The final chapter of Trayvon Martin’s tragically short life began with a famously innocuous errand: a Sunday evening convenience-store run for some skittles and a drink.
But the quick trip for a treat on Feb. 26, 2012, ended in a lethal confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer, who fatally shot the 17-year-old on the street.
While the killing of a hoodie-wearing Black teenager was not exactly unheard of a decade ago, the vigilante-style shooting helped ignite a racial reckoning that has surged repeatedly over the last decade, culminating in protests against police that defined 2020.
The reverberations of his son’s death have been mind-blowing to Tracy Martin, the teenager’s father who lived in the Sanford, Florida, gated community where Trayvon was killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman exactly a decade ago.
“It was surreal to see all the dominos falling,” Martin told The Daily Beast this week, adding, “People were already sick and tired of being pushed aside. But Trayvon’s death hit a nerve and sparked a global movement. It was so unexpected and touching.”
America has seen far too many Black lives lost at the hands of police officers and vigilantes in recent years. But in part because of Trayvon’s death, many of those killings have been met with national outrage supported by social-media campaigns and a robust Black Lives Matter Movement.
“If it had to be done all over again, I wish my son was here,” Martin said. “But knowing we can’t take back what has happened, all we can do is push forward and try to bring some sort of resolutions. It’s touching knowing the fight for Trayvon changed the game.”
Authorities say that on Feb. 26, 2012, Martin was visiting his father in the Orlando suburb when he went on a quick trip to a local 7/11. On his walk back from the store, he was spotted by George Zimmerman, a member of the area’s neighborhood watch, who eventually shot and killed Trayvon.
Despite immediate outrage, it took six weeks for Zimmerman to be charged with second-degree murder. The next year, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges after his lawyers insisted he acted out of self defense.
“We didn’t get justice for Trayvon. Not in the slightest. Justice to me would have been George Zimmerman being convicted of killing Trayvon Martin,” Martin told The Daily Beast.
But the movement that emerged in tandem to the case has had an undeniable impact, which was on display in multiple American courtrooms just this week. On Tuesday, three white men who chased and murdered 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery were convicted of hate crimes, and now face the prospect of life in prison. Two days later, three former police officers who were on scene when ex-cop Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 were found guilty of violating the man’s civil rights.
For Martin, the success of the cases against the men who murdered Arbery was especially rewarding, given the overlap between that February 2020 incident and the death of his son. The end of that case, Martin said, was the biggest signal to him and his family that “real change has happened since Trayvon was killed.”
“It felt like a re-do for our case, because there were so many similarities,” Martin said. “The convictions were a huge victory for the family in particular. They went through so much and I understand the hurt and pain that they endured. Just to see how it all played out—it felt good knowing that justice was served for that family.”
Despite moments like that one and the journey the Black Lives Matter movement has gone on over the last decade, Martin said the cause “has a long way to go.”
“So much needs to be changed,” he said. “We’re not slowing down anytime soon.”