By Lance Dixon
The parents of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Florida teenager whose fatal shooting in February became an international news story, addressed the NABJ Convention Thursday. Their appearance at the Newsmaker Plenary, “Trayvon Martin: A Crime in the Digital Age,” came after a day of news in the case: notably, the firing of Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Bill Lee and the release of a new video with shooter George Zimmerman re-enacting the events of Feb. 26.
CNN analyst Sunny Hostin moderated the panel, and featured The Rev. Al Sharpton; Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin; the family attorney, Benjamin Crump; and attorney, Daryl Parks along with various journalists.
Martin’s parents discussed how social media has driven the story’s coverage. They rejected Hostin’s questioning about the idea that the Martins are potentially concealing Trayvon’s true nature. Hostin referred to witness claims that portrayed Trayvon as violent or throwing punches in a mixed martial arts style.
“As a parent, something’s wrong with America when we as African-Americans can’t be loving parents,” Tracy Martin said. “Why is it when our kids get killed they have to be put on trial?”
Attorney Crump explained why he aggressively reached out to various members of the media, including Sharpton. Crump said he didn’t think the case would take as long as it did to develop, but after 45 days passed without an arrest, he decided to act.
“We had to do something drastic,” Crump said. “We couldn’t get anybody to look at the facts initially. … It was almost like a cliché, another Black teenager dead and nobody raises an eyebrow.”
The journalists on the panel also discussed the story. Hostin, for example, said black journalists often bring a special perspective and can analyze a layer of race within a story. There was also difference of opinion on whether race was an issue.
“[People] felt like I was advocating for Trayvon Martin’s family; I wasn’t advocating for anything but for truth,” WFTV-Orlando reporter, Daralene Jones said.
Jones emphasized the Trayvon Martin story and the need to report it accurately. While Joy-Ann Reid, managing editor of theGrio.com, said her online website, and sites like it ,report what larger media outlets miss out aimed at African-Americans.
“In the larger mediums there may be things about African-Americans that [they don’t] take into account,” Reid added. “We’re here to say ‘listen we need to take that into account’ and help balance their coverage as well.”
The family has launched the Justice For Trayvon Martin Foundation (www.justicetm.org), which aims to pursue justice on behalf of their son and address negative perceptions of youth.
“We just want the government and the task force to look at the Stand Your Ground law and make amends,” Fulton said.