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Trayvon Martin case shows evolving influence of black community

The black community – from actors to journalists – has played a crucial role in keeping the Trayvon Martin case in the public spotlight, media analysts say.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 22, 2012

Demonstrators chant Trayvon Martin's name during the Million Hoodie March in Union Square Wednesday in New York. The march was in memory of Martin, a black teenager shot to death by a Hispanic neighborhood watch captain in Florida. The teenager was unarmed and was wearing a hoodie.

Mary Altaffer/AP

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The case of Trayvon Martin is pointing to the important role that that black community has played – both through news outlets and social media – in keeping his death in the public eye.

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Several prominent black journalists have been crucial in raising awareness of the killing of the unarmed 17-year-old by a neighborhood watch captain, some experts say. Moreover, influential rappers and actors have used Twitter and other avenues to stoke wider outrage.

The effort shows how the black community is adapting to use new technologies and opportunities to bring their concerns before the nation.

Najee Ali, a Los Angeles-based activist and director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E., says the issue was brought to his attention by the tweets of black celebrities such as Russell Simmons, Spike Lee, and clerics such as the Rev. Al Sharpton. [Editor's note: The original version of this story misidentified the name of Russell Simmons.]

“Black people were not even aware that [Martin] had been shot and killed until Rev. Al Sharpton and other black celebrities started posting it on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook,” he says. 

Lee has tweeted: "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."

Black actress Gabrielle Union has also used Twitter to express her anger: "#TrayvonMartin case has exposed some ppl as monsters...not just Zimmerman but ANY1 who makes excuses 4 a man who kills an unarmed child."

As more blacks – like members of all ethnic groups – gravitate to Twitter, the social-media platform is gaining a greater ability to shape national causes. 

"As in our previous research on Twitter use, African Americans and Latinos continue to have high rates of adoption of the service,” according to a Pew Research Center study from 2011. “Fully 25 percent of online African Americans use Twitter at least occasionally, with 11 percent doing so on a typical day."

But the black community's response to the Martin killing has not been only a social-media story.

Artist Jasiri X, an indie rapper from Pittsburgh, went viral with a rap song ending with the words, "the message is only white life is protected in America."

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