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Travyon Martin’s Death is a highly publicized murder trial involving the fatal shooting of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin by 28-year-old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida.
On February 26th, 2012, African American teenager Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by 28-year-old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. According to the official report, Martin was unarmed and found dead on the scene upon the arrival of police officers, who responded to a non-emergency call made by the shooter shortly before he approached Martin on his own.
Zimmerman, a community watch captain, described the incident as an act of self-defense after a physical scuffle ensued between the two. Though Zimmerman was taken into custody that evening, officers were unable to find any evidence contradicting Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and no charges were filed.
Though the case would go on to make national headlines in the news media and spark yet another round of debates over firearm control laws in the United States, it did not receive attention until Martin’s parents launched an online petition. Timelines of the story’s development have been compiled by ABC News and Mother Jones.
Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, created an online petition via Change.org on March 8th to pressure local police to pay closer attention to their son’s case. It gathered several thousand signatures in the three weeks leading up to national coverage of the story. By March 21st, it had become the fastest growing petition in Change.org’s history with 800 people signing per minute. Five days later, the petition reached 2.2 million signatures, with 1000 new signatures per minute. The Facebook group Justice For Trayvon Martin was created on March 15th, 2012, accruing 179,000 likes in just under two weeks.
Several celebrities including Mike Tyson, journalists Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace, and filmmakers Spike Lee and Michael Moore took to Twitter as early as March 19th using the hashtag #TrayvonMartin to bring attention to the case. Additionally, fake accounts for celebrities joined in the conversation. The now-suspended account @RealFerrelWill offered to donate a dollar to a fake foundation in Martin’s name for every retweet the message received. It was retweeted by hundreds of people and mentioned in an article on gossip site US Weekly. The fake account @ReaiWiiiSmith compared the inequality of Martin’s murderer going free to the arrest of the woman who flour bombed reality star Kim Kardashian at a red carpet event on March 23rd.
WE live in America where a girl that threw flour on Kim Kardashian was arrested on site. But the man who KILLED Trayvon Martin is still free— Will Smith (@ReaIWiIISmith) March 23, 2012
Despite the fabricated nature of @WiiiSmith’s tweet, a screenshot of the message was tweeted out by Spike Lee and Rosie O’Donnell the next day. It also appeared on photo sharing site Sodahead and gossip blog Celebuzz. The path of retweets and mentions of @ReaiWiiiSmith’s tweet was compiled on Storifyon March 26th. Later that day, it was revealed that Will Smith doesn’t have a Twitter account and the activist who threw the flour at Kardashian was not arrested.
The amount of Tweets per hour using Martin’s name peaked on March 24th, the day after LeBron James tweeted out a photo of the Miami Heat with their hoods up to show their solidarity with Martin’s family. The Pew Researcher Center collected tweets between March 17th and March 28th, finding that 28% of them contained messages of outrage and calls for justice for Martin and his family.
March 19th: A Million Hoodies
Digital strategist Daniel Maree published a blog post and YouTube video on March 19th encouraging people to join him in wearing hoodies while marching to the United Nations in New York City on March 21st. Several hundred people attended the march on the 21st in Manhattan, which was covered by the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, and TIME. The New York City march sparked similar rallies under the banner Million Hoodie March in Philadelphia on March 23rd, and in both Los Angeles and Iowa on March 26th.
In addition to the demonstrations in real life, Maree asked viewers to post photos of themselves in hooded sweatshirts on social networking sites using the hashtag #millionhoodies. Several celebrities participated in the hashtag on Twitter including Sean Combs, Nelly and digital director of The Onion Baratunde Thurston. On Tumblr, the single topic blog I am Trayvon Martin was created on March 20th featuring photos of people wearing hoods, acquiring nearly 200 submissions within a week. Finally, six New York state lawmakers wore hoodies over their suits in the Capitol chambers on March 26th to protest Florida’s lack of action towards the case.
