17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who is African-American, was shot to death by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who has claimed to have acted in self-defense despite witnesses and a 911 call to the contrary, in a Florida gated community more than three weeks ago. But the case still hasn’t penetrated mainstream media outlets fully, though shows like Melissa Harris-Perry’s weekend program on MSNBC have begun to cover it, and celebrities are beginning to add their voices to the case.
Def Jam Rcordings founder Russell Simmons is one of the few who’s spoken out directly, tweeting “Trayvon Martin didn’t die so we can create a race war he died so we can promote better understanding. We must start honest dialogue…pls join our facebook page as we seek justice for Trayvon Martin.” Singer Janelle Monae joined in, saying “Trayvon was murdered in his own father’s gated community,” and tweeting a link to the Change.org petition calling on Zimmerman to be prosecuted. So far, local authorities have declined to arrest Zimmerman.
Other celebrities have taken to Twitter to amplify the messages being sent by others. Spike Lee has taken time in between sending birthday wishes and discussing his NCAA tournament bracket to lend his account to the effort to get “I am Trayvon Martin” trending as a phrase and to promote others’ tweets about the Change.org petition. Taraji P. Henson also promoted the effort to get signatures, and to retweet followers telling her how disturbed they were by the case. Talib Kweli is also on board. Efforts to get celebrities like Lady Gaga, who has more followers than any other account on Twitter, Oprah, whose star may be diminished by the failures of her stand-alone network OWN but is still influential, and Rihanna to add their voices to the campaign were, as of Sunday night, unsuccessful.
But it was clear that news organizations were beginning to respond. Dan Abrams, the legal analyst for ABC told followers that “I’m @gma tmrw on the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I’ll talk FL law and specific facts that make the case controversial,” and GMA co-host Robin Roberts rebroadcast the promise to her followers. Star Jones tweeted that “The @todayshow is doing a feature on the #TrayvonMartin killing. Please sign this petition http://chn.ge/xc4oze #Justice.” And CNN analyst Roland S. Martin alerted his followers that “#Trayvon Martin rallies: Monday, 4 pm., prior to the Sanford City Council meeting. See @jamalhbryant for details.”
With any luck, their attention will help propel the story of Trayvon Martin’s death to the front pages and the top-rated television news programs where it belongs. And maybe some measure of justice will follow.