A year and a day have passed since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s life was taken from him on the streets of Sanford, Florida, by self-proclaimed neighborhood guardian George Zimmerman.
Martin’s killing outraged the full spectrum of U.S. demographics, although the focus for that outrage, according to media coverage, split along racial lines.
White Americans, reportedly, viewed the incident as a gun-violence issue, while black Americans were said to have defined the killing as racially motivated.
(Actor-comedian Bill Cosby was one of many notable exceptions to these generalized breakdowns, telling CNN’s State of the Union that the debate should focus on gun ownership rather than race.)
ColorOfChange, an advocacy organization that “exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice,” released a commemorative video on the one-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s killing. ColorOfChange clearly views the 17-year-old’s death as a racially motivated killing—and as a tragic consequence of irresponsible and deadly gun ownership laws.
The video begins with convenience store surveillance video of young Trayvon selecting his Skittles and iced tea as the voice of George Zimmerman crackles on a taped 911 call.
“If it weren’t for the hundreds of thousands of you who spoke up to demand basic dignity and justice, Trayvon Martin’s case would have been ignored.”
“Hey, we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood,” says Zimmerman, “and there’s this real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. These assholes, they always get away.”
As the ColorOfChange video notes, “Trayvon didn’t get away.”
“In a culture that inundates us with images of Black men as violent—not to be trusted, inherently criminal—we are continually reminded that something as simple as walking home from the corner store can draw unwanted attention that puts our very lives in danger,” said ColorOfChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson in a statement accompanying the video’s release.
Trayvon Martin’s face seems to be asking something: ‘What are you going to do to make things better?’
The video gives a roll call of organizations that have mobilized in the past year to bring Martin’s killer to justice (Second Chance on Shoot First/Moveon/National Urban League/etc.) and asks viewers what they will do in the year ahead to spread the color of change (tell your story/share this video/sign a petition/volunteer/write a letter/call congress/etc.).
“If it weren’t for the hundreds of thousands of you who spoke up to demand basic dignity and justice, Trayvon Martin’s case would have been ignored,” stated Robinson. “The movement that came together to demand justice for Trayvon demonstrates the power of our collective voice.”
Through that collective voice, ColorOfChange is calling for justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin—and to stop the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national lobbying group that has pushed to put “Shoot First” laws on the books in states around the country.
That agenda won’t unite every American, but it should play well to multitudes of blacks and whites alike.
Do you think the Trayvon Martin killing is more about guns or race? Explain why or if the distinction matters in COMMENTS.
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Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice. Email Allan | @Allan_MacDonell