Even though the shooter who gunned down Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin won’t face federal hate crime charges, the teenager’s parents vowed to keep his memory alive Wednesday through the foundation set up in his namesake.
“I will continue to fight for my son, for your son,’’ said Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother. “We here in the United States are under a crisis when our young people cannot walk the street, cannot play their music, cannot stand in front of stores or go to the store without being threatened, without being followed, chased, pursued, profiled or murdered. I just feel we have to do something.”
Fulton, along with Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, spoke at the Omega Center in northwest Miami-Dade to discuss Tuesday’s decision by the Justice Department not to prosecute George Zimmerman on federal hate crime charges. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the case did not meet the “high standard’’ of the federal law.
Fulton and Martin said they were “very disappointed’’ in Holder’s decision but were not surprised.
“It was very disappointing yesterday to hear from the Department of Justice and to know that my son's murderer will not be charged,” Fulton said.
Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon on the evening of Feb. 26, 2012, at an apartment complex in Sanford, near Orlando. Trayvon had been living with his dad and was walking home from a neighborhood convenience store, where he bought a pack of Skittles and iced tea.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, saw Trayvon and called police to report a “suspicious’’ black male. A police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow the teen, but Zimmerman — who legally carried a concealed weapon — didn’t listen. The two got into a fight and Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon.
Sanford police didn’t initially charge Zimmerman, who said he shot the unarmed Trayvon in self-defense, but he was later charged with second degree murder and manslaughter. A jury acquitted him of all charges in July 2013.
Federal prosecutors reviewed the evidence in the state case, and interviewed 75 witnesses. In the end, they could not prove that Zimmerman targeted Trayvon willfully based on his “actual or perceived race.”
“The murderer of our son should have been convicted during the trial,” Martin said Wednesday. “That's how I felt then and that's how I still feel now.”
While Zimmerman was not charged, Holder said Tuesday he hoped the case would encourage people to be “unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface.”
Trayvon’s parents said they wanted to empower youth to make the right choices. They have established the foundation to find solutions to social injustice, eradicate violence and protect black youth.
“No one regardless of the race, religion or gender should ever have to suffer being victimized because of ignorance, profiling or bigotry,” said Troy Wright, the foundation’s president.
The foundation will provide 20 college scholarships for inner city high school graduates. Additionally, it will host a National Youth Empowerment and Solutions Conference from July 30-Aug. 1 in Miami for high school and college students to come up with solutions to national problems.
Fulton said the while the legal process may be over, she will never have “complete closure.”
“Just by the work that we are doing through the foundation it is actually helping us heal,” Fulton said. “This is our purpose in life. We have to help families and try to make a change in this country.”
Miami Herald Staff Writer Lance Dixon contributed to this report.