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?
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.