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Calls for justice rage on a month after Trayvon Martin’s killing

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Posted at 3:10 PM, Mar 26, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-26 15:10:04-04

By the CNN Wire Staff

SANFORD, Florida (CNN) — A month ago Monday, Trayvon Martin died.

The shooting of the unarmed African-American teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer in a Sanford, Florida, neighborhood renewed the national conversation about race relations, gun laws, and even how young men dress.

It sparked a national furor that burned all the way to the White House, prompting President Barack Obama last week to call for national soul-searching to discover how something so tragic could happen.

Nearly three-fourths of Americans, including 67 percent of whites and 86 percent of non-whites, believe police should arrest George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who acknowledged shooting Martin, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released Monday.

Those attitudes will be on display Monday with rallies planned for Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Houston; Atlanta; Indianapolis; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Detroit; Memphis, Tennessee; Iowa City, Iowa; and Sanford — where the City Commission is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting on the incident and its aftermath.

Martin’s parents are expected to speak at the meeting.

“We just know that something positive will come from this,” Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Monday.

Despite the passions surrounding the case, fundamental questions remain about exactly what happened on February 26 between the time Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious person wearing a hoodie and the time police arrived to find Martin, face down on the ground, dead.

Zimmerman, 28, says Martin attacked him and he shot in self-defense, according to police. Martin’s family and supporters say the 17-year-old was no more threatening than the bag of Skittles candy and the iced tea he was carrying.

They have said they believe race played a role in the shooting. Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. His family said he has been mistakenly portrayed as racist.

A friend of Zimmerman, Joe Oliver, told CNN that Zimmerman is “a good man who was trying to do the right thing.”

“This was not a racial incident,” said Oliver, who worked at CNN in the 1990s. “This was an incident where someone who was just trying to do the right thing ended up in a very, very bad position.”

A special prosecutor is investigating the case. A grand jury scheduled to begin deliberations on April 10, but it is unclear if the group will ever work on the case. The prosecutor, Angela Corey, said Monday on HLN that she has never used a grand jury to decide on charges in a justifiable homicide case.

“We do a thorough investigation. We make that decision ourselves,” she said.

The two prosecutors assigned on the case worked through the weekend and will do their best to provide answers quickly, Corey said. They have not yet interviewed Zimmerman, nor does her office know where he is, she said.

An attorney for the Martin family said Monday that any jury that sees the evidence in the case — much of which she said was collected by investigators working on the Martin family’s behalf — would convict Zimmerman.

“Clearly, the investigation in this case was either bungled, or ignored completely,” Natalie Jackson said of the initial police inquiry.

Sanford authorities say they could not arrest Zimmerman under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force to defend themselves anywhere they feel a reasonable fear of death or serious injury. The evidence police had at the time didn’t allow for an arrest, police have said.

Zimmerman’s attorney said Sunday that after reviewing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, he believes it applies to the situation and his client is innocent.

Lawyer Craig Sonner said last week the law didn’t apply.

Zimmerman said he was driving in his gated community when he saw Martin walking and called 911 to report a suspicious person.

He told the dispatcher he was following the teen, but the dispatcher told him that wasn’t necessary. Moments later, several neighbors called 911 to report a commotion outside, and police arrived to find Martin dead of a gunshot wound.

Martin was walking back to the house of his father’s fiancee after a trip to the convenience store when the shooting happened.

The teen lived in Miami but was visiting Sanford after receiving a 10-day suspension from school, according to a family spokesman. An empty plastic bag found in his book bag had marijuana residue, spokesman Ryan Julison confirmed.

Sonner says his client was injured that night and went to the hospital with a broken nose and a serious cut on the back of his head.

In addition to the Florida investigation, Florida’s governor has formed a task force to review the state’s “stand your ground” law. The Justice Department is also investigating.

Sanford’s city manager, Norton Bonaparte, also has said he is seeking an outside review of the police department’s handling of the case.

Police Chief Bill Lee voluntarily went on paid administrative leave last week, saying his presence had become a distraction.

The neighborhood where Zimmerman was volunteering in the neighborhood watch could also face a lawsuit, the National Association of Black Journalists said, citing Martin family attorney Daryl Parks.

Parks spoke to the group’s board of directors over the weekend.

There is evidence that the Twin Lakes homeowners’ association told residents who saw suspicious activity to call Zimmerman if they could not contact the police, according to the association’s statement.

Parks also said prosecuting Zimmerman on the state level would be preferable to federal charges, saying that a federal hate crime charge against Zimmerman would be a challenge, according to the group.

“Most state laws tend to be better for the prosecution of state crimes,” Parks told the board members. “And that’s why we see the federal authorities expressing, although gently, in their statements that they can only do so much if there’s some type of race statements involved. The state officials don’t have that problem.”

But Parks said over the weekend that any arrest would be preferable to none.

“We want an arrest, period. And I think that the state aspect of that is the one that’s most feasible, most attainable in this matter,” he said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Monday that Martin’s death could mark a “transformative moment” for race relations and gun laws in the country.

“Our country has become so very violent,” he said.

Members of Martin’s family were scheduled to speak at a town hall meeting at noon, and his parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, are also expected to speak at a meeting of the City Commission on Monday evening.

In addition to the rallies, Martin family supporters declared Monday a day to wear hoodies to work.

Hoodies have become a potent symbol in the debate over Martin’s death. Ralliers have frequently worn the hooded sweatshirts during marches, saying clothing doesn’t make someone suspicious.

Martin family attorney Natalie Jackson sought to drive home that point again on Monday.

“Hoodies don’t carry guns,” she said. “George Zimmerman carried a gun.”

Zimmerman has not been heard from publicly since the shooting.

A spokeswoman for a risk mitigation and surveillance company said Sunday she could not comment on an Orlando Sentinel report that Zimmerman worked at the company’s Maitland, Florida, office.

Spokeswoman Brandie Young said she could not comment on Zimmerman’s current or future employment status, but “we can confirm he is not at the building, nor has he been since the incident.”

“Our utmost concern is for the safety of our employees, specifically based on the potential turmoil that could arise from the recent announcement of a bounty for his (Martin’s) capture,” she said in a statement.

A handful of members from the New Black Panther Party have offered a $10,000 reward for Zimmerman’s “capture.”

Jackson cautioned people not to try to capture Zimmerman, saying it would not only put them at risk of being arrested, but also because it would a distraction.

“The focus must be on Zimmerman himself and what he did,” Jackson said.

Oliver told CNN on Monday that Zimmerman is in hiding and all his family members are worried for their safety.

In an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Oliver said Zimmerman would tell Martin’s family that “that he’s very, very sorry, because in many ways George has lost his life too.”

CNN’s Kim Segal, Greg Morrison, John Couwels and Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.

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