March 22nd: Geraldo Rivera’s Gaffe
Journalist and former talk show host Geraldo Rivera tweeted on March 22nd that Martin’s hoodie was just as much to blame as Zimmerman, his shooter. The next day, an article was published on Fox News Latino in which Rivera asserted that wearing a hoodie made him look “like a hoodlum” and “gave his assailant cause to think him the enemy.” That day, he also appeared on the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends to discuss this on air.3]
After the segment aired, many Twitter users including comedian Aziz Ansari tweeted about their disappointment with Rivera’s commentary. Buzzfeed pointed out that Fox News carried a hooded sweatshirt in their online store which disappeared from the shop within hours. The single topic blog Geraldo in a Hoodie was also created on March 23rd to gather photos of the journalist wearing hooded sweatshirts.
Three days later, Stephen Colbert commented on the situation, stating that Congress should pass strict hoodie control legislation. The following morning, Rivera apologized for his statement, noting that he did not intend to draw attention away from an unarmed teenager’s death.
March 23rd: #WeAreTrayvonMartin Hashtag
The hashtag #WeAreTrayvonMartin began gaining steam on Twitter when NBA athlete LeBron James tweeted a photo of the Miami Heat basketball team wearing sweatshirts with their hoods up on March 23rd. That day, a single topic blog titled “I Could Be Trayvon” was created, where users could submit photos of themselves wearing a hoodie or personal stories about times they have felt racially profiled because of their clothing.
Discussions on the racial profiling surrounding the case appeared in articles on Current and the Christian Science Monitor as well as a YouTube video by Howard University students. Floridian rapper Piles also uploaded a song titled “We Are Trayvon” that day, announcing it would be made available on iTunes March 27th with all the proceeds going to Martin’s family.
March 27th: Spike Lee’s Mistweet
On March 23rd, Los Angeles resident Marcus Higgins published several tweets from his account @MACCAPONE with an address that reportedly belonged to George Zimmerman. The tweets were sent to both personal contacts as well as several celebrities in an attempt to draw the public’s attention. It was finally retweeted by director Spike Lee, who had nearly 250,000 followers at the time. The residents at the address did not have any relation to the shooter. The George Zimmerman attributed to the residence is now 41-year-old William George Zimmerman, whose parents David and Elaine McClain currently live in the house.
After receiving a bag of Skittles in the mail in reference to Martin having bought a bag of Skittles on the night of his death, the couple felt threatened and were forced to leave their home. On the 28th, both Higgins and Spike Lee apologized to the couple on Twitter for posting the McClain’s address, however all accounts involved may be suspended for violating Twitter privacy rules that state users cannot post other people’s street addresses without their permission. The story was covered by the Smoking Gun, CBS News, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
March 27th: Martin’s Email Hacked
A white supremacist hacker known as “Klanklannon” posted a series of images to 4chan’s /pol/ (political) board, claiming they were from Martin’s personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. The screenshots, which painted Martin as if he was involved in drugs and illicit activity, were reposted on the Neo-Nazi forum Stormfront that day. Klanklannon also posted the login information for Martin’s accounts to that forum so other users could check them out for themselves.
Gawker broke the story on March 29th, revealing that the hacker also had a screenshot of Martin’s Gmail inbox, which he had been using to apply to colleges. The emails contained information on SAT test dates and scholarship applications. The story was quickly reposted on the Huffington Post, New York Magazine, and the Miami New Times.
March 28th: Leaked Police Surveillance Video
A CCTV footage of George Zimmerman’s detainment with the police was posted to ABC News and CNN on March 28th. It was submitted to the Politics subreddit that night, where it received 3037 upvotes and a total score of 1554. Several Redditors inspected the video to see if it corroborated with the claim that his head and face were both bloodied and the back of his shirt was wet and grass-stained at the time of his arrest. Redditor atsugman compiled a set of stills in which Zimmerman’s head does not appear to be bloodied at all.
