Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Blocking out the rhetoric of hate and fear

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm with 14 Comments »
March 29, 2012 11:21 am

A young man is fatally shot and his killer goes free. This may be the story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but it is only the latest incarnation of an oft replicated theme.

In 2009, a local gang member shot and killed a young man, and I was dispatched to the initial call. During the investigation I learned that the gang member instigated a fight with the victim before he resorting to the cowardly act of shooting him. He fled on foot, but was soon caught and arrested. To my utter dismay, he was released without charges and remains free to this day.

Despite the similarities in these two fatal incidents, the story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman continues to dominate the news, while the details of the local killing seemed hardly worth a few lines in the next day’s paper. The reason for the disparate reactions was simply a matter of race, i.e. the gang member and victim in my investigation were the same race, whereas Trayvon and Zimmerman were not.

The racial implications of the Sanford incident have created a media whirlwind around Martin’s family, and civil rights leaders, celebrities and politicians are throwing out their sails to ride it. Now that I have walked around the question, let’s ask it: Is this attention justified?

Martin Luther King, Jr/ AP Photo

In a word, yes. If ethnicity is a causal factor – a point to which Zimmerman’s 911 statements at least hint – then Trayvon Martin’s death is worthy of national attention. After all, this country has not survived the Civil War, segregation, Brown vs. the Board of Education and the chaos of the 1960’s only to throw in the towel on social injustice in 2012.

That is not the problem. The problem is that the gravitational pull currently being exerted by the massive events in Sanford, Florida, has more than just celebrities, politicans, rights advocates and media rubber-neckers spinning in its orbit. The chaos has also attracted factions who profess solidarity with Martin’s family, while usurping their moral authority using the rhetoric of hate and fear.

I am referring to members of the press, such as Geraldo Rivera, who created his own spectacle by pointing out that Martin’s choice to wear a hoodie was at least partly to blame for his death. Perhaps his intentions were good, but conjuring fear as a way to make a point doesn’t constitute a step forward. It requires two steps back.

I am referring to the leader of the New Black Panther Party who announced on CNN that his group was offering a $10,000 reward for the capture of George Zimmerman. If this rant sounds familiar, that’s because it bears striking similarity to the proclamations of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Also troubling is the fact that the Panther Party’s announcement might incite a good, old-fashioned lynching, yet that did not stop CNN from broadcasting it.

On a personal note, I am also referring to a reader response from my last column on this topic. From behind the impenetrable wall of anonymity, this reader wrote, “SAY HELLO TO YOUR ARYAN BROTHERS FOR ME AT YOUR MEETING THIS WEEKEND. SOME OF US  DON’T WANT TO KEEP BEING MEEK, WHEN MOST OF YOU ARE BEING WHAT YOU ARE, DEVILS!!!”

He continued on for some time, stopping only to offer vague threats and to draw outrageously racist conclusions. I have found that having a logical discussion with someone so comfortable in their warped shell is a pointless exercise. Besides, it was nothing I haven’t heard at work.

It’s just that this type of rhetoric, whether it’s Geraldo Rivera, the Black Panthers or some anonymous online hate-monger, is a complete contradiction to the appeals for social justice made by Martin’s family, their attorney, and the civil rights leaders that have championed their cause. It represents the polar opposite view of anyone who has fought the good fight for social justice. It detracts from every courageous attempt to turn our society away from the mistakes of our bitter past. It stands as the hate-filled answer to every exultant speech from the mouth of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Fortunately, we don’t have to listen. Instead, let’s choose to block out the words of hate and fear. Let’s give Trayvon Martin’s family the time they need to ask their questions, the ability to find the answers, and every opportunity to find the justice they seek.
If it were my son, I would do nothing less.
Leave a comment Comments → 14
  1. derekyoung says:

    Well said. It’s sad that an actual search for justice is being lost in all this grandstanding on all sides. Ironically, it sounds like the special prosecutor is actually closing in on a case for arrest, but that’s barely mentioned while people scream about hoodies, the NBPP, or Treyvon’s empty bag of weed.

  2. There are incredible numbers of little fish to fry and
    there should be an incredible number of guys and gals concerned
    with frying them. The journey of a thousand li begins with
    a single step.

  3. Chippert says:

    Brian, I absolutely agree with you. This whole spectacle should serve as a lesson to us all. When the news first broke, we (and the media – or because of the media) were sure that Zimmerman was a devil who gunned down an completely innocent person in cold blood just because he was racially stereotyped. Thus the calls went out branding Zimmerman as a murderer. I admit that I swallowed this hook, line and sinker even though I should have known better, and could not understand why the arrest was not immediate. Now, after stepping back and trying to winnow what few “facts” we can garner from the flood of speculation, rhetoric, suppositions and outright fabrication that we get from the media, it is obvious that it is just not that simple.

    Like everything else, there are many sides and facets to this story that has to be considered. I take my hat off to the investigators in the Sanford case that are not being stampeded by the media frenzy and are taking their time to insure they have all the facts and evidence before making an arrest (or not). We heard so much about the “rush to judgement” in the O.J. Simpson circus and that is exactly what has happened by the public in general. Fortunately that rush has not happened in the place it counts – law enforcement and the legal system. For now, I have to say that I have no idea what the truth really is (or truths) and will sit and watch.

