In what can be called a compelling retelling of a death that was a catalyst for a movement, Paramount Networks and BET have teamed to reexamine the story and legacy of the late Trayvon Martin with Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story. The six-part series, which premiered on July 30 to 1.2 million viewers, moderates the events that led to the young man’s death and the effects it had on those closest to him. From conversations with Trayvon’s parents to those who responded after the events transpired, this series looks at the faults in the criminal justice system and why so much unrest still exists.
In the premiere, viewers are given an intimate take on Trayvon’s life and how it was cut short by Sanford neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman. Significantly, we hear from his parents about the emotions they experienced on that fateful night and how they responded to listening to the tapes of his death. “I’m never coming there,” Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, shared in a tense moment of episode one, speaking about the site where the events transpired and how it brings her great grief.
This first episode humanizes Trayvon’s story while offering more in-depth insight into the “stand your ground” law and how it fails to protect black youth in states like Florida. Fulton notes she doesn’t want “things to be swept under the rug,” specifically noting at the time she had several questions for Sanford police that remain unanswered.
In episode two, things get even more emotional as further information is provided on the history Zimmerman had with the law. Additionally, the episode reveals why it took so long for Sanford police to take action against him. What makes this part of the story even more interesting is its complexities, specifically the timeline of how long it took for Zimmerman to be taken into custody and how Rachel Jeantel never wanted to be involved. At one point, Fulton makes an emotional plea to those marching for justice that this case isn’t about “black and white,” but about what is “right and what is wrong.” But two truths can, in fact, exist at the same time being that Sanford has always had a history of racial injustice.
From the year that Jackie Robinson fled racist threats of Sanford’s townspeople in 1946 to the high number of black men currently in jail on fraudulent charges in the city, many, including Trayvon’s family, believe what happened that night was a symptom of racial problems that Sanford has always had. While Trayvon’s family are still seeking answers about what happened that night, we are reminded that this story (and many like it) are about race and the criminalization of black men.
One of the larger conversation pieces in the series is how media worked to vilify Trayvon when he was the victim of violence. As told by Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, we learn firsthand how several news outlets were quick to paint him a young troublemaker and drug addict who happened to be out looking for trouble that night. From digging up old school records to the critiques of Trayvon’s online persona, media personalities like Geraldo Rivera were committed to having the public see Trayvon as the reason for his death. Rivera claimed that dressing in a hooded sweatshirt that night sealed the young man’s fate, echoing sentiments networks like Fox News tried to spin, never once holding Zimmerman accountable as an assailant.
Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story can be considered heavy, but the light in this dark story highlights an even deeper arc: the humanity of Sybrina and Tracy and how both parents are slowly healing in a world full of hurt. Being able to hear them openly talk about their pain and anger speaks to the emotions that many black people carry and often never get to disclose. While many would say that we should focus on the strength that both parents exhibit in retelling this story, this mini-documentary serves as a tool for both Fulton and Martin to maintain control of the rhetoric and narrative being created around their son’s short life.
The series highlights and revisits elements of race, racism, politics, power and privilege in a very timely way. It is also a reminder of how so much of the justice system has become even more savage and lackadaisical to the daily pain that marginalized people face. Even after six long years, it’s just as difficult to see justice served for Trayvon’s memory as it was to seek it shortly after that fateful night in February 2012.