Trayvon's Father: We Don't Want 'An Eye For An Eye' | KCUR

Trayvon's Father: We Don't Want 'An Eye For An Eye'

Mar 28, 2012
Originally published on March 29, 2012 11:35 am

The death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., has sparked headlines around the country, along with many discussions about race, the law, and the media.

Martin was killed as he returned from a trip to a convenience store. The man who shot him, George Zimmerman, has not been arrested; he says he acted in self-defense.

Trayvon's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, visited Capitol Hill this week to meet with members of Congress. While in Washington, D.C., Tracy Martin spoke about the case with Tell Me More host Michel Martin. An edited version of their conversation follows:

It's been reported that early in the investigation, the Sanford Police Department sought an arrest warrant from the Seminole County State Attorney's office, and the request was refused. How did you react to that news?

"Just to know that the lead investigator felt that it was necessary to get a warrant for an arrest lets me know that, at that time, on site, there was enough evidence to make an arrest."

Does that change any of your feelings about the case?

"Honestly, it worsens it. Because we wouldn't have been put through so much grief, so much strain on our lives, had they just simply did the right thing."

What has been the hardest part of this for you, and for Trayvon's mother?

"Just dealing with the loss of a child.... Because we, as parents, feel as though we're guardians of our kids. And we don't plan to bury our kids unexpectedly like this. And I think it's especially difficult for fathers who are very close with their kids. Me and Trayvon was very close."

"I'm aware that it's going to be a process. It'll be a long time before the healing even starts. But we made vows to continue to fight until we get justice for him. So, I haven't even started grieving yet. And I don't think I'll start grieving, until I get justice for him."

How have you been talking about what happened to Trayvon with your two other sons?

"The only thing I can discuss is that he's gone, and we're searching for answers. I don't have an answer for the rest of my kids. But, the reason I don't have an answer for them is because the police department hasn't given me an answer."

Last week, Florida's governor appointed state attorney Angela Corey as a special prosecutor in the case. Do you have confidence in her?

"I have confidence until proven otherwise. I think my faith was broken a lot, by all the cover-ups that the Sanford Police Department had indeed placed upon us. So, in a certain aspect, that trust in the judicial system has definitely been lost."

"I'm not blaming any certain entities. But now Ms. Corey comes, and she comes with a different pitch. I mean, I have faith in her, until she proves otherwise."

One thing you've had to contend with is answering questions about your son publicly, and having his public profile be so enlarged. One story that has emerged is that he was suspended three times this school year. Were you aware of that?

"We was aware of the suspensions. But I think that was put out there just to lose focus on what was really happening — which was, there was a murder. And it was just an attempt to assassinate his character."

He was reportedly suspended for drawing graffiti on school grounds. And when he was searched, jewelry and other items, including a screwdriver, were found in his bag. Do you know if that's accurate?

"I just found out about it the other day. I had no knowledge of it, that jewelry was found in his possession."

What do you make of it?

"If it was to be true, I would say, what significance does that have on the case at all? I mean, nobody's perfect. We're not saying that Trayvon was perfect. But what we are saying is, he was our child. He was a good kid. And he didn't deserve death."

You've said that you feel the reports of his behavior at school were an attempt to demonize him.

"That's the only thing I can see. Because, what bearing does him being suspended from school have to do with him being murdered? At the time he was murdered, he didn't have jewelry in his pocket; he didn't have a screwdriver in his back pocket. So I don't see the significance in his school records, as opposed to him getting murdered."

Is there anything else you would wish to be known about him? What do you want people to know about Trayvon?

"Trayvon was a very good individual. He lived a very decent life. He was a God-fearing child. He had morals, he had principles, he had standards. Trayvon was me, you know. That was my kid. I truly miss him, love him. And this hurt won't go away easy."

There are conflicting reports about what happened, and who witnesses saw as the aggressor. What do you think happened out there?

"Based on what I know, and based on the initial 911 call from Zimmerman, he stated in the 911 call that Trayvon was running. And we know for a fact that at that time, Trayvon was on the telephone with a friend of his. And she did say that when she was talking to Trayvon, that she told him to run.

"She told him to run, because he told her, 'This guy's following me.'" She told him to run. He ran. He thought he got away from Zimmerman. Zimmerman came around another building. He told her that he thought he had lost him. And then he said, 'Man, this guy is still following me.'

"And she told him to run again — and he told her that he wasn't going to run anymore."

"He didn't do anything to have to run. He definitely belonged in the area where he was at. There was no reason for him to run. And I honestly think that Zimmerman approached him, tried to detain him. And as a person, he's always been taught to defend himself. If you try to detain an individual that you have no knowledge of, you don't know them, you know — he's supposed to go on the defensive."

"If Zimmerman came up to grab your kid — I mean, maybe your kids are smaller — I'm sure you would tell your kids to yell, kick, scream, whatever — get away from this individual, you don't know them."

"I think all Trayvon was trying to do was get home safe."

George Zimmerman's friends and family have taken pains to point out that he is of Hispanic heritage. They also say he's not a racist, and have vouched for his character. Has that affected your thinking?

