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Trayvon Martin’s Mother: Like Antwon Rose, My Son Was 17, ‘Unarmed, Dead On The Ground’

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
The mother of Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, spoke at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in East Liberty Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.

The mother of Trayvon Martin, whose 2012 death was a key moment in the Black Lives Matter movement, said there were unsettling parallels between the killing of her son and that of black Rankin teen Antwon Rose.

Rose was fatally shot in June by East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, as Rose was fleeing a car suspected of being involved in an earlier shooting. Like Rose, Sybrina Fulton said, “My son was 17 years old, unarmed, dead on the ground.” And his “killer was standing over him with a gun.”

She spoke to a full auditorium at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in East Liberty Wednesday night. The audience included Rose's family as well as the mother of Jonathan Freeman, a black 16-year-old who was fatally shot in Homewood last week.

Fulton’s son, Martin, died at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in 2013.

Rosfeld, meanwhile, has been charged with homicide and is awaiting trial.

At Wednesday’s event, Fulton warned the audience that the media failed her family following her son’s death.

For example, she disputed reports that she said suggested her son "was trying to commit some crime." Following Martin's death, some stories said the Florida teen had been skipping class and was suspended from school. Others said forensic analysis found trace amounts of THC, the chemical that usually indicates marijuana, in Martin's system.

In the days following Rose’s death in East Pittsburgh, a spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney faulted local TV stations for falsely reporting that there was video of Rose shooting a gun in a drive-by the night of his death.

Fulton said such reporting is the product of denial.

“A lot of times … if you tell the truth, it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “So you have to make up something so it will justify why the person was shot and killed.”

In the face of inaccurate news coverage, Fulton continued, activists “have to know that [the victim] did not deserve to die. And so that’s what you’re standing up for.”

In the months following her son’s death, Fulton and her ex-husband, Tracy Martin, established the Trayvon Martin Foundation with the goal of raising awareness about gun violence. Fulton has spoken widely about the killing of her son and co-wrote the 2017 book “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin.”

Fulton said she felt compelled to take action after a jury acquitted her son’s killer.

“I was like, it just can’t go down like this,” she said. “It just can’t let this happen like this … Trayvon is not here, so I just felt compelled to speak for my son.”

Fulton said she is considering running for elected office one day.

Pittsburgh City Council candidate Leon Ford encouraged Fulton to run in remarks he made at Wednesday’s program. Ford himself was shot by police in 2012 at age 19, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Ford sued Pittsburgh police officer David Derbish for using excessive force, but the case settled in 2018 for $5.5 million after a jury deadlocked on that allegation.

“After six long years of litigation,” Ford said, “I finally realized that justice for a young black man is far-fetched.”

While Fulton and Ford said the courts let them down, it remains to be seen whether Rosfeld will be convicted for killing Rose. The officer’s trial is set to start Feb. 26.

The Heinz Endowments sponsored Wednesday’s program and is a funder of 90.5 WESA.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at
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