Traumatic Life Event Assignment
Description of the Trayvon Martin Case
On February 26, 2012, at around 7 o'clock in the evening, Trayvon Martin, then 17 years old, was returning home from a 7/11 in the Twin Lakes neighborhood of Sanford, Florida. Trayvon was carrying an ice tea can and a bag of skittles as it was raining outside. While driving through the area, George Zimmerman spots Trayvon. He phones the non-emergency line of the Sanford police department to report a "suspicious person" loitering in the gated Twin Lakes community (Luscombe, 2012). Zimmerman follows Trayvon, a clear violation of the dispatcher's instruction not to pursue the individual. After Zimmerman ended his call with the police, he caught up with Trayvon, who was speaking on the phone with his girlfriend. A violent altercation ensues. Although there are two versions of what happened between the two, an exchange of words led to a physical altercation before Zimmerman fatally shoots and kills Trayvon at approximately 7:25 PM (Francescani, 2012). Multiple 911 calls from the neighbors prompted the police, who arrived to find Zimmerman claiming that he shot Trayvon in self-defense.
Initially, Sanford police had opted not to arrest Zimmerman, citing his statement of self-defense, lack of probable cause, and the notion that there was insufficient evidence to make the arrest. The case of Zimmerman, whose father is white and whose mother is Hispanic, ignited sudden protests and sparked national debates about self-defense laws and racial profiling (Thebault, 2022). On April 5, 2012, after several weeks of unrest and President Barrack Obama's public speech and intervention, Ben Crumb and Trayvon's family with a wrongful death lawsuit. Six days after the settlement of an undisclosed amount, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Sanford Police Department's homicide investigator Christopher Serino recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter. According to the detective, Zimmerman "failed to identify himself" as a citizen mandated with keeping neighborhood watch when he met the teenager (CNN Editorial Research, 2022). Detective Serino reported that he thought the injuries inflicted upon Zimmerman were "marginally consistent with a life-threatening episode, as described by him, during which neither a deadly weapon nor deadly force was deployed by Trayvon Martin" (CNN Editorial Research, 2022).
However, on July 13, 2013, the jury of the Seminole Circuit Court acquits Zimmerman of all charges. The jury of five white women and one minority woman held that Zimmerman acted in self-defense (Lee, 2017). They accepted the contention that Trayvon had emerged from the darkness, sucker-punched Zimmerman on the nose, and smashed his head on the concrete pavement. The investigation concluded that Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman during the struggle, which placed Zimmerman in a position of immediate danger.
One month after the murder of Trayvon Martin, thousands of people gathered outside a city Centre in Sanford to express their anger and support the family in pressuring city leaders to arrest Zimmerman. Still, after the trial, Black leaders and civilian supporters demonstrated their outrage at the verdict, demanding that people launch a federal civil rights case against Zimmerman (Luscombe, 2012). In response, the justice department in Washington assured the community leaders that it was assessing whether there was enough evidence to corroborate Zimmerman's prosecution in court. Subsequently, protesters took to the streets to show they were unsatisfied with Zimmerman's acquittal. The police said that Los Angeles and New York protests were peaceful as people marched on the cities' significant landmarks, such as Times Square, zigzagging through the towns to avoid police lines. They carried signs and chanted "No Justice, No Peace" and "Justice for Trayvon Martin," among others. Artists such as Beyonce and Young Jeezy released songs supporting the cause and in Trayvon's memory (Thebault, 2022).
Application of Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory
Bronfenbrenner's ecological system theory explains how human development is shaped by an individual's interaction with their environment. The individual occupies the central, most significant position of Bronfenbrenner's theory. Four nested systems surround the individual and play an integral role in the person's growth and development. The four systems in Bronfenbrenner's ecological model are the microsystem, mesosystem, ecosystem, and macrosystem (Tudge & Rosa, 2019). While the microsystem framework comprises the groups that have direct contact with the individual, the mesosystem consists of the person's relationship with other groups. In addition, the exosystem is a factor that impacts an individual's life but does not directly affect them. The macrosystem dimension constitutes the cultural components that impact a person's life and everyone around them. One can use this model to describe the Trayvon Martin event and assess society's expectations of a particular group. For instance, the psychologist explains the significance and outcomes of different parenting styles and how it contributes to a person's immediate environment.
