Trayvon Martin’s parents aren’t convinced much progress has been made on racial justice since the Florida teenager was killed five years ago in a shooting that helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement, but they say at least his death reignited a national conversation about it.
Now they fear President Trump will reverse whatever has been accomplished. Both are considering running for political office to “be part of the change” they say the nation needs.
“Since Trayvon’s death, we saw how divided the country is on these issues and we saw how the country can come together,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, told Capital Download. “You have those that are for uniting the country and you have those that want to be apart. And what this new presidency does, it takes those that want to be apart and it puts them right in the position where they can say, ‘We’ll change the laws, and we’ll make it tougher.'”
He worries that the new administration will make it easier for law enforcement officials and citizens to justify violence against minorities on the grounds they felt their safety was imperiled. At his trial for shooting Trayvon, George Zimmerman argued he felt threatened by the 17-year-old, whom he had followed in his car and then on foot.
In their new book, Rest in Power, being published Tuesday by Siegel & Grau, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin testify in alternating chapters how an explosive national controversy unfolded in their lives, from the shooting in 2012 to the protests in the street to the trial of his killer. The 331-page book ends with Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013 on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Now, in an interview with USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series, Fulton and Martin say they are considering running for office, an idea they would have found laughable five years ago — “before our life got interrupted,” as she put it.
“Before I was just comfortable with my average life, but now I feel like I’m just obligated to be part of the change,” Fulton said. “The only way we can be part of the change is if we start with local government and we work our way up.”
How far up?
“It could go all the way to the White House,” she declared, though it would begin with a bid for, say, city or county commission.
“There’s no limitations,” Martin agreed. “I think once you embark on a journey, you don’t minimize your goal; you want to maximize your goals. So you start on the local level and then you work your way up and hopefully it will take us to a place where we can help more than just local, more than just state. National. That would be the focus.”
They are distressed by the new president’s attitude, a sharp change from his predecessor. At one point, then-president Obama said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” urging Americans to give serious consideration to the issues behind his shooting. When Zimmerman was acquitted, a somber Obama said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
They are sitting in the modest offices of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, a nonprofit they founded to battle gun violence and help families and young people. On the wall just behind them, on the third floor of the Florida Memorial University library here, there is a five-foot-tall blow-up of what has become an iconic photo of their son in one of the hoodies he wore almost everywhere.
Fulton was one of the so-called Mothers of the Movement who helped solidify Clinton’s support in the African-American community during last year’s campaign.
If he had lived, Trayvon would be turning 22 next Sunday.
“A lot of times in the national spotlight, they celebrate his death,” Fulton said. (The fifth anniversary of that is later next month, on Feb. 26.) “But we don’t see any importance in celebrating his death, and so we celebrate his birth. …
“Every year, I always say that I’m not going to cry when they sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ and lo and behold, as a mother, you know, I cry every year. I tear up every year,” she said. “Every year, it reminds me that we’re missing him another year.”