The shooting death of unarmed white South Carolina teen Marley Lion has drawn comparisons on the Internet to the killing of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin after a Charleston woman made an illustration to highlight Marley’s case.
Lizz O’Neill of James Island, S.C., said she used the comparison photo to highlight what she called the senseless killings of youth and that she was not viewing Lion’s alleged murder at the hands of three black men as a racially motivated crime.
“I wanted to make the point that lives are lost every day. Some are nationally recognized and some never make it past the local news,” O’Neill told the Charleston Post and Courier. “Every life, in my opinion, deserves the same recognition despite race or circumstances.”
George Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday of murder and manslaughter charges in the Feb. 26, 2012, killing of Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. A jury of six women decided that Zimmerman acted in self-defense in a struggle between the 17-year-old unarmed teen and the 29-year-old community watchman.
Marley Lion was shot and killed in June 2012 after calling police to tell them that two black men shot him five times, according to the Charleston City Paper. Four black men were charged with murder, including one who allegedly tried to rob Lion after abandoning plans to rob a nearby sports bar. Lion activated his car alarm in an attempt to deter his attackers when he was shot.
You can view surveillance video of the shooting below:
O’Neill said she was “completely shocked” that her meme gained widespread attention and made more people aware of Lion’s killing.
"When I made this picture, I never intended for it to become this big,” the 22-year-old stay-at-home mom said. “Before yesterday, almost no one outside of the Charleston area knew who Marley was. Now people across the nation know his name and are hearing his story.”
Some believed the point of O’Neill’s meme, which featured side-by-side photos of Martin and Lion, was that Lion’s case wasn’t getting national coverage because he was white. Next to Martin’s photo, O’Neill wrote, “This story made national news and was recognized by the president and countless celebrities.” By Lion’s photo, she wrote, “This story never made it past the local news.”
Underneath the photos was the question, “You tell me….. what is the difference?”
O’Neill said she wasn’t implying that race was the difference.
“The reason why I chose Marley in particular was not because he was a white boy killed by a black man, as so many are trying to make it seem. I used his story because it hits close to home,” she said.
Although both victims were 17 and unarmed, the comparisons between the Trayvon and Marley are few, Charleston-area attorney Charlie Condon told ABC 4 Charleston.
“It does fit a standard, robbery-type case,” Condon said of Lion’s shooting death. “Whereas, the other one had all these other factors.”
While the NAACP accused Zimmerman of profiling Martin because of his race and the hoodie he was wearing, similar allegations of racist behavior have not been leveled against the men accused of murdering Lion.
But that hasn’t stopped the NAACP branch in Charleston from highlighting his death.
The Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president of the Charleston NAACP chapter, addressed the similarities and differences between the two teens’ deaths. He didn’t attribute race for putting Martin’s death in the spotlight while Lion’s wasn’t. Darby said the distinction was the failure of the Sanford, Fla., police department to charge Zimmerman with a crime in a timely manner.
“On the one hand, they were two young men who were minding their own business when it occurred,” Darby said, according to the Charleston City Paper. “On the other hand, I think the problem in the Trayvon case is that the aftermath was different. In the case of Marley Lion, there was an immediate search for the killer, fairly rapid apprehension, rapid action. With Trayvon Martin ... the police were aware of the killing, but there was no charge until there was national pressure. I think the reason the Trayvon Martin case made national news was the level of inaction in Florida.”
Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott agreed.
“One thing we need to be clear on: I applaud how things were handled with Lion's case, because here was a young man, fresh out of high school, bothering no one, taking a rest in his own car, and he had someone take his life away from him. [Police] did what they should have done,” she said. “The only thing we're saying is it doesn't happen the same way with the life of a black child. That's where the disparity is, and the fact that it took so long to even bring Zimmerman to the due process of the justice system, and to have the verdict that it did... We feel like that would not have been the same verdict if race wasn't an issue.”