The Trayvon Martin Case Stirs Hollywood, Splits the Media

Spike Lee Trayvon Martin - Split 2012
Getty Images/AP

Spike Lee Trayvon Martin - Split 2012

The murder of a 17-year-old African American boy in Florida has drawn national outrage, with various stars pushing for justice -- and media figures sometimes drawing scrutiny for their commentary.

The killing of Trayvon Martin, anyone with a public platform agrees, is a tragedy. The 17-year-old boy from Sanford, Florida was shot and killed by George Zimmerman on February 21, after Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious looking figure wearing a hoodie. He felt threatened, and under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, he had the right to defend himself against an aggressor. Martin, it would turn out, was armed with just an iced tea and a bag of Skittles he had bought for his little brother.

Zimmerman has yet to be arrested.

The story -- and outrage -- has exploded this month, as more details have come out about Zimmerman's history of false-panic 911 complaints and an alleged racial slur made during the fateful Martin-related call. Using its clout and megaphone, Hollywood has become a player in creating the sort of public awareness required to keep the case in the spotlight and move it forward.

Two weeks ago, the Stop Kony video was tweeted out by dozens of stars, urging fans to watch an in-question documentary about a warlord in Africa. Now, there is more urgency in their social media messages, as they push for justice, circulating a petition on that has reached 1.4 million signatures and using the Twitter hashtag #Justice4Trayvon.

Spike Lee has been at the forefront of the movement, tweeting messages such as "America The Beautiful,A Country Where A Black Teenager Can Be Shot And Killed Coming From A 7-Eleven Buying A Ice Tea And A Bag Of Skittles," and retweeting -- often with commentary -- messages from fans and other advocates for legal action against Zimmerman.

Lee, along with The Roots drummer Questlove, supported the Million Hoodie March earlier in the week, in which advocates for Zimmerman's arrest walked uptown in New York City, clad in hooded sweatshirts and calling for an arrest. 

Other celebrities have also weighed in on the matter, as well.

"This is real Trayvon martin was only 17 years old! if we let this slide they will keep killin 17 year olds your kid will be next!" Wyclef Jean tweeted on the 19th; "I'm gonna keep sending this out until justice is served. Racial profiling on our people has got to end," Janelle Monae said the day before, along with a link to the petition.

Will celebrity activism work? It's hard to isolate the impact, as they have blended in with plenty of pressure from many groups, from civil rights organizations to political leaders to other media commentators. CNN's Piers Morgan has tweeted anger about it and Anderson Cooper has provided extensive coverage, while MSNBC's Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow have pushed against the law, the Sanford Police Chief and even George W. Bush, bringing nightly focus to the case. Then, of course, was Geraldo Rivera's comments, in which he said Zimmerman should be prosecuted, but Martin made himself a target by wearing a hoodie. Rivera earned a strong rebuke for the remarks.

Thus far, things are moving, if somewhat slowly.

Calls for a re-examining of the "Stand Your Ground" law have led to the state's governor, Rick Scott, to ask the State Senate to look at the code. The Justice Department is looking into it. The Sanford Police Chief, Bill Lee, has temporarily stepped downPresident Obama has called an investigation imperative, and said on Friday that "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."