On the night of Sunday, February 26, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin walked out the front door of his father’s house in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.
Martin had been watching a college basketball tournament on TV and had headed out to a nearby 7-11 store to buy some Skittles and ice tea.
He made his purchase but never made it home.
Returning to his father’s house, Martin encountered 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighbourhood watch patrolman. What happened next is not entirely clear but for reasons that are somewhat ambiguous, Zimmerman felt compelled to call police, report Martin acting suspiciously, and pursue him.
Minutes later, the teenager was dead. Shot by Zimmerman who was carrying a 9mm handgun.
The story has blown up across parts of America after police released the 911 recordings to the public. You can listen to some of the recordings here.
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman says to a 911 operator.
“He’s just staring, looking at all the houses. Now he’s coming toward me. He’s got his hand in his waistband. Something’s wrong with him.”
“These assholes always get away,” Zimmerman adds. “Shit, he’s running.”
“Are you following him?” asks the dispatcher.
“Yes,” replies Zimmerman.
“We don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher says.
In another recording, a witness calls 911 to report a confrontation. There is screaming in the background, the sound of a single shot, and then silence.
There are further layers to the story. Martin’s father reported his son to Missing Persons when he failed to return home. He had no luck there. He called 911 to prompt a visit from police. They produced a photo of his son’s body with blood trailing from his mouth. Martin’s body had been lying in the morgue unidentified.
Zimmerman has not yet been charged in relation to Martin’s death. Not surprisingly, this has caused outrage in parts of the community.
How, it has been asked, does a teenage boy who dreamed of being a pilot, loved sport and music, and took his quadriplegic uncle to see basketball games, end up gunned down by a vigilante while walking to the store?
The answer is simple, according to others. Martin’s crime was being young and black and wearing a hooded track jacket.
The incident has reopened a hot debate about race. It is argued: had Martin carried a gun and killed Zimmerman, he’d already be locked up; the police case is biased; all black teenagers are at risk; Zimmerman was defending himself; Zimmerman is not racist – he’s Hispanic.
“He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever,” Zimmerman’s father wrote in a letter to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
“I just think that sometimes people get stereotyped and I fit into the stereotype as the person who got shot,” said another teenage boy who witnessed the shooting.
The message is brutal and one that many people are not comfortable discussing. But the message is also simple: Don’t be a black teenager and walk to a 7-11 for Skittles and ice team at night.
The debate will continue until this story plays out more fully. It’s also a debate that is not exclusive to Florida or even the U.S. There are, no doubt, parallels in Australia. Trayvon Martin, however, no longer has a chance to take part in it.