In February 2012, the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, catapulted issues of race, crime, and punishment to the forefront of the American political and news agenda. Returning home from a 7-Eleven store, the African American teenager was followed and shot dead outside a gated community by George Zimmerman, a white, volunteer neighborhood watch captain of Latino descent who claimed he acted in self-defense. The Sanford police agreed. Following a cursory investigation, no arrests were made and the killing was quickly ruled a justifiable homicide. Within weeks, however, protests against the police handling of the caseled by Martin’s family and joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters-swept across the nation. The Sanford police chief was suspended, the investigation reopened, and Zimmerman eventually arrested and charged with second-degree murder. At the time of writing, George Zimmerman is yet to stand trial, but the name of Trayvon Martin is already enshrined in the long history of African American crime and punishment. Indeed, the national and international prominence of the case is partly a consequence of the many ways that it resonates with that history.
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