While driving on a Michigan motorway in the Detroit area late one evening, our Observer rolled past a work site where a single sign stood near the shoulder of the road with the words “Trayvon A N*****” lit up in bright yellow block letters. Shocked, she stopped her car and snapped a photo of the slur; soon afterwards, city authorities fixed the sign. She believes this – and other similar messages that have popped up around the country – stand testament to mounting racial tensions in the United States over the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Martin was killed on February 26 as he was walking in the gated community where his father’s fiancée lived in Sanford, Florida by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. After spotting the hooded black youth, Zimmerman reportedly called police to report a “suspicious person.” An altercation followed – the details of which remain unclear – before Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed teenager. Sanford police took Zimmerman in for questioning, during which he said he had acted out of self-defence, before releasing him without charges.
The circumstances of Martin’s death sparked outrage and a nationwide debate on race, which more than a month later has not abated. The US media has kept up intense coverage of the Trayvon Martin case as Zimmerman awaits a special prosecutor’s decision on whether or not to file charges against him. For now, Zimmerman is in hiding; his lawyers say he has left the state of Florida and that they will no longer represent him as he has cut off contact with them.
The case has also roused extremists. Soon after Martin’s death, the New Black Panther Party announced that it would offer a $10,000 reward for a citizen’s arrest of Zimmerman. (The New Black Panther Party is not affiliated with the original Black Panthers Party.) In response, the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement issued a statement in March announcing it had organised armed patrols in the Sanford area to protect “White Citizens.”
A man protests against a “Justice for Trayvon” rally at University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana on April 3, holding up a sign that labels Martin as a “Ghetto hoodlum.” Photo posted on Fark.com by what_now.
The words “Long Live Zimmerman” were spray-painted onto the side of Ohio State University’s Hale Hall, which houses the institution’s Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center, sometime on the night of April 4. Video posted on YouTube by the TheLanternOSU.
"Tensions have risen drastically since Trayvon Martin's death, because the man who killed him isn't behind bars"
Teri Smiley lives in Detroit, Michigan. She snapped the photo of the construction sign as she was leaving a friend’s house on Sunday, April 8.
I was leaving a friend’s house on Easter and I saw it as I drove by a construction site, and all I could think was, ‘am I seeing this?’ I called my sister to tell her what I saw because I was so shocked, and she told me to go back and take a picture. I was afraid that there might be somebody off to the side of the road hiding in the bushes, but I did it anyway. Then I went straight home and posted it on Facebook. I thought it was important to get it out because it was on a city construction sign. Any time anybody sees the N-word you get angry and you want to know who did it.
I feel like tensions have risen drastically since Trayvon Martin’s death, especially because the man who killed him isn’t behind bars. I’m a single parent, I’m black, and I fear for my son every time he goes out. I feel like black males are always targeted even when they aren’t doing anything, and Trayvon’s death was an example of that.
The latest in a series of protests honouring Trayvon Martin and decrying racism took place in New York City on April 10. Video published on YouTube by NYFilmmaker32.