Five people have “liked” Winston Miller’s latest post on Facebook this week.
Among status updates about upcoming concerts and on-campus events, Miller, a senior sociology major at Winthrop University, encourages friends and family to “sign the petition, take the initiative” and “make the change.”
That “initiative” is an online petition organized by the parents of an unarmed Florida teenager shot and killed by a neighborhood man in February.
The petition, hosted by social justice website Change.org, boasts more than 1 million signatures from people intent on sending a clear message to Sanford, Fla. police: Prosecute Trayvon Martin’s killer.
Realizing the situation could “kind of hit home,” Miller, 21, publicly pledged his support to the cause.
“I’m a young black male, and a couple of years ago, that could’ve been me or somebody I knew that I was close to, or somebody in my family,” Miller said.
With the 17-year-old Martin dead and no charges yet in the case , Miller said he’s become leery of the criminal justice system.
“I feel that the criminal justice system is inverted. It’s not for justice, ” he said.
On Feb. 26, George Zimmerman, 28, fatally shot Martin while the teen was returning to his father’s home in a gated Sanford, Fla. community.
Martin had just purchased Skittles and iced tea from a nearby convenience store when Zimmerman, captain of the neighborhood watch, spotted him from a car.
Armed with a gun, Zimmerman called 911 to report Martin as a suspicious person. Ignoring suggestions from a dispatcher, Zimmerman followed and confronted the teen, leading to an altercation between the two.
In the end, Martin was dead.
Zimmerman has said he shot Martin in self-defense after the teenager attacked him.
Sanford police affirmed his claims after finding blood on the back of Zimmerman’s head.
But the parents of the dead teen say differently, feeling that their son’s death was dismissed because he was black.
Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested or charged in Martin’s death.
After listening to a published audio recording of the incident, Miller said it’s “obvious” to him that Martin was screaming.
“That doesn’t sound like self-defense,” he said.
Kelly James agrees.
“The actual components of self-defense are not met in this situation,” said James, a sociology and criminal justice professor at Winthrop University.
The only thing Martin was armed with was “being black,” James said.
Asked whether Zimmerman’s use of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law should apply, James asked, “What ground was he standing on?”
Florida is among states that recognize laws that allow people to use deadly force when they feel threatened.
It’s the defense police used to justify their refusal to arrest Zimmerman.
But it’s not right, James said.
Officials haven’t presented evidence suggesting Martin approached or verbally threatened Zimmerman, she said.
To Jerry Howard, who signed the online petition and posted a headshot of Martin as his Facebook profile picture, the events surrounding the boy’s death have only brought the African-American community closer together.
“That kid was a young man going to the store,” said Howard, 33, of Rock Hill. “It (his death) hurts like I knew him.”
Howard said the Zimmerman’s actions were “very cruel.” He also said it’s apparent that racism is still alive and well.
When she heard about Martin’s death, Shebby Neely-Goodwin said her emotions went from shocked to anger and then compassion for the parents of the victim.
Neely-Goodwin, a 49-year-old mother of two teenage sons, said it’s devastating for any parent to lose a child.
“That would be very devastating for me if it did happen” to her sons, said Neely-Goodwin, a graduate-level social work professor at Winthrop University.
“My husband and I, we talk to our children about life that life is not always fair, and we teach our children how to protect themselves in all situations,” she said.
“I think everyone was shocked that it was a young man in the community that he didn’t have anything to defend himself,” she said.