“Trayvon Martin didn’t die so we can create a race war. He died so we can promote better understanding,” Simmons wrote.
Mia Farrow soon followed suit, telling her followers about the case and using the hashtag #Justice4Trayvon. Within days, that hashtag and others related to the killing started trending.
After a Change.org petition demanding justice for Martin languished for weeks, filmmaker Spike Lee’s retweet of a link for the petition caused it to take off. Now, Change.org calls the petition demanding Zimmerman’s arrest the fastest-growing petition in Internet history. It has more than 900,000 signatures. Radio talk show host Michael Baisden and activist Al Sharpton were among the others who had a hand in galvanizing public interest.
By Wednesday evening, hundreds wearing hooded sweatshirts were marching in New York City in memory of Martin, a demonstration labeled “the Million Hoodie March.” In his call to police, Zimmerman said that the “suspicious” person he saw, who turned out to be Martin, was wearing a hoodie.
Pruitt, the associate history professor, said the nation’s shock and the attention to the saga can be explained in the simplest terms: “People are caught off guard. They’re going ‘Wow. This is a kid. From the neighborhood. He wasn’t committing a robbery or anything.’ ”
He liked Skittles, which he had just bought from a local store, along with iced tea. He had a girlfriend. And his dream has been ended.
“There is the brutal nature of this,” said former Washington Post reporter Nathan McCall, a lecturer at Emory University who served time in prison himself and has spoken often about young black men and the criminal justice system. (Martin did not have a criminal record; he earned A’s and B’s in school.) “This sounds like a narrative out of the 1950s, where yet another black man gets randomly killed and the institutions in society that are supposed to respond, don’t respond accordingly. They blame the victim.”
The killing is likely to keep the soul-searching discussions around the country going for a while, particularly among blacks. Talks about race, the vulnerability of young black males, small-town justice and gun laws.
This is what happened two generations ago in Money, Miss. It was Aug. 24, 1955. A 14-year-old kid, visiting the state on vacation from Chicago, walked into a country store. He saw a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, and supposedly whistled at her. When her husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, heard about it, they vowed revenge.
And a few days later they rousted Till from sleep, drove the terrified boy around the dark Delta, shot him in the back of the head and dropped him into a river.
His killers, tried by an all-white jury, were acquitted amid cackling in the courtroom.
Mamie Till, the child’s mother, insisted her son’s casket be open. And so, it seems, began a good part of the modern civil rights movement. Hundreds lined up around the Chicago church where the funeral took place, the picture of Emmett in his casket publicized for all the world to see in Jet magazine.
“We forget about Southerners,” Pruitt said. “We so often associate black progress with a movement of African Americans out of the South. It isn’t shocking to me that the people in Florida said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ ”
Haygood and Horwitz reported from Washington. Dennis reported from Sanford. Elizabeth Flock contributed to this report from Washington.