Tuesday night, people donned hoodies and lit candles in vigils across the nation to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin.
Vigils in New York and Florida and a march in Washington, D.C., were reminiscent of the public response one year ago when Martin, 17, was shot and killed by an armed neighborhood watchman as he walked home from a 7-Eleven. George Zimmerman, then 27, approached Martin because he looked "suspicious," Zimmerman claimed. The watchman confronted him and, after a tussle, shot Martin in the chest.
"No matter what happens in the trial of George Zimmerman, those who marched, protested, tweeted, Facebooked, lit candles and wore hoodies know that without all of that collective action, Zimmerman would be walking around free and would have never seen the inside of a courtroom," Roland Martin wrote for CNN.
The case attracted national attention when Florida police refused to arrest Zimmerman, citing the state's Stand Your Ground law, which says that people acting in self-defense do not have an obligation to retreat before responding with force. Thirty-two states have similar laws.
The case provoked a nationwide debate on race and racial profiling (Martin was black), gun control and Stand Your Ground that continues today, although a year later, not much has changed.
Florida's self-defense law remains intact, and so do the other 32 states' laws, though some efforts are underway to change them. Although Martin's mother and her lawyer pursued a state amendment that would make it more difficult for someone who initiates an altercation to claim immunity, the amendment did not pass.
However, the Florida police chief who refused to arrest Zimmerman was fired, and Zimmerman himself was eventually charged with second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled to begin in June.
Although self-defense laws bore the brunt of the nation's scrutiny, many analysts say that Stand Your Ground isn't the entire issue. "After Trayvon's death, we focused much of our energy on discussion the Stand Your Ground law," writes Mychal Denzel Smith at The Nation. "...It wasn't just the gun in Zimmerman's hand that shot Trayvon. It was a historic rendering of black men as enemies of the state ... that caused Trayvon to lose his life that day. How do you legislate against that?"
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