Grief Still Very Real For Trayvon's Mom
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are going to begin the program today with a story that was much in the news a year ago. That's when a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin, who just walked to the store for some candy and a drink, was shot and killed by a man named George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who followed the teen because, he said, he looked suspicious.
That happened a year ago tomorrow. More than a month after that, George Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty and claimed self-defense, saying that the teenager, who was unarmed, had attacked him and he feared for his life. The trial is now scheduled for June.
But since then, this case has been one that has sparked tremendous national attention, including from the president. And it has also sparked some intense debates about race and self-defense. Last year, we had the opportunity to speak with Trayvon Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, as well as the attorney who has been assisting them in their efforts to get the authorities to pursue charges in the case.
And Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and attorney Benjamin Crump, are back with us once again. Thank you both so much for joining us once again.
BENJAMIN CRUMP: Thank you, Ms. Martin.
SYBRINA FULTON: Thank you.
MARTIN: Ms. Fulton, there is nothing anybody can say to bring your son back but I do want to ask if there is anything over the course of the year that has brought you any measure of peace.
FULTON: I did receive peace when the person who shot and killed my son was arrested. That was a certain sense of peace just to know that he will be accountable for what he has done and the life that he has taken. Also, just to know that there's so many people that stand with us and support us. That helps a great deal as well.
MARTIN: Your son would have just turned 18 about a week or so ago. Was that a hard day for you?
FULTON: I didn't anticipate it being so difficult, but, yes, it was a very hard day for me. I cried most of the morning. And then the other half of the morning I was on my knees praying, asking for strength and asking God to just lift me up and just help me through, you know, this process that I'm going through.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask how you feel about the kind of national dialogue that has emerged in the wake of your son's death. Initially, you didn't want it to be a racial incident, but it's become a racial incident in part. And there are a lot of people who have different opinions about why that is. I wanted to ask you kind of now how you feel about the way the conversation we've been having in this country has proceeded since your son died.
FULTON: I still feel that we should not make this about black and white. I still feel that we should take this and look at it as face value. We should see that this was an unarmed teenager and we should see that this was an adult that chased after this kid. And just to put things in proper perspective, because anybody who has a kid, whether it's a girl or boy, you don't want some stranger following your child.
And that's the message I want people to understand, is that I don't want them to see this as a black kid. I want them to see this as a teenager. A teenager was walking, minding his own business, was not doing anything wrong. And this person followed him. And I'm glad America is talking about it. I'm glad, you know, different groups are talking about it. And I knew that it wouldn't all be positive.
So I understand that. But the conversations need to continue because we need to put those conversations into some type of action so that this does not happen to anybody else's kid.
MARTIN: Attorney Benjamin Crump, you made the point initially that if the situation had been reversed, if Mr. Zimmerman had been African-American and if Trayvon Martin had been white and Hispanic - and just pointing out once again Mr. Zimmerman's brother has recently done some interviews wanting to emphasize the fact that they are of mixed heritage.
His father is white with German roots. His mother has afro-Peruvian roots. That you're saying that there would not have been any delay in pressing charges. And you feel this would be viewed in a very different light. Well, how do you feel a year later?
CRUMP: Not much has changed in my opinion. I am an officer of the court, Ms. Martin, and every day we see young minority boys, little black and brown boys, charged and convicted with no evidence at all. So to have a self-confessed killer of an unarmed kid and hear those 911 tapes, all that objective evidence, you say why was he not arrested on the spot?
Why was Trayvon looked at as a criminal by the Sanford Police Department from day one, moment one? Why was Trayvon given a blood and alcohol analysis and not the killer? Why was, you know, Trayvon given a background check and not the killer? It's almost as if he was presumed innocent from the beginning.
MARTIN: But that's the law, isn't it? Aren't we presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?
CRUMP: Absolutely. But you want equal justice. A matter of guilt and innocence is for the jury and that's all they've asked for from day one. But remember, they were not going to arrest him. And that's the problem with this whole system and the stand-your-ground law. You cannot send this message to society that you can kill certain people and go home and sleep in your bed at night.
MARTIN: Well, Ms. Fulton, now that the matter is before the authorities, a trial date has been set, what would you like to happen now?
FULTON: I would like for them to review and revise the stand-your-ground law. And there's something that we're working on now which is the Trayvon Martin amendment. And that amendment says that you cannot follow, pursue, chase, anyone, be the aggressor, have a confrontation with them, shoot and kill them, and then go home to your bed and nothing happens. You're not - be accountable for what you've done.
So whatever decision that the jury makes, we're going to stand behind whatever. We might not agree with it but we're going to stand behind it.
