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Posted at 09:30 AM ET, 03/28/2012

Trayvon Martin: A dead boy becomes a brand

Trayvon Martin is dead.  At 17 his potential and promise for a fully-lived life were cut horribly short last month at the end of a gun in the hand of a neighborhood watch volunteer who found the skinny unarmed teenager in a hooded sweatshirt “threatening.”

Whatever kind of man the boy who “loved sports and horseback riding” could have become is no longer a matter to be settled in time.  He will never attend college or become “an aviation mechanic.”

A memorial to Trayvon Martin. (Associated Press)
What lives on is "Trayvon Martin" the symbol. Social media has exploded with awareness-raising tweets bearing #Trayvon hashtags, Facebook cause pages to organize rallies, and YouTube tributes,  like this one by Chaka Kahn, attempting to use the teenager’s tragedy “for the benefit of humanity as a whole . . . for the Trayvon Martins of this world.”  Hoodies, like the one he was wearing and Skittles, the candy found in his pocket, have become emblems of the last terrible moments of the young man's life when he was chased and killed.

The dead boy's mother Sybrina Fulton, and his father Tracy Martin,
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has a word with the parents of Trayvon Martin - Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton - at a House Judiciary Committee briefing on racial profiling and hate crimes Tuesday. (Jahi Chikwendiu - WASHINGTON POST)
brought their son's case to national attention by posting an online petition to demand prosecution of his killer who has so far not been charged by the Florida attorney general, the local police chief, the Florida 4th District state's attorney nor the U.S. attorney general. More than two million signatures have been added to their appeal.

As the value of “stand your ground” self-defense laws come under new scrutiny because of the outcome of this case, political figures are giving speeches and holding hearings in Trayvon’s name. Civil rights advocates have evoked the Florida high school student’s death to demand change and examine issues of social justice. Defenders of the shooter, George Zimmerman are also using the dead boy’s story to gain ground.  After information leaked regarding Trayvon’s past school suspensions and possession of marijuana, his mother told the media, "They killed my son and now they're trying to kill his reputation."

Perhaps to expand the impact of her effort, lawyers at the Florida Women’s Trial Group law firm, representing Trayvon's mother, applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect the slogans “I Am Trayvon” and “Justice for Trayvon”  for use on “CDs and DVDs featuring TRAYVON MARTIN.”   Typically the Commerce department protection is sought so that unauthorized parties cannot use a brand or a likeness for commercial purposes.

Although I’m sure the grieving parents want to do whatever they can to make certain justice is done, critics will undoubtedly say they are attempting to cash in on the enormous public outcry over the slaying. 

Whatever the truth of their motives, the boy is dead.  But the symbol, and the many ways it might be exploited, live on.

By  |  09:30 AM ET, 03/28/2012

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