Microsystem, Mesosystem, Exosystem, and Macrosystem in Trayvon's Case
In this case, Trayvon Martin's microsystem consists of his immediate family, friends, and everyday settings such as homes and schools. Trayvon's family was close to him as he frequently interacted with Sybrina Fulton (Mother), Tracy Martin (Father), Jahavaris Fulton (Half-brother), Alicia Stanley (Tracy Martin's wife after divorce), and a considerable number of friends. The people who interacted with Trayvon say he was kind and loving, not a "thug," as the media and other people portrayed him. The members and other elements of the victim's microsystem support the notion that he was a good boy and that what happened to him was wrong. Jerome Horton, Trayvon's former football coach, states that he was obedient and would always be fair to children of other backgrounds on the team (Luscombe, 2012). Racism and racial tension were not at the forefront of Trayvon's mind growing up as he witnessed his mother's positive relationship with her White friends and coworkers. Still, the killing confirms the unnecessary suspicion and suspension rates. Black children receive numerous microsystemic contexts.
Trayvon’s development at this level presents one notable non-oppressive framework that affected his interaction with others in the later stages. At this phase, it is apparent that his parent’s divorce might have impacted his social and emotional wellbeing significantly. Thebault (2022) explains that after the divorce, Trayvon would be forced to shuffle between living with his mother and visiting his father several times a month. According to Eriksson et al. (2018), family social behaviors and cultural perceptions of these behaviors play an integral role in the microsystem phase. The phenomenon exposed Trayvon to the themes related to his parents’ separation, including attempting to make sense of the divorce and reflecting on its outcomes. This light explains his positive relationship with his mother and his motivated engagement in high school sports (Luscombe, 2012). Overall, it is reasonable to assume that Trayvon would have received better nurturing and learned more enhanced skills if his parents had not divorced.
The mesosystem level of Bronfenbrenner's bioecological systems theory includes Trayvon's interactions with the components of his microsystem. This level comprises two microsystems yielding one lasting effect, such as the behaviors Trayvon learned and applied in his everyday life. Another example of a mesosystem is Black children witnessing and experiencing alarming rates of violence in their neighborhoods and schools (Eriksson et al., 2018). The harmful impacts of these experiences are evident in Trayvon's situation and the development of black kids in America. In addition, it was apparent that Trayvon's closeness with his family nurtured his behavior. For him, public affection came quickly as he would give and receive hugs after football games and kisses on the cheek every time he did something good. His teachers say he was one of the best students they have ever trained. In the numerous interviews with parents, family, and acquaintances, it is revealed that Trayvon Martin was not a troublemaker but a typical teenager (Lee, 2017).
Many adolescents in the United States and other parts exhibit declines in academic achievement and psychological well-being. One aspect of vulnerability in developing competencies for African-American youth is exposure to racial discrimination (Varner et al., 2018). One month before the shooting death of Trayvon, the Miami Herald (2012) states that he was suspended from school for marijuana possession. The Martin family’s spokesperson confirmed that the school officials did not cite or arrest Trayvon because there was no substance inside the baggie that was believed to have contained marijuana. Trayvon was also suspended along with his friends in October 2012 for inscribing cusswords on a hallway locker using a graffiti marker. However, the Miami Herald (2012) states that the main reason for the suspension was that the institution’s security guard found a screwdriver while going through his backpack. The guard convinced the school that the screwdriver was a “burglary tool,” once again pointing to the severe systemic racism that appears to consistently lower African-American youth’s academic expectations (Varner et al., 2018).
