and wait for the police.
After a highly publicized trial, Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013. This was widely perceived as an unfair outcome, and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began to be used on social media.
By November 2013, two other shootings had attracted national attention. African-American teenager Jordan Davis was shot at a gas station in Florida by a white man, Michael Dunn, who complained about the volume of Dunn and his friends’ music. In Detroit, African-American teenager Renisha McBride was shot and killed by a white man, Theodore Wafer, whose house she approached after she had crashed her car nearby.
Although both Dunn and Wafer were charged and sentenced to prison, the shootings escalated racial tensions because, like in Martin’s case, they highlighted how African Americans are in danger of being killed without having committed any crime.
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On 17th of July,...