MARTIN: Is it accurate, though, that you're also pursuing a civil wrongful death action against Mr. Zimmerman?
CRUMP: We are looking at all aspects to have full justice, not partial justice. Trayvon's life was valuable. He was precious. It mattered.
MARTIN: Attorney Crump, can you just clarify something for us? There are actually two legal proceedings now scheduled. There's a trial date in June, but there's actually a hearing before that that's perhaps more crucial. Can you explain that?
CRUMP: The trial date is set for June 10th. The stand-your-ground hearing date is set for April 29th.
MARTIN: Why is that important?
CRUMP: That is important because if you look at the stand-your-ground law that is in Florida and 29 other states across America, if you kill somebody or you use bodily harm and you can convince the judge that you were in fear of your life, then the judge, without having a trial by jury, can grant you immunity and it is over with.
And in Trayvon Martin's case, if she does that on the week of April 29th, then Trayvon's family is denied a trial by jury. It is over. And I think that that is something that many people in America will just be heartbroken and wouldn't be able to accept it.
MARTIN: Benjamin Crump is assisting the family of Trayvon Martin in their efforts to get the authorities to pursue charges in this case. I'm here with attorney Benjamin Crump and Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton. Sybrina Fulton, can you just talk a little bit about some of the people you've heard from over the course of the year?
I mean, initially I was struck by how many people who don't share your son's particular demographic profile became engaged in this. But what other things have you heard?
FULTON: I've heard from different people. It's not just African-American people. I mean, this is more general. And that's what I want to make sure that people understand, that when you're talking about what happened, you're talking about somebody that belonged to a loving family, a praying family. So Trayvon wasn't just nobody. He was somebody to us. And it's just, you know, I think a lot of times people get lost in the focus. And what I try to do is just remain focused on trying to get justice for him.
MARTIN: Do you remember when President Obama spoke about this and said if I had a son I'm reminded that he would look just like Trayvon. And when you heard that, how did you feel about it? Some people felt that that was an example of the president unnecessarily racializing something that shouldn't have been racial. Other people just thought it was a gesture of comfort. How did you respond to it?
FULTON: I just thought it was a good thing. It make us feel good to know that the president had heard about the case. I didn't see the racist part in there. I just simply saw that the president felt that it could have happened to one of his kids. He has two kids, also, so he was trying to actually interpret what happened and tried to express that it could have been his.
MARTIN: Attorney Crump, Ms. Fulton said that, if the jury does not return a conviction against George Zimmerman, she's prepared to accept it. What about you?
CRUMP: Well, I think, as a officer of the court, we have to, and so most Americans, I think, are people in minority communities. They have faith in the judicial system, no matter how many times it abandons them. They believe. And so they accept the rule of law and I think we all will accept it. We won't take vigilante actions. We won't do what we are accusing George Zimmerman of, of taking the law into his own hands because most our people feel he should have never got out that car to pursue Trayvon Martin. That's a job for the police.
MARTIN: Sybrina Fulton, I want to give you the final word here. There's been so much pain in this country in the last year. Story after story of young people dying under circumstances that should never have happened, but in a way, you're part of this sorority that you'd never want to be a part of, of mothers who've lost children that you should not have lost. And I just wonder, are any of you connected to each other?
FULTON: Yes. We did an interview about two weeks ago when we had the annual event for the Trayvon Martin Foundation and the person asked me about the shootings that was in Chicago and Hadiya Pendleton had recently been shot. That was the young lady who attended the inauguration for the president. And he kind of like asked me how I felt about that and I said that it's a hurting feeling because her family is where we were one year ago today and I just know, you know, because I've had people to pass away in my family. I had people to die in my family, but there's just nothing like losing a child.
It's just nothing like losing a minor to senseless violence. And I don't know how long I'm going to hurt, but I do hurt and, although it's been a year, the pain is still there, you know, because I know that my son is not coming home. So, as a mother, as a parent, I'm fighting for two sons. I'm fighting for my son that's on earth and I'm fighting for my son that's in heaven.
MARTIN: Sybrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin. He was killed a year ago tomorrow. We are also joined by Attorney Benjamin Crump. He has been assistant Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, in their efforts to press the authorities to continue to pursue this case. They were both here in Washington, D.C.
Thank you both so much for joining us today.
FULTON: Thank you for inviting us.
CRUMP: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Coming up, you probably recognize actress and playwright, Anna Deavere Smith from a number of her roles on stage and screen, but she says one aspect of her craft comes above all others.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: What can words really do? When you think about it, words can break your heart or they can change your day. I studied all kinds of things to understand about the power of words.
MARTIN: And she's just been awarded one of the country's major prizes in the arts, and she'll tell us more about it. That's ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.