UPDATE: Trayvon Martin’s Parents Want Their Son’s Killer Arrested for Murder, Dismiss Self-Defense Claims

Trayvon Martin (left) and George Zimmerman (right)

[UPDATE, March 23, 2012:] President Obama today waded into the growing national controversy surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, commenting, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," the The New York Times reported. Obama dodged questions about whether George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, should be arrested for the killing, saying he didn't want to impede any possible investigation by the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.

At a rally Thursday in Sanford, Fl., the orlando suburb where Martin lived, Rev. Al Sharpton, with Martin's parents at his side, called the case a civil rights issue, according to an Associated Press report.

"We cannot allow a precedent when a man can just kill one of us ... and then walk out with the murder weapon," Sharpton said. "We don't want good enough. We want George Zimmerman in court with handcuffs behind his back."

In response to the controversy, beleaguered Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee announced Thursday he would temporarily step down, CNN reports.

"I am aware that my role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation," he told reporters. "It is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position."

[Original story] The parents of a slain Florida teen are calling for the arrest of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed their son, claiming he is getting away with murder. During an interview Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton said George Zimmerman followed their son because he was black and dismissed his claims to have shot in self-defense.

“I strongly feel he needs to be arrested, because a crime was committed," Tracy Martin told Matt Lauer. "My son is murdered, my son is not with us no more. Nothing can bring him back."

The family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, who also appeared on “Today,” suggested Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white Hispanic, had not been arrested because of his race.

“It's crazy that this family has to wait for grand juries and stuff when, if it was the other way around, they would have arrested their son on the spot," Crump said.

The Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday announced they were opening an investigation into Martin’s death. On Tuesday, local authorities said a grand jury would hear evidence in the case next month.

Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense has brought a seven-year-old Florida law called Stand Your Ground, and 20 similar laws around the country, back to the spotlight, The New York Times reports. The Florida law gives the benefit of the doubt to a person who claims self-defense, even if the killing takes place away from their home. It also allows someone who feels they are in imminent danger to “stand their ground” and not retreat to protect themselves, even if it would seem reasonable to do so. The National Rifle Association lobbied heavily for passage of the law despite opposition from law enforcement.

At a news conference Tuesday, Crump, the attorney representing Martin’s parents, said Trayvon Martin was speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone in the moments before he was shot, The Times reports. According to Crump, as Martin walked home from a convenience store, he told his girlfriend he was being followed. Martin then asked, “Why are you following me?” Crump said. Martin’s girlfriend told Crump she heard another voice asking, “What are you doing around here?”

According to Crump, the conversation rules out Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

After calling 911 to report a suspicious black male, Zimmerman confronted Martin, despite warnings from the 911 dispatcher to remain in his car. Zimmerman says Martin attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.

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Ryan Schill

Ryan Schill is the editor of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. In 2012 he wrote a comics journalism piece about the ongoing U.S. immigration debate, published in partnership with Cartoon Movement. His 2011 story about a case of misdiagnosed child abuse won first place in the non-deadline writing category of the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards for Excellence in Journalism. Ryan is completing his MA in professional writing at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and has a BS in media studies. His research interests include experimental journalism forms, journalism ethics and philosophy, theories of literary journalism and the intersections of social justice and journalism.