George Zimmerman, the man who shot unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, several weeks ago, has been charged with second-degree murder. The charges were announced by special prosecutor Angela Corey late today.
Zimmerman's new attorney, Mark O'Mara, told CNN his client was arrested today and was being held by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Zimmerman, whose killing of Martin has ignited a storm of controversy in the U.S., was never arrested for the teen's death. At the time of the shooting, police cited Florida's "stand your ground" law as grounds not to charge Zimmerman, who claimed self-defence in the killing despite the fact that Martin carried no weapon.
Today's announcement follows yesterday's declaration by Zimmerman's two lawyers, Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner, that they were quitting the case, since they had lost contact with their client.
"As of the last couple days, he has not returned phone calls, text messages or emails," Sonner said. "He's gone on his own. I'm not sure what he's doing or who he's talking to. I cannot go forward speaking to the public about George Zimmerman and this case as representing him because I've lost contact with him."
Here's an excerpt from the press conference where Angela Corey announced her intentions:
March 28, 2012 Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush was ejected from the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. today after addressing the chamber while wearing a hoodie.
Rush, who was once a member of militant group the Black Panthers, was speaking on the subject of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teen shot by a self-appointed neighbourhood watch commander in Florida last month. Martin was wearing a hoodie at the time of his death, a garment that is believed to have aroused suspicion in George Zimmerman, the man who shot him. It has since become a symbol of the effort to seek justice in Martin's case.
Rush entered the House with a hoodie under his suit jacket. He eventually removed the jacket and pulled up the hood, saying "Racial profiling has to stop. Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum."
Speaker Gregg Harper objected, citing a rule of decorum forbidding the wearing of hats in Congress. Rush was removed from the House before finishing his speech:
Meanwhile, Spike Lee got into trouble over a tweet that has left a Florida couple afraid for their safety. The actor and director retweeted the home address of Elaine and David McClain, believing it to be the address of George Zimmerman. In fact, the couple who live there are completely unrelated to the George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon - their youngest son is named William George Zimmerman, not George Michael Zimmerman. Lee reached a settlement with the McClains on Thursday, March 29, and issued an apology.
The original tweet was sent out by Marcus D. Higgins, a 33-year-old from Los Angeles who tweeted the address to several well-known accounts. The McClain's say they are fearful that someone will attack them where they live - they have already received a packet of Skittles with a note saying "Taste the Rainbow". Trayvon was carrying Skittles when he was shot.
UPDATE: Trayvon Martin case attracts activists, legal experts, politicians and the NRA - March 26, 2012
Controversy continues to grow in the United States over the killing of an unarmed black teen in Florida, with community leaders, pundits and politicians of all political stripes now weighing in on the issue.
The story of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old who was shot by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighbourhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, has opened widespread discussions in the U.S. about race, justice and a series of other concerns.
Here is a rundown of some of the latest developments:
1. Protests, marches and hoodies
A Million Hoodie March held in New York City last week has been replicated across the U.S., with marchers turning up in the same outfit Martin was wearing at the time of his death. The teen's hoodie has become a symbol of racial profiling, a garment that, according to the 911 call that preceded Martin's death, made him appear "real suspicious" to Zimmerman, and which Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera said was "as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was."
The Facebook page for the New York march asked supporters to rally around the idea that "a black person in a hoodie isn't automatically 'suspicious'. Let's put an end to racial profiling!"
At various rallies over the weekend, many attendees also brandished packs of Skittles, the item that Martin had just purchased from a Sanford convenience store when he caught Zimmerman's attention.
Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, are planning on addressing a rally in Sanford today, which will also be attended by civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. In Canada, a Million Hoodie march is planned for Grandview Park in Vancouver this Sunday; marches are also expected in other Canadian cities this week.
Hoodie protests are taking place online as well, where people have been posting photos of themselves in hoodies out of solidarity. On Friday, LeBron James of NBA's Miami Heat tweeted a photo of the team's members all wearing hoodies, with their heads bowed, along with the hashtag #WeWantJustice. The idea was soon taken up by others:
2. Stand Your Ground
Much of the controversy over the Martin case stems from the fact that Zimmerman was never arrested for the shooting, in part because of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows someone to use deadly force against an attacker. Zimmerman claims he was attacked by the teen, in spite of his having initiated the events that led to the fatal confrontation by following Martin after he left a local convenience store.
