February 25, 2013
Benjamin Crump and Sybrina Fulton (Jonathan Capehart)
Benjamin Crump and Sybrina Fulton (Jonathan Capehart)

Ever since the killing of Trayvon Martin a year ago tomorrow seared the national consciousness, passions have run high. Read the comments after any piece on Trayvon and his killer George Zimmerman, and you will encounter a range of reactions, from shock and pain to raw racism. The noxious notion among some Zimmerman supporters that the unarmed 17-year-old got what he deserved is particularly galling to his mother, Sybrina Fulton.

It really is disheartening to know that people in general are trying to justify why this adult male went after this teenage, young man. You can’t justify it. You can’t give a reason why. Because he was wearing a hoodie? Because of the color of his skin? Because of what he thought?
[I]f this adult had remained in his vehicle, like the police dispatcher advised him to do, then this situation could have been avoided. He chose to follow my son. He chose to pursue my son. He chose to confront my son. And the result is my son’s death. I believe the responsibility lies on him as an adult because my son was not following him. He did not confront him. He did not chase him. And he did not have a weapon.

Zimmerman was a stranger to Trayvon, a guest in the gated Sanford, Fla., community where Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer. Fulton told me during an interview Friday that she taught her son “the same thing any other parent would, [which] is to avoid strangers and to not talk to strangers and, you know, walk away from strangers.” According to a sworn interview, the 16-year-old girl who was on the phone with Trayvon at the time of the confrontation told prosecutors that he told her there was a “crazy and creepy” man following him. She told him to run. Even Zimmerman said in his call to the non-emergency line at the Sanford Police Department, “[H]e’s running.”

“I’ve always maintained this, and I believe it with all my heart,” Fulton’s attorney Benjamin Crump told me, “Trayvon went to his grave never knowing who this strange man was who was pursuing him.”

But there was a confrontation of some kind, and Zimmerman had the wounds to show for it. During a discussion of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, Crump contended that  Zimmerman’s injuries were triggered by his own actions.

“[I]f there was any kind of altercation, it was Trayvon defending himself because we all know Trayvon was running away from him,” Crump argued. “If Trayvon is running away from him trying to get away from him, how is Trayvon starting the fight? How’s he starting the confrontation?”

As you might imagine, race figured prominently in this part of the interview. Because what we know about this case is damning enough — a man with a gun kills an unarmed teenager and isn’t arrested for 59 days — I have studiously avoided discussing race as a motivating factor in the fatal events of Feb. 26, 2012. But, as we’ve seen from the rabid hate aimed at Trayvon, there’s no question race plays a role in how folks view what happened that rainy night.

“[I]t’s undeniable that the whole case is turned on this issue of race because we believe completely that if, Trayvon was a little white boy, [Zimmerman] would have been arrested day one,” said Crump.

“What if Trayvon was a little black boy and he shot an adult man and the man didn’t have a gun? What would have happened to Trayvon? Would he be arrested?,” Fulton asked rhetorically. “Of course he would. He wouldn’t have had two bond hearings and be out. So would Trayvon have been afforded the same opportunities?”

They are not alone in this sentiment. Ask just about any African American and they will decry the same double standard that seems to tilt the scales of justice out of balance when either the victim or the perpetrator is African American. That Zimmerman could take Trayvon’s life and walk out of the police station uncharged only heightened this sense of unfairness.

Still, Fulton urged people to look beyond race when looking at her son’s killing. “We have to cross those [racial] lines and say this was a teenage that was doing absolutely nothing wrong.” Crump summed up it best when he said, “There are no rights that George Zimmerman, self-admitted killer, has that trumps the rights of Trayvon Martin’s right to live.”

Read Part 1 and Part 3 of the interview with Trayvon Martin’s mother.

Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.