The Trayvon Martin Killing, Explained
How did a kid armed with Skittles and an iced tea get gunned down by an overeager neighborhood watch captain? And why didn't police detain shooter George Zimmerman?
On the evening of February 26, Trayvon Martin—an unarmed 17-year-old African American student—was confronted, shot, and killed near his home by George Zimmerman, a Latino neighborhood watch captain in the Orlando, Florida, suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime. Since Martin's death and the release of more details, the case has garnered national media attention and sparked a host of public debates over racial tensions, vigilantism, police practices, and gun laws.
Read on for our primer, or jump to these latest updates:
- The White House weighs in
- FBI plans to investigate
- What happened to Trayvon's cell phone?
- Florida's controversial self-defense laws
- Transcript of Zimmerman's ominous call to police
- Trayvon reportedly spoke on phone of being followed before killing
- Florida prosecutor convenes a grand jury
- More details on the "final phone call"
What happened to Trayvon?
Martin, a Miami native, was visiting his father in Sanford and watching the NBA All-Star game at a house in a gated Sanford community, the Retreat at Twin Lakes. At halftime, Martin walked out to the nearby 7-Eleven to get some Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea. On his return trip, he drew the attention of Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood in a sport-utility vehicle and called 911 to report "a real suspicious guy."
"This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something," Zimmerman told the dispatcher. "It's raining, and he's just walking around looking about." The man tried to explain where he was. "Now he's coming towards me. He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male...Something's wrong with him. Yup, he's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is...These assholes, they always get away."
After discussing his location with the dispatcher, Zimmerman exclaimed, "Shit he's running," and the following sounds suggest he left his vehicle to run after Martin.
"Are you following him?" the dispatcher asked. Zimmerman replied: "Yep."
"Okay, we don't need you to do that," the dispatcher warned.
Several minutes later, according to other callers to 911 in the neighborhood, Zimmerman and Martin got into a wrestling match on the ground. One of the pair could be heard screaming for help. Then a single shot rang out, and Martin lay dead.
Are the 911 recordings available to the public?
Yes. After public pressure, the city of Sanford played the tapes for Martin's family, then released the audio recordings. Here are some excerpts. You can also read a full transcript of George Zimmerman's initial police call here, along with an examination of whether he used a racial epithet, as some listeners have suggested.
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