Trayvon Martin and Community Violence

Much has been said about the Trayvon Martin case in central Florida this past month. Much more could be said and even more will probably never be known for sure. What we do know is that Trayvon was walking home from a nearby store when he was approached by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but the outcome left Martin dead from a gunshot wound.

However, what isn’t being talked about so much is the environment where this tragic incident played out.

It wasn’t the typical low income neighborhood or poor teenage boy we typically think of in cases of injustice like this. Trayvon was from a middle-class black family and was in a middle-class part of town. He carried nothing on him except the bag of skittles, his cell phone and ice tea.

Though Sanford is not a particularly poor area, it is a violent city.

According to a recent CNN article, Sanford is known as a place where many murders never get investigated and less make the news. This, and the recent rash of burglaries, could have contributed to George Zimmerman’s idea to take matters into his own hands, despite the police dispatcher telling him to stay in his car. It could also be a reason why they are having problems getting witnesses to come forward with information, as they fear retribution. Dave, a community member who just gave his first name for fear for his safety, said Sanford is a place that lots of people assume this type of killing is a regular occurrence and no one cares anymore. He hopes that justice is served, dealt by the courts and not “vigilante justice” in the streets.

Amongst the stories of rally calls and technical arguments about due process and systematic injustices, is a piece on the young teenage boy who witnessed, or at least heard, the exchange between Trayvon and Zimmerman. His name is Austin and he’s 13. He said,

“I saw someone lying on the ground, and I heard screaming…I don’t know that it was the person on the [ground] who was screaming, but to me it sounded like a kid who was crying. It was a yell for help, and I think it was Trayvon.”

Again, his mother asked that his last name not be made public for fear of retribution. Since that night, Austin has been angry and unsettled; acting out in school and feeling guilty he didn’t do something. His mother says he’s angry and scared that this could happen to him.

This is the key issue of exposure to violence. When a child doesn’t feel safe in their environment, it affects the way they act, think and develop. According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, exposure is much more prevalent than we thought in all geographic and economic areas, both in the severity of exposure and the range of types of exposure. This story shows the detrimental effects of community violence in the fear of the witnesses as well as, in Austin’s case, the consequences of witnessing violence.


Sunday kicks off a month-long awareness campaign on children’s exposure to violence and child abuse. During this month are awareness days and weeks about issues such as victims of crime, sexual assault victims, and children’s exposure to violence. It is also the 18th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, April 16 to 20, 2012, in Washington, DC, at the Hilton Washington Hotel. This year’s theme is “Celebrating the Past, Imagining the Future” in honor of the Children’s Bureau’s 100th Celebration Year. For more information on program, registration, and more, visit the conference website. 

Please follow us on this blog and our Facebook and Twitter accounts as we ask the hard questions about child abuse, exposure to violence, its effects on children, and how to best meet the needs of the systems, families, and children to both prevent and treat cyclical exposure to violence.



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