The exosystem layer encompasses the social components in which the individual participates or plays an active role but is still affected by its influences. Examples of exosystemic elements that shaped Martin's life include his parents' workplaces, mass media, social support systems, and local government policy settings (Tudge & Rosa, 2019). Since his parents were separated but still lived near each other in Miami Gardens, his father working as a truck driver meant that Trayvon had to change his surroundings frequently. While this phenomenon might have made him more mature for his age, this freedom resulted in a tragic event. Moreover, the mass media contributed to the victim's development in several ways. It is apparent that the media had given Trayvon an idea about the disparity and differences between Black and White people in the United States (Rogers et al., 2019). Although mass media played an integral role in seeking justice for his murder, the same channel harmed his growth and development.
The media is a relevant non-oppressive approach to address pertaining to the exosystemic components of Trayvon’s development. Forms of media shape people’s views of racism and social justice. At the time of the incident, it is pertinent to note and recognize the efforts of the mainstream media to collect multiple viewpoints about cultural diversity and rampant racial discrimination (Morris et al., 2020). However, Trayvon and other African-American teenagers did not enjoy this privilege entirely. In addition to racism, African-Americans have been subjected to dealing with the kind of white supremacy that runs a significant portion of white media. These forms of media cannot be relied upon for education as some exacerbate implicit bias and perpetuate racial stereotypes against minorities, specifically Black people (Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media Staff, 2020). One could argue that the media contributed to Zimmerman’s understanding of the behaviors and tendencies of Black people, and that is why he chose to commit a heinous crime instead of addressing it differently.
The macrosystem comprises cultural customs, values, attitudes, laws, and ideologies. It is evident that in the case of Trayvon, the effects of this layer could be felt throughout the other systems. Zimmerman's attitude and understanding of Black youths wearing hoodies and walking around a dominantly white gated community were flawed. Therefore, in other words, racism was the underlying cause of his reaction (Jones, 2018). One defining moment for African-American children like Trayvon is discussing with their parents why other people treat them negatively and why they are viewed as suspects or potential criminals. An overwhelming but inescapable reality in Trayvon's murder is that American society is deeply grounded and often perpetuates anti-Blackness (Rogers et al., 2021). White privilege and the stereotypic view of African-American values and customs shape a person's thinking and how they affect the people around them. For instance, the macro systemic components of Black people made Zimmerman stop his car and follow as the same motivated Trayvon to run from the suspicious pursuit.
The issue within this level of the ecological systems theory pertains to race and inequality, and it stems from the elements of power differentials between White and Black people. In this case, the sources of inequality are built into the two powers’ social system (Teasley et al., 2018). The inequalities started with the Europeans’ view of Black people during colonization before being imported into the new era through slavery, Jim Crow Laws, and other vices. The generational marginalization and oppression of African-Americans have led to a severe long-standing historical trauma that has curtailed these people’s life chances. The forms of inequality present in Trayvon’s case are power, knowledge, and wealth. Teasley et al. (2018) add that there is a strong connection between these inequities and political instability. Law enforcement’s efforts have been commendable, as the persistent social injustice and gross misconduct against African-Americans may have negatively affected the magnitude of the protests (Lane et al., 2020). Still, anti-oppressive social work should include this dimension in its research.
Genogram and Ecomap Illustration
Application of Trauma Theories
Stephen Porges introduced the polyvagal theory in 1954 to help people understand the causes of trauma and recovery. Deb Dana, a clinical social worker, has adapted the approach in most of her publications, saying that it is crucial for clinical and therapeutic services. In one of her books, Dana (2020) states that the theory helps trauma patients negotiate with their environment. The polyvagal theory states that when people experience a threat, their first reaction is to rely on a neural circuit called the social nervous system, which promotes social engagement. This is evident in Thebault (2022) when Trayvon's parents sought connections from friends and family. However, the threat became more extreme when the family found that the police did not arrest Zimmerman for the shooting death of their son. The result forced the family and the community to engage the sympathetic nervous system and activate fight or flight. Trayvon's family chose to reestablish their safety by fighting the decision to arrest and charge Zimmerman.
