The last time she was on TV with her face obscured by shadows, George Zimmerman’s mother explained, that her son’s roots are Afro-Peruvian.
In the 10 months since her teenage son was killed, Trayvon Martin’s mom became a nationally known activist who mostly sleeps in hotels as she bounces from one speaking engagement to another talking about self-defense laws.
“As a mother, this is a job,” said Sybrina Fulton, whose son Trayvon became a household name after Zimmerman shot and killed him in a townhouse complex in Sanford. “It is a position I never wanted.”
Both women want to set the record straight about their sons. Each blames the other’s boy for the tragedy. One lives in hiding; the other spent the year under the glare of cameras.
Their deep divide on the killing that rattled America underscores the sharp contrasts that mark the case that became one of the highest profile news events of 2012. Hundreds of thousands of people, from Seattle to Miami, Sanford to Manhattan, took to the streets to demand an arrest in the weeks following the Feb. 26 death of a black teenager at the hands of a Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer.
But when the clamor became so thunderous that Zimmerman finally found himself in handcuffs, so many people took such pity on the gunman that they gave him more than $200,000 in less than a month.
Even now, after the nation’s news channels have moved on to other tragedies and the story that rocked the country fell off the front pages, both families are preparing for a murder trial that promises to reopen wounds and spark fears of civil unrest. As lawyers prepare for 2013’s trial of the year, both Sanford and Miami have launched community relations projects. In Miami, civic leaders are clearly worried about reactions to the trial’s outcome.
A case that started with the killing of an unidentified teen wound up raising the national conscience on issues of gun control, racial profiling, self-defense law and police bias. Zimmerman’s family decries a media frenzy they believe distorted truth and justice. The Martins look back at a national scandal and feel pride.
“It was about to be swept under the rug, and I’m proud that it got thrust into national attention,” said Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father. “It’s not just about Trayvon; it’s about all our kids.”
He remembers a rally where his son’s photo was posted alongside Martin Luther King’s. Fulton reminded him of the caption: “Two Martins, Gone Too Soon.”
“That picture sticks in my head,” he said. “It blows our minds that our seed was in the same namesake as Martin Luther King.”
Martin, a South Florida-area truck driver, had taken his son up to Sanford, a racially diverse community north of Orlando , to ride out a 10-day school suspension. Trayvon had been caught at Michael Krop High in North Miami-Dade with a small plastic bag containing marijuana residue. Suspended for the third time, the teen went to cool his heels at the Central Florida townhouse complex where his father’s girlfriend lived.
With his dad out for the evening, Trayvon went to the store for snacks. On his way back from 7-Eleven, he encountered George Zimmerman, an affable, exceedingly polite neighborhood watch volunteer who was in the insurance business and had a habit of calling police whenever he saw something awry.