The February slaying of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman dominated the news for months this year. Americans endured one excruciating detail after another in the still-unfolding tale of how Sanford resident George Zimmerman shot the young black man after placing a call to the local police department’s non-emergency number, then was released from police custody under terms of the state’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law.
The story didn’t last long enough to merit mention this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, just a little under a two-hour drive from Sanford. Elephant hats and American flags were in abundance—hoodies notable only for their absence.
As in the immediate aftermath of Trayvon’s shooting, politicians and delegates could have donned one of the garments that became a sign of solidarity had they so chosen. Mauricio Rodriguez, an assistant city attorney for the RNC’s host city, told reporters in July that an initial draft of security regulations prepared before the convention that banned “any mask, hood or device whereby any portion of the face is hidden, concealed, or covered,” was later emended to omit the word “hood.”
“With the recent incident out of Sanford, we reviewed the ordinance,” Rodriguez said. “And we decided to remove ‘hood’ because we didn’t want there to be any confusion or conflict.”
When The Daily Beast spoke with Trayvon Martin’s pastor and uncle while the nation’s most powerful Republicans gathered in their home state, neither of them wanted to talk much about politics. They each thought that, yes, there was more that politicians could do to aid young black men, to cut down on gun violence, and to keep the deceased young man’s memory fresh. They just wanted to remember Trayvon, though.
Pastor G. Vincent Lewis of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Miami Gardens said Trayvon and his mother and aunt were among his parishioners. “Trayvon is just another example of what occurs when people don’t know how to solve problems without violence,” he said.
Lewis said he was disappointed that the candidates for president, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney alike, have not said more about gun violence and Stand Your Ground as this year’s campaigns reach a fever pitch. Candidates, he said, “running for the most important office in the world ought to be discussing strategies to create not only a safer society but a society where equality is achieved.”
Martin’s uncle, 49-year-old Miami resident Ronald Fulton, said he still wants politicians in his state and at the national level to do something about gun violence. “George Zimmerman shouldn’t have had a gun,” Fulton says.
“It’s like the elephant in the room and nobody wants to talk about it or deal with it,” Fulton said.
For the most part, Fulton says, he feels as though politicians are doing pretty much everything they can do at the moment—though he’d like to see them do more. Most days, he says, he just tries to keep the all-too-fresh wounds of Trayvon’s passing from opening.
“It’s a touch and go thing,” he says. “It’s basically what happens is that sometimes it’s bearable and sometimes it’s not. You understand what I’m saying? It seems like I—me, myself—I’m not doing enough and I try to find something I can do to make a difference. I try to help somebody, and that gets me out of myself. It gets me out of my situation to try to help someone else.”
Lewis says the candidates still have time before the election to do something like what he and his congregation did in the aftermath of Trayvon’s death. Their way of mourning, according to the pastor, involved research, meditation, and forethought.
Trayvon had been suspended from school three times before his death, most recently for being caught with a baggie that contained traces of marijuana—a suspension Martin was serving out with his father and his father’s girlfriend in Sanford when he was shot. The Martin family’s lawyer called the suspension “completely irrelevant” to Martin’s death, but Lewis said he and his parishioners know that the best place for a young man is in the classroom, and began a campaign to lower the number of suspensions among African-American youth in local schools.
There was no discussion of partisan affiliations when it came to taking action in Martin’s remembrance, Lewis said.
“We have a congregation of 21 cultures,” Lewis said. “We have people from various countries around the world and we probably have equal diversity with regard to political parties. We’re not a partisan congregation, we have people from all parties.”
And while in the swirl of pro- and anti-gun debate after Trayvon’s death, and sometimes heated arguments over whether or not Stand Your Ground Laws unfairly favor white defendants, Lewis says he wishes American politicians were able to remember the one thing that holds his parish together: “We are still one country.”