April 11th: Arrest of Zimmerman
On April 11th, 2012, a special prosecutor was appointed to the case and she filed charges of murder in the second degree against Zimmerman, who then turned himself in. On April 20th, the judge approved Zimmerman’s bail on a $150,000 bond and he was released from jail three days later. At an arraignment held on April 23rd, Zimmerman’s attorney entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client.
Sometime in April 2012, photographs of people on the ground with a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Iced Tea began surfacing on Facebook and Tumblr under the name “Trayvoning.” While it largely went unnoticed for about a month, the disturbing photo fad was picked up by Clutch Magazine and an article titled “Trayvoning: This Trend Has to Stop” was published on May 17th.
In the following week in May, links to two Facebook pages titled “Trayvoning” and photos began making the rounds on blogs like DailyDot, Christian Post and UPTOWN among others. Following the blog coverage of the photo fad, the Facebook pages were shut down but it has continued to spread on Tumblr, leading to an emotionally charged debate over its appropriateness.
June 24th: The Trial Begins
On June 24th, 2013, George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin commenced at a courtroom in Sanford, Florida. Facing an all-women jury of five Caucasians and one Hispanic member, the first day of the proceedings was heavily marked by bold opening statements from both sides, with the prosecutor greeting the jury with a quote full of expletives uttered by the defendant in the moments leading up to the deadly confrontation, while the defense attorney Donald West made his opening statement with a “knock knock” joke (shown below).
“Who is there?”
“George Zimmerman who?”
“Ah, good. You’re on the jury.”
Although the joke was intended to illustrate the importance of selecting an unbiased jury in such a highly publicized trial, West’s introduction was largely met by indifferent reactions from the jury and heavy criticisms online and in the news media, many of whom questioned the appropriateness of using a joke in a murder trial.
July 3rd: 4chan Interrupts Testimony
On June 3rd, 2013, during a Skype witness testimony at the trial of Zimmerman, members of the 4chan board /pol/ (Politics) managed to repeatedly interrupt the proceedings by dialing the Skype number of Scott Pleasants, a criminal justice professor from Seminole State College who was remotely testifying before the court about a course Zimmerman took with him in 2011, shortly after prosecutor Rich Mantei’s username was broadcast live on TV.
Former Reuters editor Matthew Keys tweeted a screen shot of the incoming calls at approximately 11 a.m. EST on July 3rd. Soon after, The Smoking Gun reported that the calls became so intrusive, Pleasants had to hang up the Skype call and finish his testimony over the phone. Later that day, the Daily Dot found a screenshot (shown below) from the /pol/ board with a photograph of Pleasants testifying, encouraging people to call the Skype number. However, this thread was not archived.
On July 13th, 2013, the jury delivered a verdict declaring Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter after 16 hours of deliberation.
Immediately after the verdict was read, Redditor RHCPismyfavoriteband submitted a post to the /r/news subreddit containing a roundup of news reports about the jury’s decision and a summary of the events leading to the trial. Within 48 hours, the post received over 21,400 up votes and 19,000 comments. In the comment section, users debated whether or not the verdict was just, with supporters of Zimmerman arguing he acted in self-defense and others claiming he shouldn’t have followed Martin in the first place. The same day, Zimmerman’s older brother Robert tweeted a message from their father:
Message from Dad: "Our whole family is relieved". Today… I'm proud to be an American. God Bless America! Thank you for your prayers!— Robert Zimmerman JR (@rzimmermanjr) July 14, 2013
In Oakland, California, roughly one hundred people gathered to protest the verdict, with police reporting several incidents of vandalism. Other protests were held in New York City, where more than 1,000 people held a sit-in in Times Square, and Los Angeles, where protesters stopped traffic for 25 minutes. Celebrities also took part in their own protests, including Stevie Wonder who declared a boycott against performing in any state with a Stand Your Ground law (shown below).
