The parents of a shot Florida teenager have accused police of leaking information about their son being suspended for marijuana and details about the fight in which he died that portrayed him as the aggressor.
Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and family lawyers said yesterday that it was part of an effort to demonise her 17-year-old son, who was shot and killed last month by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
“They killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation,” Ms Fulton said.
Trayvon was suspended by Miami-Dade County schools because traces of marijuana were found in a plastic baggie in his book bag. He was serving the suspension when he was shot on February 26.
Sanford police department insisted there was no authorised release of the new information but acknowledged there might have been a leak.
Martin family lawyer Benjamin Crump said the link between the youth and marijuana should have no bearing on the investigation into his shooting death. State and federal agencies are investigating, with a grand jury set to convene on April 10.
Mr Crump said: “If he and his friends experimented with marijuana, that is completely irrelevant. What does it have to do with killing their son?”
Florida’s department of juvenile justice confirmed yesterday that Trayvon does not have a juvenile offender record.
Zimmerman said he shot Trayvon in self-defence and has not been arrested. Because Trayvon was black and Zimmerman has a white father and Hispanic mother, the case has become a racial flashpoint that has seen civil rights leaders organising protests around the US.
The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported that Zimmerman told police he lost Trayvon in the neighbourhood he regularly patrolled and was walking back to his vehicle when the youth approached him from behind.
The two exchanged words, Zimmerman said, and Trayvon punched him on the nose, jumped on top of him and began banging his head on a pavement.
Zimmerman said he began crying for help, though Trayvon’s family think it was their son who was crying out. Witness accounts differ and emergency phone tapes in which the voices are heard are not clear.
Despite the news of Trayvon’s possible actions on the night of the shooting, rallies demanding the arrest of 28-year-old Zimmerman have spread from Florida to Indiana.
Thousands rallied yesterday on the steps of the Georgia state capitol. The crowd chanted “I am Trayvon!” and “Arrest Zimmerman now!”, and the protest ended with the crowd linking hands and singing We Shall Overcome.
Students have been wearing hoodies that say “I am Trayvon Martin” and holding signs reading “Don’t shoot!” and “I could be next”.
In Sanford, city officials named a 23-year veteran of the police department as acting chief. The appointment of Captain Darren Scott, who is African-American, came days after Chief Bill Lee, who is white, temporarily stepped down as the agency endured criticism over its handling of the case.
“I know each one of you – and everyone watching – would like to have a quick, positive resolution to this recent event,” Mr Scott said. “I urge everyone to let the system take its course.”
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton has warned that Sanford risks becoming a 21st century version of the civil rights struggles in the South during the 1960s.
Mr Sharpton said Trayvon’s parents endured “insults and lies” yesterday over reports that their son attacked Zimmerman.