"That really doesn't change my thought. The fact of the matter is, he shot and killed my son. Whether it be that he's white, black, green, red, it really doesn't matter. You listen to the tape. You listen to what he had to say. And you make that determination."

The public has been a part of this journey for you, with social media keeping this story in the public eye. You've said you don't want a bounty on George Zimmerman — something one man tried to offer. What would you like the public to do now?

"We just ask the public to continue to stand behind us and support us. As I said many times before, in this struggle, in this battle, we look for the public to be our crutch to lean on. We're not promoting violence with violence. We're very appreciative of everybody that's in support of us. And most certainly, we can't control anyone else's actions."

"But we're just looking for justice, in the right way. Our son died the wrong way. So, we're not looking for an eye for an eye. We're just looking for justice to be served."

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We are going to spend a good part of the program today following events in the death of Trayvon Martin. That is the unarmed 17-year-old who was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer last month while visiting a family friend in Sanford, Florida.

This story has consumed much of the country for many reasons. The shooter George Zimmerman has not been arrested, saying the teenager attacked him and that he acted in self-defense. Wednesday's disclosure of police tape from the night of the shooting, footage that does not appear to show visible injuries to Mr. Zimmerman, has raised new questions about what happened that night.

Later in the program, we will explore more of the legal questions surrounding the shooting with the attorney who has been assisting Trayvon Martin's family. And we should mention, we have also reached out to Mr. Zimmerman's lawyer.

But first, today, we will hear from Trayvon's father Tracy Martin. He and Trayvon's mother Sybrina Fulton were in Washington this week meeting with congressional leaders and other interested parties about the case. And Tracy Martin joined us in our studios yesterday. Thank you especially, Mr. Martin, for joining us at such a stressful time, and our condolences to you and to your family members.

TRACY MARTIN: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: I'd like to start by asking you about recent developments. It's been reported now that early in the investigation the Sanford Police Department, their lead homicide investigator requested an arrest warrant from the Seminole County state attorney's office that had jurisdictions and the State Attorneys Office said no pending further review. The state attorney did eventually empanel a grand jury, but the governor then asked for a special prosecutor. How do you react to that information?

MARTIN: Just to know that the lead investigator felt that it was necessary to get a warrant for an arrest let's me know that at that time on site there was enough evidence to make an arrest.

MARTIN: And does that change any of your feelings about it? Does it give you a sense of hope or does it make it worse in some ways?

MARTIN: Honestly, it worsens it because we wouldn't have been put through so much grief, so much strain on our lives had they just simply did the right thing.

MARTIN: What's been the hardest part of this for you and for Trayvon's mother as well?

MARTIN: Just dealing with the loss of a child, because we as parents feel as though we're guardians of our kids and we don't plan to bury our kids unexpectedly like this. And I think it's especially difficult for fathers who are very close with their kids. Me and Trayvon was very close. And I'm aware that it's going to be a process. It'll be a long time before the healing even starts, but we made vows to continue to fight until we get justice for him.

So, I haven't even started grieving yet. And I don't think I'll start grieving until I get justice for him.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask how or if you can explain this to your other children? I know you have...

MARTIN: I have two more sons and...

MARTIN: ...two other sons.

MARTIN: Yeah, mm-hmm.

MARTIN: How have you discussed this with them?

MARTIN: Basically, the only thing I can discuss is that he's gone. I don't have an answer for the rest of my kids. But the reason I don't have an answer for them because the police department hadn't given me an answer.

MARTIN: Do you have, as we mentioned, the state attorney did empanel a grand jury but then the governor appointed a special prosecutor and that state attorney has stepped aside. The special prosecutor is another state attorney. Her name is Angela Corey. Do you have confidence in her?

MARTIN: I have confidence until proven otherwise. I think my faith was broken a lot by all the cover ups that the Sanford Police Department had indeed placed upon us. So, in a certain aspect, that trust in the judicial system had definitely been lost. And I'm not blaming any certain entities. But now Miss Corey comes and she comes with a different pitch. I have faith in her until she proves otherwise.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We are following events in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old who was killed in Sanford, Florida last month. We are speaking with his father Tracy Martin. We are going to speak with the family's attorney Benjamin Crump a little later in the program.

As we are speaking now, we mentioned you had to contend with an awful lot. One of the things you've had to contend with that I'm sure you never anticipated was having to answer questions about your son publicly and having his public profile be so enlarged. One of the stories that has emerged is that he was actually suspended three times over the course of the school year. Were you aware of that all those suspensions?

MARTIN: We was aware of the suspensions. But I think that that was put out there just to lose focus on what was really happening, which was there was a murder and it was just an attempt to assassinate his character.

MARTIN: In one instance, though, it was reported that he was suspended for doing graffiti on, I believe, school grounds and that when his bag was searched that it was found that he had jewelry and other items, including a screw driver. Were you aware of that?

MARTIN: I wasn't aware of the jewelry, no.

MARTIN: Do you even know if that's true, I should emphasize?

MARTIN: Yeah, I really don't.

MARTIN: Do you even know if that account is accurate that such items were found in his belongings?

MARTIN: No, I just found out about it the other day. I had no knowledge of it that jewelry was found in his possession, no.

