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The importance of video 10 years after Trayvon Martin's death

Neighborhood Watch Death Rally
Posted at 4:01 PM, Feb 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-26 17:01:20-05

Saturday marks 10 years since the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. The unarmed 17-year-old was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator in a gated community.

Martin's death sent shock waves across the country and helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Trayvon Martin is one that really captured America’s attention," Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough County NAACP said.

Trayvon Martin is certainly not the first, and sadly not the last, unarmed black person killed by a gunman, but the teen's death marked an important point in American history and set the stage for a fight against racial injustice.

"I definitely think it was needed for the nation to cry out for a change to happen for itself," Jarvis Washington, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk, Inc. said.

"(Trayvon is) the person who helped us stand up and stand tall," Lewis said.

Lewis vividly remembers the immediate aftermath following Martin's shocking death.

"It sparked a fire up under everybody that justice needed to be served," she said.

"He was the impetus for Black Lives Matter," said Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney and defense attorney for Martin's family after his death.

The nationwide movement formed in Martin's memory to find the justice his family and other grieving African Americans desperately searched for.

Just two years later, the high-profile deaths of 18-year-old Michael Brown and 43-year-old Eric Garner gave the group further purpose, although this time it was different.

"When the videos started showing on TV, there were other people, Americans, that jumped in to say, 'Wait a minute. Enough is enough,'" Lewis said.

The now-infamous cell phone video of Garner's death shows New York Police officer Daniel Pantaleo putting Garner in a choke-hold. Garner is heard saying, "I can't breathe," before losing consciousness and later dying from suffocation.

“Cameras are important in any situation when it’s violence or injustice or just disagreements," Washington said.

“It is video evidence that has changed the perspective of so many people and brought light to some of the things that have occurred," said ABC Action News legal expert Jeff Swartz.

Swartz said the video of Garner's death and other similar camera phone footage, like in the death of George Floyd in 2020, is the ultimate decider in the court of public opinion, but Swartz warns it does not always completely depict what happened.

“It really doesn’t give us the full perspective, but it does make its way on to the air and it does find its way into people’s brains and that’s what they see," he said.

However, in the court of law, video from surveillance cameras, police body cameras, or a cell phone is enough to seal the fate of the defendant on trial one way or the other. Swartz said video of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery's deaths were all a jury needed to see, and if there were videos of Trayvon Martin's death, Swartz said the same would ring true.

"If there had been video in that case, we would've either had no charges at all or we would've had a conviction. One or the other," he said.

"It really makes that much of a difference?" an ABC Action News reporter asked.

"It makes that much of a difference in that case," Swartz responded.

A difference born form the difference Martin first made a decade ago. The fight for racial justice and police transparency lives on in Trayvon's name.

“Trayvon has brought many things to light and we’ve made progress, however, we must always remember it is a journey to justice," Crump said.