Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida five years ago this week. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was coined on July 13, 2013, the day after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot Martin after calling 911 and describing him as suspicious, reports the Orlando Sentinel. When Zimmerman shot Martin, Barack Obama had been in the White House for three years and, “Many Americans … felt that we were in a post-racial era,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist who came twice to Sanford, where the shooting took place, to lead rallies calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. Sharpton got involved, he said, because “I realized how vulnerable we were, that this guy wasn’t even a policeman, and he could just kill this kid and not even be arrested … That’s what outraged me.”
Sharpton doesn’t think young black men are better off now than they were when Martin was shot, but there is a big change: the movement led to accountability. People now demand answers when police kill young black men, and they’re willing to take to the streets in protest. “Trayvon Martin energized a renewal of civil rights activism in the 21st century like Emmett Till energized it in the 20th century,” Sharpton said. Government data indicates that in Central Florida, life has improved for young black men in some ways and gotten worse in others in five years. Their unemployment rate is down 38 percent, and the rate at which they graduate from high school is up sharply. The poverty rate for black males age 15 to 25 is 3 percent higher. The number of black males 15 to 25 who were the victims of homicide has seesawed since 2012. That year, Martin was one of 31. In 2015, there were 35.