MIAMI – Trayvon Martin’s mother said yesterday’s decision by federal prosecutors not to charge George Zimmerman with a hate crime for killing her son effectively means the former neighborhood watch volunteer got away with murder.
“He took a life, carelessly and recklessly, and he shouldn’t deserve to have his entire life, walking around on the street free,” Sybrina Fulton told the Associated Press. “I just believe that he should be held accountable for what he’s done.”
The U.S. Justice Department announced Tuesday that there was not enough evidence to charge Zimmerman, who called himself a “white Hispanic,” with a hate crime in the 2012 killing of Martin, 17, who was black.
Fulton, wearing a T-shirt bearing a black-and-white image of her son in a hoodie, said she still longs for Zimmerman to be held responsible.
“I want to see people held accountable for what they’re doing,” she told the AP. “It’s just upsetting to know that a person can shoot and kill someone and justify it.”
Zimmerman, then a neighborhood watch volunteer, never denied killing Martin, but said he did so in self-defense after a fight ensued when he confronted Martin near his father’s home – despite being warned by a 911 dispatcher not to do so. Zimmerman later told investigators that he shot Martin because he feared for his life as Martin straddled him and punched him.
Zimmerman wasn’t indicted right away – his second-degree murder charge didn’t come down until three months after the Feb. 26, 2012 killing, fueling concern in black communities around the nation that officials were stalling, hoping public attention would fade away.
The killing, meanwhile, ignited a powder keg of emotion, most of it centered on race. Civil rights leaders and Martin’s relatives took to the streets contending that the teen – who’d gone out to get a soft drink and Skittles from a Sanford, Florida, convenience store only to encounter Zimmerman on his way back – might still be alive today if not for the color of his skin.
Zimmerman did not testify at his trial, but he told investigators it was a case of self-defense. A jury of six women – five white and one Puerto Rican – acquitted Zimmerman of criminal charges in 2013.
This week’s decision not to charge Zimmerman with a hate crime may effectively close the case, but it does not end Sybrina Fulton’s pain. She said she now channels her grief into work with The Trayvon Martin Foundation, which reaches out to other families who have lost children to violence.
“Although we are disappointed in these findings, it has steeled our resolve to continue traveling the country with the message of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting our youth and empowering those who demand justice and peace,” she said in a previous statement.
Fulton said she’s also watching to see how the Justice Department handles other high-profile killings of unarmed blacks. Decisions are pending on whether to charge police in New York and Ferguson, Missouri with depriving Eric Garner and Michael Brown of their civil rights by using excessive force in the course of duty.
“We remain poised to do everything in our power to help eradicate senseless violence in our communities, because we don’t want any other parent to experience the unexplainable loss we have endured,” the statement said.
“We will never, ever forget what happened to our son, Trayvon, and will honor his memory by working tirelessly to make the world a better place.”