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In the two years since Trayvon’s death, a legacy has been emerging

Jonathan P Hicks | 2/27/2014, 4:53 p.m.
It has been two years since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in a gated community in the suburbs of ...
Jonathan P. Hicks

In the two years since Trayvon’s death, a legacy has been emerging

It has been two years since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in a gated community in the suburbs of Orlando, Fla.

The death of that unarmed Black teenager who was looking forward to graduating from high school shocked the entire nation. It raised awareness to a new generation of the lessons learned by older Americans in the 1950s with the death of Emmett Till. It is a lesson that teaches that the lives of young Black men still have little to no value in the eyes of many Americans.

Sadly, that lesson has been underscored not only with the death of Martin, but with the many lives that have been lost since that fateful day two years ago. It is a litany filled with the tragic stories of the senseless deaths of young African-Americans who were killed because someone made snap judgments about what they represented, largely because of their race and youth.

We have been forlorn over the senseless death of Ramarley Graham, who was shot by police in New York City after they stormed into his home. We have been horrified by the death of Jonathan Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player who police officers assumed was up to no good, rather than what he really was: a young man who was looking for assistance after being in a car accident.

The nation was again stunned and dismayed by the death of Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old Black high school student who was shot and killed by a 47-year-old white man after an argument about loud music. Davis’ father and many around the country were dismayed by the fact that Davis’ killer was not convicted of first-degree murder because of a deadlocked jury, although Michael Dunn was found guilty of three charges of attempted murder.

But the two years since Martin’s death have produced an interesting array of fascinating and heartening developments. For one thing, it has focused attention on the rash of “Stand Your Ground” laws that were being enacted in a number of states with Republican, conservative-leaning legislatures. Many of these laws were enacted with few people realizing what those legislative bodies were doing.

And although George Zimmerman did not employ that law in his legal strategy of self-defense, the fact that it was a consideration at all drew outspoken criticism of such laws by progressive forces throughout the country.

Another heartening development in the aftermath of Martin’s death was the fact that so many Americans—particularly young people—took to the streets to protest the senseless killing of an unarmed Black teenager at the hands of an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer. It blunted and refuted any contention that young people in this generation are apathetic to the injustice.

The hoodie marches and the demonstrations at city halls and downtown areas throughout the nation serve as a testimony to the passion that Americans feel about Martin’s death, the disheartening verdict that found Zimmerman not guilty, as well as the continued incidents of unarmed young Black people being shot.

More and more, people are making clear that they consider Martin’s fate to be linked to the challenges faced by their own family members and friends. What has struck a chord with so many Americans is the fact that Martin seemed utterly normal, the kind of young man that would be in our families, at our churches or in our after-school programs.

And so, two years later, the legacy of Martin’s death in part is the fact that more people are now speaking out, registering their concerns about the impact of guns in American society. There is more work to be done, but the outrage over Martin continues to fuel the struggle.