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May 28, 2019

71 Seconds That Changed America

Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story humanizes the victims of tragedy

By: 
Ny MaGee


There are few who will watch Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story and not be reminded that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The six-part documentary from the Paramount Network recounts the life and tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was racially profiled, stalked and gunned down in February 2012 by former neighborhood-watch member George Zimmerman, inside a South Florida gated community.

Executive Produced by rapper JAY-Z and Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the series takes an in-depth look at the aftermath of the shooting of the black male teenager and Zimmerman's polarizing trial, which sparked a national debate on race relations, gun control, and revealed a deeply divided country.

Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason, and produced by the Peabody Award-winning team behind last year's critically acclaimed series TIME: The Kalief Browder Story,

Rest in Power is colored by emotionally charged scenes of protests and rallies, community outrage, revealing 911 calls, proclamations from white supremacists, speeches from NRA members and Donald Trump, as well as interviews with Martin's parents, civil rights activists such as Rev. Al Sharpton, and award-winning journalists including Joy Reid and Tamron Hall.

Episode 1 highlights the devastating impact Martin's death had on his family and the police refusal to arrest Zimmerman because of Florida's Stand-your-ground law. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed the law in 2005, with a gun lobbyist right by his side; ex-NRA president Marion Hammer.

Hammer is best known for changing the self-defense laws in this country to help the NRA sell more guns. Not only did the organization want to put even more guns into the hands of many more Americans, they also called for laws that would protect gun owners who use deadly force to protect and defend their own life against threat or perceived threat.

The Stand-your-ground law was thrust into the national spotlight following the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman. The law was used as legal justification for Zimmerman's claim of self-defense on that fatal night.

The doc takes viewers back to the 2008 recession and how it led to an increase of racial profiling in The Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community in Sanford where Martin was murdered. The sordid history of the city itself is also explored, adding yet another voice to a tragedy shrouded in bigotry and racial tensions.

Episode 2 exposes America's racial injustice as Martin's parents endure attacks on their son's character during their fight for Zimmerman's arrest. Without the Stand-your-ground law, Martin's killer would have been arrested and charged with a crime.

Zimmerman's violent history with police, including battery of an officer and resisting arrest, did not impact Sanford police Chief Bill Lee's decision to make an arrest. Debate also erupted in the media about whether Zimmerman's white, Jewish father, retired Supreme Court Magistrate Judge Robert Zimmerman, had any influence over key decisions made in the case that were in favor of his son.

On the night of the shooting, Zimmerman was taken into custody, questioned by authorities for a few hours and then released shortly after midnight. No arrest was made because the department concluded that his version of events was satisfactory -- that he was attacked by Martin after they allegedly exchanged heated words and Zimmerman, a wannabe cop, opened fire; shooting the high schooler dead on the scene.

Martin was unarmed, carrying only a can of watermelon iced tea and a bag of Skittles that he previously purchased from a nearby 7-11.

Zimmerman said he acted in self-defense, and under Florida's Stand-your-ground law, gun owners can essentially get away with murder if they claim to be in fear of their life. What the state didn't count on, however, was the fallout from the pressure of the case and the national outrage over the police handling of Martin's death.

A Change.org petition was launched calling for Zimmerman's arrest, and it became the fastest growing online petition after millions signed it within days. Even former President Barack Obama caused a political divide when he noted "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

The impact of the case reverberated throughout the Black community, and Trayvon's hoodie became a symbol of a culture in crisis.

When the Martin family turned to famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump for help uncovering the truth about what happened to their son, he discovered new evidence, including a witness and several 911 calls from the night of the fatal incident, that ultimately lead to the arrest of Zimmerman.

"Whatever happened that night, the only time they can not account for was 71 seconds," Fulton says about what went down during those key mystery moments leading to her eldest's son's death.

"71 seconds... and it changed America."

In 2012, there was an emergence in social media and Martin's case inspired young activists to speak up, share similar encounters of police brutality and lead the charge in criminal justice reform.

The message was loud and clear: We're no longer going to tolerate the legalized genocide of people of color. Additionally, for the first time, many across social media saw white people "checking their privilege" as Martin's case sparked outrage and protests by both sides.

Awaiting trial, Zimmerman's background is explored in episode 3, and he becomes an unlikely hero to the far right. White pundits and conservatives believe he's unfairly treated, and FOX News host Sean Hannity is suspected of offering him financial support for his legal defense.

Episode 4 takes us into the trial of George Zimmerman in Florida, and how the strategy of the prosecution fumbles and fails with the most vital issue in the case: race. Zimmerman's team capitalizes on the mistakes of the prosecution and focuses their defense on criminalizing "blackness" and Trayvon Martin in episode 5.

"For white people, this would never happen to us and has never happened to us," says writer/activist Michael Skolnik.

Rest in Power concludes with Zimmerman's acquittal, which sparks the Black Lives Matter movement and a white rage that boils over and helps elect Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

Zimmerman, meanwhile, continues to walk freely, often with a loaded gun, and at times he has profited off his killing of Trayvon Martin. His rap sheet continues to grow as he racks up arrests for violent offenses that rarely result in charges or convictions.

Fulton opens up in the series about how her son's death helped her find the voice she needed to challenge the system of racial injustice that permeates throughout our nation's judicial system.

"It took my son being shot down, to make me stand up," Fulton says.

She co-founded the Miami Gardens-based Trayvon Martin Foundation a month after Martin was fatally shot, and has since advocated to make South Florida communities safer. She also recently announced plans to run for Miami-Dade County Commissioner in 2020 and will face off against Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert in the election.

In the seven years since Martin's case, the police-involved death of nearly a dozen unarmed or non-violent black Americans has made national headlines, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile - and who can forget the Charleston church shooting on June 17, 2015 in South Carolina, when white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during prayer service and opened fire - killing nine people, all Black Americans, including the senior pastor and state senator Clementa C. Pinckney.

For shining an unforgiving light on issues that call for ongoing national debate, including race, politics, justice, crime and gun control in the United States, the Television Academy is proud to honor Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.


See the award presentation and acceptance video here.

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