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5 Things You Need to Know About Trayvon Martin on the Anniversary of his Death

A year ago today George Zimmerman shot dead the unarmed black teen. Here's what you missed when headlines stopped.

Had Trayvon Martin not been shot dead on this day last year, he would have turned 18 this month. In the initial weeks following Martin’s death, national anger fomented as his killer George Zimmerman had walked free, without any charges, claiming self defense when he shot the unarmed teen. Across the country, thousands gathered for solidarity marches calling for justice and and end to the structural racism apparently characterizing the case.

Zimmerman, 28, was eventually prosecuted. In April he was charged and  charged with second-degree murder, and is currently awaiting trial set for June 10. While news about the case has perennially hit headlines in recent months — for example when  Zimmerman offered his autograph to his legal fund donors — the proceeding have general fallen under the media radar. Here are the major developments and issues to be aware of:

1) Contradictory evidence:

Much of the case being presented to jurors in Florida focuses around video and photo evidence from the night of the shooting. Zimmerman’s defense team produced images reportedly from the night showing the shooter’s head bloodied and cut. It’s also unclear whether blurry video footage shows Zimmerman with an injury at the back of his head or not. According to the defendant, Martin had aggressively forced him to the ground and he shot in self-defense.

However, much evidence conflicts with Zimmerman’s account. For example, as  CNN noted, “according to test results made public last May, which showed evidence of Zimmerman’s hands on the firearm, but not those of the teenager he killed. And an analysis showed that scrapings from underneath the teenager’s fingernails did not contain any of Zimmerman’s DNA, as may rub off in a prolonged struggle.” Zimmerman’s reenactment of events for police video has also raised questions based on memory lapses and accuracy gaps:

2) Racism:

Martin’s death swiftly became a rallying cry to address racism in the criminal justice system. The allegations from Martin’s family that their hoodie-clad son was pursued by a zealous neighborhood vigilante resonated nationwide for those who had experienced and observed similar racial profiling — it was in this way that efforts to end stop-and-frisk NYPD policy aligned with efforts to seek justice for Martin. Zimmerman’s 911 call to report Martin as “suspicious” ahead of the shooting compounded allegations of racism.

Commentators have also argued that the “stand your ground” law under which Zimmerman was presumed able to initially walk free without charges inscribed a further structural racism into law. The law, borne of model legislation from ALEC and the NRA, protects a shooter from prosecution if they had “had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful act was occurring or had occurred” — what gets to count as “reason to believe” is troubling when dark skin and a hoodie provoke serve as ground for suspicion.

3) Is this about “stand your ground” laws?

Although the Martin case drew problems with “stand your ground” or “castle” laws to the fore, it is not on a “stand your ground” benefit that Zimmerman is hedging his defense:

Via CNN:

“In this particular case, George did not have an ability to retreat because he was on the ground with Trayvon Martin mounting him, striking blows, therefore the Stand Your Ground ‘benefit’ given by the statute simply does not apply to the facts of George’s case: it is traditional self-defense,” Zimmerman’s attorneys said on the web site detailing his legal case.

It’s worth noting, however, as Mother Jones  points out, that in 2012 “['stand your ground' laws] spread to two dozen other states by 2012. Meanwhile, studies showed that Stand Your Ground laws  do not deter crime, are racially discriminatory, and are associated with increases in homicides.”

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