The death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., has sparked headlines around the country, along with many discussions about race, the law, and the media.
Martin was killed as he returned from a trip to a convenience store. The man who shot him, George Zimmerman, has not been arrested; he says he acted in self-defense.
Trayvon's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, visited Capitol Hill this week to meet with members of Congress. While in Washington, D.C., Tracy Martin spoke about the case with Tell Me More host Michel Martin. An edited version of their conversation follows:
It's been reported that early in the investigation, the Sanford Police Department sought an arrest warrant from the Seminole County State Attorney's office, and the request was refused. How did you react to that news?
"Just to know that the lead investigator felt that it was necessary to get a warrant for an arrest lets me know that, at that time, on site, there was enough evidence to make an arrest."
Does that change any of your feelings about the case?
"Honestly, it worsens it. Because we wouldn't have been put through so much grief, so much strain on our lives, had they just simply did the right thing."
What has been the hardest part of this for you, and for Trayvon's mother?
"Just dealing with the loss of a child.... Because we, as parents, feel as though we're guardians of our kids. And we don't plan to bury our kids unexpectedly like this. And I think it's especially difficult for fathers who are very close with their kids. Me and Trayvon was very close."
"I'm aware that it's going to be a process. It'll be a long time before the healing even starts. But we made vows to continue to fight until we get justice for him. So, I haven't even started grieving yet. And I don't think I'll start grieving, until I get justice for him."
How have you been talking about what happened to Trayvon with your two other sons?
"The only thing I can discuss is that he's gone, and we're searching for answers. I don't have an answer for the rest of my kids. But, the reason I don't have an answer for them is because the police department hasn't given me an answer."
Last week, Florida's governor appointed state attorney Angela Corey as a special prosecutor in the case. Do you have confidence in her?
"I have confidence until proven otherwise. I think my faith was broken a lot, by all the cover-ups that the Sanford Police Department had indeed placed upon us. So, in a certain aspect, that trust in the judicial system has definitely been lost."
"I'm not blaming any certain entities. But now Ms. Corey comes, and she comes with a different pitch. I mean, I have faith in her, until she proves otherwise."
One thing you've had to contend with is answering questions about your son publicly, and having his public profile be so enlarged. One story that has emerged is that he was suspended three times this school year. Were you aware of that?
"We was aware of the suspensions. But I think that was put out there just to lose focus on what was really happening — which was, there was a murder. And it was just an attempt to assassinate his character."
He was reportedly suspended for drawing graffiti on school grounds. And when he was searched, jewelry and other items, including a screwdriver, were found in his bag. Do you know if that's accurate?
"I just found out about it the other day. I had no knowledge of it, that jewelry was found in his possession."
What do you make of it?
"If it was to be true, I would say, what significance does that have on the case at all? I mean, nobody's perfect. We're not saying that Trayvon was perfect. But what we are saying is, he was our child. He was a good kid. And he didn't deserve death."
You've said that you feel the reports of his behavior at school were an attempt to demonize him.
"That's the only thing I can see. Because, what bearing does him being suspended from school have to do with him being murdered? At the time he was murdered, he didn't have jewelry in his pocket; he didn't have a screwdriver in his back pocket. So I don't see the significance in his school records, as opposed to him getting murdered."
Is there anything else you would wish to be known about him? What do you want people to know about Trayvon?
"Trayvon was a very good individual. He lived a very decent life. He was a God-fearing child. He had morals, he had principles, he had standards. Trayvon was me, you know. That was my kid. I truly miss him, love him. And this hurt won't go away easy."
There are conflicting reports about what happened, and who witnesses saw as the aggressor. What do you think happened out there?
"Based on what I know, and based on the initial 911 call from Zimmerman, he stated in the 911 call that Trayvon was running. And we know for a fact that at that time, Trayvon was on the telephone with a friend of his. And she did say that when she was talking to Trayvon, that she told him to run.
"She told him to run, because he told her, 'This guy's following me.'" She told him to run. He ran. He thought he got away from Zimmerman. Zimmerman came around another building. He told her that he thought he had lost him. And then he said, 'Man, this guy is still following me.'
"And she told him to run again — and he told her that he wasn't going to run anymore."
"He didn't do anything to have to run. He definitely belonged in the area where he was at. There was no reason for him to run. And I honestly think that Zimmerman approached him, tried to detain him. And as a person, he's always been taught to defend himself. If you try to detain an individual that you have no knowledge of, you don't know them, you know — he's supposed to go on the defensive."
"If Zimmerman came up to grab your kid — I mean, maybe your kids are smaller — I'm sure you would tell your kids to yell, kick, scream, whatever — get away from this individual, you don't know them."
"I think all Trayvon was trying to do was get home safe."
George Zimmerman's friends and family have taken pains to point out that he is of Hispanic heritage. They also say he's not a racist, and have vouched for his character. Has that affected your thinking?
"That really doesn't change my thought. The fact of the matter is, he shot and killed my son. Whether it be that he's white, black, green, red, it really doesn't matter. You listen to the tape. You listen to what he had to say. And you make that determination."
The public has been a part of this journey for you, with social media keeping this story in the public eye. You've said you don't want a bounty on George Zimmerman — something one man tried to offer. What would you like the public to do now?
"We just ask the public to continue to stand behind us and support us. As I said many times before, in this struggle, in this battle, we look for the public to be our crutch to lean on. We're not promoting violence with violence. We're very appreciative of everybody that's in support of us. And most certainly, we can't control anyone else's actions."
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