It has been almost seven years since Trayvon Martin—an unarmed 17-year-old black boy—was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida while walking through a gated community. Martin’s death gave rise to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and in 2018, his story was chronicled in a docuseries produced by Jay-Z. Today, February 5th, would have been his 24th birthday.
According to CNN, on February 26th, 2012, George Zimmerman, a then 28-year-old member of his neighborhood watch, saw Martin walking through the neighborhood and called 911 to report a “suspicious” person. Although dispatchers told Zimmerman not to follow Martin, he did, and after a reported altercation, he shot Martin in the chest. At the time of Martin’s death, his pockets contained a can of iced tea, a bag of skittles, a lighter, headphones, a cell phone, and some money. He was talking on the phone with his 16-year-old girlfriend when Zimmerman confronted him.
NPR reports that Zimmerman was arrested in April 2012 on charges of second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and the jury acquitted him on the grounds of self-defense (even though, again, he followed Martin). In the years since his acquittal, Zimmerman has been arrested for both assault of an ex-girlfriend and stalking.
A profile of Martin in the Miami Herald depicts him as a regular teenage boy. The high-school junior was a former football player who loved video games and wanted to go to either Miami University or Florida A&M University. He had zero record of violence. While an autopsy found a small amount of THC—a chemical compound found in marijuana—in his system, NPR notes that Jay-Z’s docuseries Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story explores how this information was used to vilify Martin in a way that many believe to be racist.
In reaction to the verdict, the Martin family’s lawyer, Ben Crump, said that Martin would be remembered along with Medgar Evers and Emmett Till “as symbols of the fight for equal justice for all.” In response to the ruling, three activists, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, founded Black Lives Matter to fight institutionalized racism and police brutality against black people. The organization now has more than 40 chapters and has organized protests after several high-profile killings of black people, like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
It’s safe to say that the ripples of Martin’s death continue to be felt years later. We will never forget him, and we will continue to fight for justice for all people in his memory.