The law, which was passed in 2005, removed the "duty to retreat" from cases involving potential crime victims, saying they have the right to "stand their ground" and "meet force with force." Before the law was passed, there was an average of 12 justifiable homicides in Florida every year; since then, the number has risen to 33.
The National Rifle Association has come under criticism over the Martin case for its role in helping push through the Florida law. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, however, says it should not be use as a scapegoat: "It has become very emotional and political," she told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. "Politicians who say we need to rewrite the law are politically grandstanding."
Oscar Braynon, a Democratic Florida state senator, wants the law to be reviewed, and to be changed to ensure that anyone who provokes a confrontation cannot be protected from arrest. One of the law's initial authors, Florida Republican Dennis Baxley, thinks this is unnecessary. "There's nothing in the law that says you can pursue and confront people," he said in the Palm Beach Post. "There's nothing to clarify."
3. Presidential politics
On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama commented on the Martin case, telling a press gathering at the White House simply that "If I had a son, he'd look a lot like Trayvon."
The remarks were widely applauded by civil rights leaders, including Al Sharpton, who said "It was extremely important that the president has weighed in on this issue because it further raises the need to deal with the issues raised by this case ... around the country."
Obama's words drew criticism, however, from some of those seeking the presidential nomination for the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich, speaking with Sean Hannity on Fox News, called the president's remarks "disgraceful", asking "is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK, because it didn't look like him? Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong."
Rick Santorum has also criticized Obama over his comments, saying the president was trying to "divide people", and that "it's very, very unfortunate that he seizes upon this horrific thing where families are suffering and inject that type of divisive rhetoric and that to me is one of the disappointing parts of what this president has brought to the table."
4. The New Black Panthers Step In
While people across the U.S. have decried the vigilantism that led Zimmerman to shoot Martin, members of the New Black Panther Party have announced that they intend to use their own form of vigilantism to win justice for Martin.
The group's leader, Mikhail Muhammad, announced the Panthers were offering a $10,000 reward for the capture of Zimmerman. Muhammad made the declaration during a protest in Sanford last Saturday. He reasoned that an ancient form of justice would be served, declaring "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
The Panthers have also called for thousands of black men to mobilize in order to find Zimmerman, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Eliminating Racial Discrimination: An Anniversary, A Tragic Death And A Million Hoodies - March 21, 2012 - On March 21, 1960, 69 South African protesters were shot and killed by police during a demonstration against the country's racially based apartheid laws. Six years later, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the date as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, an annual commemoration that continues today.
A lot has changed since the Sharpeville killings: South Africa is no longer ruled by a white minority, having abolished apartheid in 1994; according to the UN itself, "racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries, and we have built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination."
But for many people, racial discrimination still seems a long way from being eliminated. The recent killing of a young, unarmed black teen in Florida has once again made racism a topic of discussion in the United States - a country currently governed by its first ever black president.
Trayvon Martin was walking home from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida, three weeks ago, when he was spotted by white neighbourhood watch captain George Zimmerman. He was found dead shortly after, having been apparently shot by Zimmerman. In a move that has enraged many in the U.S. black community, Sanford police declined to arrest Zimmerman for the killing, citing a Florida law protecting the right to self defence, which the shooter has claimed. He was also never submitted to a background check or tested for drugs and alcohol, two procedures performed on Martin after his death.
The case has highlighted concerns that a two-track system of justice still exists in the United States - one for black people, and one for everyone else. And so it is that many communities in the U.S. will spend the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination advocating for justice in the Trayvon Martin case.
In New York, organizers are launching a Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin, starting tonight at 6 p.m. in Union Square. Promoted by Spike Lee, among others, the event aims to show that "a black person in a hoodie isn't automatically 'suspicious'. Let's put an end to racial profiling!" Supporters who can't make it to NYC are called upon to upload their own hoodie pics and upload them to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #millionhoodies. Photos can also be posted to the Million Hoodies March Facebook page.
In Martin's home state of Florida, rallies are being held today in Miami and Orlando. A raucous town hall meeting was held at a church in Sanford Tuesday night, attended by Ben Jealous, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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