    Yes, there are many who have latched on to this story to further their own political or personal agendas that have little or nothing to do with facts in the case. I hope that people can begin to see this and will also await calmer and cooler heads who are carefully trying to do the right thing here.

  4. IBMaxine says:

    I fully agree with you that time and patience is needed in this, and every case, in order to obtain justice. We only get bits and pieces and those depend upon the leanings of the origin of the information. A new video has emerged that shows Mr. Zimmerman shortly after the shooting. He is in handcuffs at the police station. The alleged injuries are nowhere to be seen, but until ALL the evidence is gathered and investigated there can be no justice for anyone.

  5. rivitman says:


    Stop the video at the 13 second mark or so.

    Now, give me the License plate number of the patrol car.

    You cannot see that either can you? What does that say about the quality and resolution of the video? Which SHOULD be more visible? A cut on a mans head, or a license plate? I’ll think I’ll go with the plate.

    Also, are you willing to ignore the police reports, and the fact Zimmerman had already received medical aid?

  6. rivitman, IBMaxine pled for waiting until all evidence is in. You obviously want to support Zimmerman by declaring which evidence is “better” than others.

    As for your question, I’ll take the images that are in the focal plane of the camera. I suspect that is the close up of Zimmerman’s face, but we’ll just have to wait to see what a jury thinks of it, if it ever gets that far. Until then, I do think it is a supporting piece of evidence for finding sufficient “probable cause” to go to a Grand jury.

    As for the “fact” that he received medical care immediately after the incident, I’ll wait for a ruling on admissibility of that in court, too, since no evidence has yet been presented. There is only his lawyer’s vague hint that sometime between the incident and 24 hours later he received medical care for a broken nose.

  7. Nope tuddo, that vid is being touted as some sort of proof positive. The police reports indicate Zimmerman received aid prior to transport. This is common practice for police.

    If you can’t see that tag, you won’t see a cut.

    Am I letting Zimmerman off the hook at this time? Absolutely not. I’m just dragging him from under the bus.

  8. BlaineCGarver says:

    This story has Race, and Guns, and hoplophobia….it will never be treated in the TNT. IE: notice how at first it was a “Hate Crime” until they found out that Z was Hispanic?? That is very telling where this is headed. Brian, you have written a decent story, but your anti-gun slip is showing again.

  9. I hate to interject here, but just because the two people are from different races and get into an altercation, that does NOT indicate a race issue. How can ANYONE make a statement like that? It’s attitudes like that which perpetuate racism in this country, contrary to facts. I’m sorry, but this type of posting really just drives me nuts. Does it even matter that many of Zimmerman’s friends (including blacks) and acquaintances have stepped forward and denied that Zimmerman is racist? So Zimmerman mentions that Martin is black when describing him to police, what, he’s supposed to ignore that tidbit? Or that he’s wearing a hoodie? What is he supposed to tell the 911 operator? “I’m following someone, although I can’t tell you what clothes he’s wearing or what color skin he has because I might be labelled as a racist by the media someday”?

    Just WHAT evidence makes this a subject of race, beyond two people of differing colors?

  10. Gandalf, the transcript of the 911 call was initially transcribed with a racial epithet. Many people hear a racial epithet. Some hear one letter changed and make it just Zimmerman calling Martin a bad word then a word meaning a hired thug.

    Some say no one uses the racial epithet that many people hear, but I can tell you that it is still said frequently in South Carolina, at least, and is one of the most common racial slurs being said.

    He also says, “They always get away.” We don’t know who “they” are, but he had just mentioned that the person was black. Is there a link? Nothing has been proved either way, but it makes a big difference in the justice system whether or not this is a hate crime.

    The reason I am responding is that you asked why some people saw evidence that race was part of this, not that I have taken a side either way.

  11. Objective says:

    Amateur Hour Posting: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-0ld African-American, was reportedly shot after being confronted by Robert Zimmerman, an armed resident voluntarily patrolling the gated community in Sanford. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense, but the 911 tape and excerpts from Martin’s last phone conversation suggest otherwise.

    Making the Case for a Civil Rights Case: The investigation conducted by the Sanford Police Department uncovered no eye witnesses to the killing. Cell phone transcripts and verbal testimony from passersby were examined, but apparently little was found to contradict Zimmerman’s statement that he acted in self defense. In fact, the physical evidence found actually supported Zimmerman’s assertion.

    Blocking Out the Rhetoric: A young man is fatally shot and his killer goes free. This may be the story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, but it is only the latest incarnation of an oft replicated theme.”

    It appears we go from an amateur hour killer, to lack of evidence and physical evidence supporting Zimmerman’s claim. Then here we are today a “young man shot and his killer goes free”.

    Geez, no wonder why there is so much confusion in the media.

  12. The media won’t be satisfied until they have some riots to cover. And they are doing their dead level best to see that they happen.

  13. NotPoliticallyCorrect says:

    Rivitman, Without a doubt!!!!

  14. rivitman says:

    Well, looks like MSNBC, clown prince of all hack media admits there were wounds on GZ’s head (and sort of soft peddle it, all of a sudden showing an interest in fairness):

    This not good enough for MSNBC however, who did their part to fan the flames after the release of the initial video, now acts nonplussed, insisting that forensic examination of the 911 audio is the key to the case.

    Why? Because they have to keep the hate alive so they have something to talk about.

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