Also on Sunday evening, one of Zimmerman’s close relatives who was with him prior tot he shooting participated in an Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit that generated more than 6,400 upvotes and 5,700 comments. Using the handle Black_Metal, the relative explained that he stood by Zimmerman’s account, but acknowledged that he had changed since the shooting.
We Are Not Trayvon Martin
Also on July 14th, instructor Bob Seay from Lamar Community College in Colorado made a Facebook post titled “I am not Trayvon Martin” as a spin on the original hashtag #WeAreTrayvonMartin and single topic blog I Am Trayvon Martin, both of which began to circulate in March. His manifesto (shown below) acknowledged that he does not have to experience what Martin did as he is a middle-aged white man. However, he stated people not have to experience life from Martin’s point of view to know that shooting an unarmed teen was wrong. Within 48 hours, the post had been liked nearly 110,000 times and shared more than 46,000 times. The following day, the single topic blog We Are Not Trayvon Martin launched, accruing nearly 500 posts and submissions in a day sharing similar sentiments discussing white privilege from people across the globe. The blog has since been featured on Gawker, the Daily Dot, Mashable and Color Lines.
Juror B37’s Book Deal
On July 15th, Galleycat announced that Juror B37 and her attorney husband had inked a deal with literary agent Sharlene Martin to write a book about her experience with the trial. B37, who had voted to acquit Zimmerman, was also the first juror to speak publicly about the case, doing an exclusive interview with Anderson Cooper that night. Though she has chosen to remain anonymous, Gawker shared a video of her initial juror selection interview (shown below), in which she revealed she hated the media, claimed did not use the internet and called Martin “a boy of color.”
Soon after, a Change.org petition was created to convince Martin to drop her client so the juror could not “profit off of the injustice” of the verdict, gaining 1,346 signatures before it was closed. The petition was discussed at length on Twitter by its creator, Genie Lauren, and its supporters, resulting Martin rescinding the deal. Later that day, Juror B37 issued a statement (shown below) by way of Martin stating that she did not realize the amount of pain involved with the case due to her sequestering and was backing away from writing the book at all.
Halloween Costume Controversy
On October 25th, Florida resident Caitlin Cimeno uploaded an Instagram of herself posing alongside her friends dressed in their Halloween costumes as black-faced Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. At first, Cimeno’s Instagram post was met by approving responses from one of the two depicted in the image, but it quickly began circulating across Twitter and Facebook and by October 27th, it had gone viral-controversial after Gawker highlighted the Instagram in an article titled “Because Mere Blackface Wasn’t Offensive Enough For These Partiers.”
That same day, The Smoking Gun identified the three partygoers in the photograph as Caitlin Cimeno, Greg Cimeno and and William Filene, while revealing several details about the subjects, such as Filene’s felony conviction for auto theft and Caitlin’s history of racy comments on Facebook. In the following 24 hours, Cimeno’s Instagram was picked up by at least 60 news sites, according to Google News, with many articles declaring it as the worst or most offensive costume of this year’s Halloween.
Christian Science Monitor – Trayvon Martin Case: Is Hoodie a Symbol of Menace or Desire for Justice?
the Daily Beast – Trayvon Martin Killing Inspires 13 Tweets From Celebrities
Fox News Latino – Geraldo Rivera: Trayvon Martin Would Be Alive but for His Hoodie
The Huffington Post – Trayvon Martin ‘Million Hoodie March’ March Draws Hundreds In New York City
The Daily Beast – Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin in New York City (Photos)
Hollywood Reporter – Will Ferrell Fake Twitter Account Uses Trayvon Martin to Gain Followers
International Business Times – Spike Lee Twitter Gaffe Forces Elderly Couple Out Of Home, Did Not Do The Right Thing
The Daily Dot – Trayvon Martin killer’s story of self defense in question
FARK – Zimmerman defense lawyer apologizes to jury for telling knock-knock joke about them in his opening statement, asks them if they’ve heard the one about Trayvon Martin’s favorite flavor of Skittles