Today marks the one-year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death and mourners will gather for candle-light vigils at Fort Mellon Park in Sanford, Fla., and at the University of Central Florida. For others around the country, the anniversary will be acknowledged by a period of reflection on the impact of the shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old black male at the hands of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.
It took days for the story of Martin’s death and law enforcement’s failure to arrest Zimmerman to make its way into the national news. The weeks it took for the arrest to be made prompted criticism of Florida’s “stand your ground” gun laws, and outrage at the perceived racial bias in the case’s handling.
Some believed that the quiet Florida city would become a center for civil rights protests, as demonstrators donned hoodies in nationwide support of Martin, asking, “Am I next?”
A year later, the cries for justice and equality have been quelled. Zimmerman’s murder trial is set to begin in June, after the case judge rejected defense attorneys’ request for a delay. Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder.
Sanford’s police chief was fired for the department’s handling of the case, and his replacement, Cecil Smith, is a black man. Smith will begin his job April 1, telling Florida’s WFTV, “My goal in the police department is to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
Even as Sanford recovers from the tragedy, the shooting has apparently had little effect on Florida’s rampant gun culture. A recent report from a state-commissioned task force, found that the “stand your ground” law is acceptable in its current iteration, though it acknowledged racial disparities in the application.
A study conducted last year found that 73 percent of defendants who enacted the self-defense statue where declared innocent in cases where the victim was black. Additionally, 61 percent of white voters polled after the Martin shooting were still in favor of the “stand your ground” law, while the majority of black voters were not.