MARTIN: What do you make of it?

MARTIN: If it was to be true, I would say, what significance does that have on the case at all? I mean, nobody's perfect. We're not saying that Trayvon was perfect. But what we are saying is, he was our child. He was our child. He was a good kid and he didn't deserve death.

MARTIN: You've said in other venues that you feel that the reports of his school record and some of his behavior at school as an attempt to demonize him. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

MARTIN: That's the only thing I can see, because what bearing does him being suspended from school have to do with him being murdered? At the time he was murdered, he didn't have jewelry in his pocket. He didn't have a screwdriver in his back pocket. So, I don't see the significance in his school records as opposed to him getting murdered.

MARTIN: Is there anything else that you would wish to be known about him that has not come out in all of the discussion around this so far?

MARTIN: Yeah, Trayvon was a very good individual. He lived a very decent life. He was a God-fearing child. He had morals. He had principles. He had standards. Trayvon was me. You know, that was my kid. I truly miss him, love him, and this hurt won't go away easy.

MARTIN: Have you thought about your idea of what you think happened out there? There are conflicting reports now, as you know, of what people think happened. Witnesses - some people feel that they heard your son crying out for help. Other people think it was Mr. Zimmerman crying out for help. Conflicting witnesses about who was the aggressor here, as you know. Do you have a scenario in your mind about what you think occurred based on what you know?

MARTIN: Based on what I know and based on the initial 911 call from Zimmerman, he stated in the 911 call that Trayvon was running. And we know for a fact that at that time Trayvon was on the telephone with a friend of his and she did say that she told him to run because he told her this guy is following me. And she told him to run. He ran. He thought he got away from Zimmerman.

Zimmerman came around another building. He told her that he thought he had lost him, and then he said man, this guys still following me. And she told him to run again, and he told her that he wasn't going to run anymore. He didn't do anything to have to run. He definitely belong in the area where he was at. There was no reason for him to run. And I honestly think that Zimmerman approached him, tried to detain him. And, you know, as a person, he's always been taught to defend himself. If you try to detain an individual that you have no knowledge of, you don't know him, you know, he's supposed to go on the defensive.

If Zimmerman came up to grab your kid, you would tell them - I mean, maybe your kids are smaller. I'm sure you would tell your kids to yell, kick, scream, whatever. Get away from this individual. You don't know him. You know, and I think all Trayvon was trying to do was get home safe.

MARTIN: It's been reported that, in fact, Mr. Zimmerman's father wrote a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, which he delivered, taking pains to point out that Mr. Zimmerman is of Hispanic heritage - is Latino - and that he has a multiracial family and that he's not a racist. In fact, other friends of his have come forward to say that, to vouch for his character, in essence. Does that do anything for you? Does that change your thought?

MARTIN: That really don't change my thought. The fact of the matter is he shot and killed my son, whether it be - he white, black, green, red, it really doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is - you listen to the tape. You listen to what he had to say and you make that determination.

MARTIN: Finally, Mr. Martin - and we do appreciate your coming - the public has been very much a part of this journey for you. I think it's pretty well established by now that your attorney certainly raised awareness, but that other people - the social media campaigns and so forth - have been very much about keeping this in the public eye. Sometimes, that's taken a bit of a turn that you did not appreciate and, for example, there was a gentleman who's been arrested for offering a bounty for the arrest of George Zimmerman and so forth.

You've said that that's not what you want. What do you want the public to do now, if I may ask you? And I realize that's not your responsibility, but for those who are interested in your - what would you like the public to do now?

MARTIN: We just ask the public to continue to stand behind us and support us. As I said many times before, in this struggle, in this battle, we look for the public to be our crutch to lean on. We're not promoting violence with violence. We're very appreciative of everybody that's in support of us and, you know, most certainly, we can't control anyone else's actions, but we're just looking for justice in the right way.

Our son died the wrong way, so we're not looking for an eye for an eye. We're just looking for justice to be served.

MARTIN: Tracy Martin is the father of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old whose death has sparked national discussions and is the subject of an ongoing investigation. And he was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. He's in Washington, D.C., along with Trayvon's mother and family attorney meeting with members of Congress and other interested parties.

Mr. Martin, thank you so much for speaking with us and our condolences again on the loss of your son.

MARTIN: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: As we said, this is an ongoing story and we'd like you to know that we have attempted to reach George Zimmerman's lawyer to get his and his client's perspective on these events, as well as George Zimmerman's friend, Joe Oliver, who's been speaking on his behalf. We'll certainly continue to do that.

Meanwhile, last night, George Zimmerman's father, Robert Zimmerman, spoke out for the first time in an interview with a local Fox affiliate in Tampa Bay, Florida. The tape is a little hard to hear, but Robert Zimmerman, a former judge and Vietnam veteran, is saying the ordeal has been tough, comparing it to his service in Vietnam.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN: That was being in Vietnam and other things in my life, this is just way beyond anything that I could imagine.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What's your next step?

ZIMMERMAN: I have no next step.

MARTIN: That was Robert Zimmerman speaking to Fox 35 in Tampa, Florida.

Coming up, we'll get additional perspective on this developing story from Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump. That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.