Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton is the first face shown in Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.
The six-part Paramount Network original docu-series, executive produced by Martin’s parents and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, details the life of the unarmed 17-year-old, who was shot and killed by volunteer neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, in 2012.
Never-before-seen footage showed Sybrina more than a year later, on March 15, 2013, recalling the night her son was killed.
“Usually when I get home from work, Trayvon is there at the door,” his mother tearfully said.
She was so overcome with emotion, she couldn’t finish her sentence.
The documentary flashes forward, showing how the killing of an unarmed teenager, and the nationwide awareness of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law — enacted in 2005 that allows residents to use lethal force if they believe they’re in fear of their life — illuminated cracks in an America desperately trying to be post-racial.
“We used to call him crazy legs,” Trayvon’s mother Sybrina said as a photo of Trayvon as a toddler, wearing a blue and white Mickey Mouse T-shirt, flashed onscreen. Another photo showed a young Trayvon next to the beloved Chuck E. Cheese. As more and more photos showed an aging Trayvon traipsing through his teenage years, his father recalled noticing the small changes in a son that he raised since birth, despite divorcing Trayvon’s mother.
“When you’re watching your child grow up…as a father, I could see myself in him,” Tracy said, noting that soon his teenaged son would wear cologne, have a few hairs on his chin and flirt with girls.
He even got into trouble at school. “He started doing things that teenagers do,” Tracy admitted.
Trayvon was placed on a two-week suspension from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami, Florida after administrators found a “baggie” with marijuana residue on it. During the first week of his suspension, Trayvon’s grandmother kept him busy thanks to “odd jobs” around the house, his mother recalled. But the second week, his father Tracy decided to “get [his son] straight” by taking Trayvon along with him on a planned visit to his now-fiancee Brandy Green’s home in Sanford, Florida.
Brandy lived inside The Retreat at Twin Lakes, which she described as a “quiet” gated community. She did admit, however, that it wasn’t friendly.
Attorney Natalie Jackson, who was part of the Martin’s family legal team, explained in the documentary the hostile socio-economic tensions growing inside that community. After the 2007-2008 financial crash, this gated community was now living next door to renters, including low-income renters, much to their chagrin. That’s when the community launched a volunteer-based neighborhood watch group, with George appointing himself captain.
“He called the non-emergency line so many times, reporting what he believed were suspicious people in the neighborhood,” Natalie said in the documentary.
A string of calls all with George’s voice showed a man who complained about kids playing in the street, black teens standing near the gate, and then, of course, his call about Trayvon, where he labeled him “suspicious” for simply walking in the rain. Surveillance footage showed Trayvon returning from a nearby 7-11 in search of candy.
“Something’s wrong with him,” George can be heard on the 911 call saying. “These assholes, they always get away.”
“Are you following him? We don’t need you to do that,” a 911 operator is heard telling George.
But he doesn’t listen. And on February 26, 2012, Trayvon was shot and killed.
“It just hurts really bad,” Sybrina said of her son’s killing. “Whatever happened that night, the only time they cannot account for is 71 seconds. 71 seconds and it changed America.”
Although initially, police thought that an arrest of George Zimmerman “was going to be imminent,” they didn’t realize that the volunteer neighborhood watch captain would claim self-defense.
He was not immediately charged with a crime.
After Trayvon’s father felt he was getting the “run around” as to why George wasn’t being charged with a crime, he hired civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. The attorney recalled talking to Trayvon’s father, who — in his words— sounded like “brokenheartedness.”
The attorney was not only skilled in civil rights cases, but also an expert at using the media to drum up public compassion for victims of color. Benjamin took Travyon’s story from being covered in local Florida outlets to national news outlets, including CBS Morning News.
“You better make this as public as possible or they’re going to sweep it under the rug,” the attorney added.
Benjamin’s pressure also led the police to release the various 911 tapes — neighbors who had called after hearing the altercation between Trayvon and George — to the media. On the tapes, it’s clear that a person is desperately screaming for help. It appears that after a single gunshot, the screaming immediately stops.
In the documentary, Trayvon’s father admitted that he listened to the tape about 20 to 25 times.
Those tapes, as Benjamin predicted, sparked national outrage. It even prompted then-President Barack Obama to finally share his reaction to the killing, saying in the White House’s Rose Garden that if he had a son, “he’d look like Trayvon.” Rest In Power showed how Obama’s comment helped place politics at the center of Trayvon’s story. It also showed how America was at the first stages of a hyper-partisan time in its political history.
“We opened up Pandora’s box,” Tracy said, closing the first episode.
Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story returns Monday, August 6 at 10/9c on the new Paramount Network and BET.
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