Dana (2020) adds that, unfortunately, people with complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have difficulty projecting their feelings and orienting to safety, even after a long time. Although Trayvon's family has made significant progress in healing from the predicament, it is almost apparent in Davis (2020) that the senseless and tragic death of a young kid still sends Trayvon's parents and the community into a frenzy. In a Paramount Network film executively produced by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter titled, "Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story," one can see the family's pain and anger in seeking justice. Dana (2020) alludes that this is because, more often than not, families can find it challenging to address different problems that occurred to them in the past and what is happening around them at the moment. Stewart (2017) states that Trayvon's family experiences attentional response bias as the family members tend to get overly protective due to the traumatic event.
Emotional Processing Theory
According to Alpert et al. (2021), social workers use emotional processing theory (EPT) as an organizational framework to teach patients how to activate and change pathological mechanisms for responding and coping with trauma. The theory is based on the notion of fear structure. Members of Trayvon's family would benefit from the concept of fear structure because a significant portion of their reaction to any situation is based on their worst feared stimuli, which is the tragic death of their loved one. This theory explains why an individual would present a rapid behavioral and psychological response to something as small as a thought or smell. In extreme cases, some people's fear structures are distorted, which might cause them to view some stimuli as dangerous when they do not accurately represent the traumatic event (Dana, 2020). This is likely the case for Trayvon's parents and girlfriend because they do not have an existing or clear account of what happened the night Zimmerman killed Trayvon.
Alpert et al. (2021) demonstrate that events associated with Trayvon's passing could trigger excessive psychological responses, which may cause the family to avoid the memories of the event deliberately. More precisely, emotional withdrawal and the implementation of specific maladaptive behaviors are among the central features of emotional processing. The emotional processing theory would explain why some members of Trayvon's family refused to be interviewed by news channels at the time and even years after the situation. Besides the family, the impacts of the Trayvon situation could be felt throughout the whole community and country (Davis, 2022). Many African-Americans protested because white supremacy and anti-blackness were becoming a pattern. Some people have had to endure the Trayvon Martin situation multiple times due to racism, discrimination, and prejudice. The phenomenon causes extreme fear, anxiety, depression, and sadness. Thebault (2022) asserts that Trayvon's close friends have exhibited PTSD, which has changed how they interact with others, especially white people and the police.
Erikson's Eight-Stage Theory
Erikson's eight-stage theory of psychosocial development states that a person's personality development follows eight stages. The eight phases are based on an individual's age and range from infancy to adulthood. Trayvon Martin felt safe and secure with his parents, which shows that his mother, as the primary caregiver, successfully achieved the first stage when she ensured Trayvon's infantry needs were met. At this stage, it is apparent that Martin has developed trust in his parents, which gives him hope. For stage two, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, Luscombe (2012) shows that Trayvon's decisiveness at a young age matched his early maturity. At around three years old, he developed will, and due to his parents' support, he presented increased confidence in his ability to do things differently. In addition, Trayvon and his social support system achieved stage three by exposing him to sports, contributing to his excellent interpersonal skills. The Miami Herald (2012) shows that the initiative versus guilt stage was successful as Trayvon would ask thought-provoking questions out of curiosity and learning.
Maree (2022) demonstrates that a child exhibits stage four, industry versus inferiority, when they are twelve. Trayvon's father, mother, football coach, and teachers facilitated this stage by encouraging him to take the initiative with high school sports to learn new skills and build competence. Still, the Miami Herald (2012) states that this was around the time when Trayvon would get suspended once for tardiness and truancy. According to Maree (2012), perhaps Trayvon was not secure in his abilities, did not believe in himself, and felt that he could not live up to the expectations of his parents and society. Unfortunately, his life was cut short in stage five, identity versus role confusion. Trayvon was beginning to recognize his place in society, future, goals, and dreams and develop the fundamental societal value of fidelity. If he had not died at seventeen, Trayvon would have lived to witness, enjoy, and give back to his community at 26 and beyond over the three stages of development.
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