It’s hard to imagine an American who does not know the name Trayvon Martin by now. The teenager’s death at the hands of self-deputized neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman—who fatally shot him and walked free—sparked an outcry so loud the president responded. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids,” Barack Obama told reporters outside the White House, adding, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
It was a remark exceptional only for who said it. Across the country, black parents expressed similar sentiments, again reminded of a too-familiar reality: from Oakland to the Bronx their children are walking targets. But unlike the killings of Oscar Grant or Ramarley Graham, who were shot dead by law enforcement officers, Martin’s death led few to suggest that he had it coming. Not only was his killer heard muttering what sounded like a racist slur; Zimmerman was a serial 911 caller with a penchant for reporting “suspicious” black men. Last year he reported a boy he estimated to be 7 to 9 years old. On March 19 the Justice Department announced that it would investigate Martin’s killing; many called on Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute it as a hate crime.