By Chris Johnson
I happened to be in Florida last week when the Trayvon Martin case started getting national attention.
For those few of you who may not be familiar with the case, the established facts are as follows: neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious character in his neighborhood. He told dispatch that he was following the person and dispatch told him that was not necessary. Zimmerman a few moments later shot and killed Trayvon Martin, claiming self defense. He was taken into custody and reportedly treated for lacerations on the back of his head and a broken nose. Zimmerman was not arrested or charged.
Those are the basic, undisputed facts of the story.
Before I go any further, let me say that my sincere condolences go out to the family. No parent should have to bury their child, and it is truly a tragedy that Trayvon is dead. If Zimmerman shot Martin out of spite or for any reason other than to protect himself, he should be charged and punished for his crime.
When I caught the local news report, the spin was that a white man who had a history of calling the police way more than any normal person would had seen a black kid walking back from the store carrying a bag of Skittles and wearing a hood, considered him to be a threat because of his skin color and outerwear, and shot him. In fact, NBC played audio from the 911 call in which Zimmerman told dispatch, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” The spin, of course, is that the police did not arrest Zimmerman because he is white and they are also racist.
If that is what happened, I think there would be little argument that there would need to be some serious consequences for the chief of police (he has already temporarily stepped down) and officers involved and Zimmerman should be charged with murder.
No one, at that time, had attempted to give Zimmerman’s motive for wanting to shoot some random kid walking through his neighborhood. Even if he was a racist, Trayvon was not the first black person George Zimmerman had ever seen walking down the street. Why would he feel the need to shoot Martin?
When I had watched the news report in Florida, this was not yet a national story, but by the time I was back in Michigan, the New Black Panther Party had a bounty on Zimmerman, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were planning rallies to remember Trayvon and demand Zimmerman’s arrest, and President Obama had expressed his condolences to the family, saying “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”
In other words, Trayvon’s death had gone from being a tragedy to being the battle cry for a movement. It hasn’t seemed to matter that, as more information has come out, that original spin looks more and more ridiculous.
We now know that Zimmerman himself is a minority (half Hispanic), that he and his wife mentored two black children, that his many tips to the police had paid off several times and led to arrests, and that there had been a series of break-ins recently in the neighborhood.
Even more tellingly, it soon became evident that NBC had edited the 911 call. In the unedited audio, after Martin says he’s looks like he’s up to no good, the 911 dispatch asks “is he white, black, or Hispanic?” Which led to Martin’s answer: “He looks black.” Also, last week ABC released surveillance video from the night of the shooting which showed George Zimmerman exiting a police vehicle. The grainy video, ABC reported, showed no signs of a wound on the back of the head. This week however, ABC released a digitally enhanced version of the same video in which you can see the wound. They did not apologize or walk back their previous declaration that the video showed no head wound, they simply acted as if they’d never reported it.
We know more about Trayvon Martin too. The report I saw in Florida cast the 17 year old as an innocent high-schooler who got good grades and “majored in cheerfulness.” Since then it was revealed that he was suspended from school when marijuana residue was found in his bag and he had been found in possession of possible stolen jewelry which he said a friend gave him.
That is by no means to say that Martin was necessarily the kind of kid that attacks people and bashes their head on the sidewalk.
But there is no evidence to say that Zimmerman is the kind of person to shoot a kid in cold blood, either. In fact, all the 911 calls the neighborhood watch captain had made in the past that the media like to point to to make him out as a crazy man are evidence against that. Something made this instance different from the others.
The readiness of the media and the public to rush to judgment on this obviously murky case is what is the most disturbing. It has been so widely commented on because the shooter’s skin was a different color from the victim’s, but is it any more tragic that the finger that pulled the trigger was brown rather than black?
Juan Williams made a great point in a recent Washington Post article,
“The race-baiters argue this case deserves special attention because it fits the mold of white-on-black violence that fills the history books. Some have drawn a comparison to the murder of Emmett Till, a black boy who was killed in 1955 by white racists for whistling at a white woman.
The Martin case is very different from the Emmett Till case, in which a white segregationist Mississippi society approved of the murder of a black child.”
Here’s the bottom line. If George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin because he was black, he needs to be arrested and charged with a punishment fitting his horrible crime. But, if Zimmerman shot Martin because he had an honest and justifiable fear for his life, the media is guilty of exploiting a story for the purpose of inciting racial tension and advancing a narrative that America has moved beyond.
This is not 1955 – the year Emmett Till was murdered. I think that almost all Americans would want to see the murderer of an innocent 17 year-old brought to justice, let’s just make sure the 17 year-old was indeed innocent first.
Juan William’s article goes on to draw attention to an even greater tragedy than Martin’s death.
“ While civil rights leaders have raised their voices to speak out against this one tragedy, few if any will do the same about the larger tragedy of daily carnage that is black-on-black crime in America.
The most recent comprehensive study on black-on-black crime from the Justice Department should have been a clarion call for the black community to take action. There is no reason to believe that the trends it reported have decreased since 2005, the year for which the data were reported.
Almost one half of the nation’s murder victims that year were black and a majority of them were between the ages of 17 and 29. Black people accounted for 13% of the total U.S. population in 2005. Yet they were the victims of 49% of all the nation’s murders. And 93% of black murder victims were killed by other black people, according to the same report… The killing of any child is a tragedy. But where are the protests regarding the larger problems facing black America?.”
Williams also mentions the shocking graduation rate, rate of blacks living below the poverty line, and black unemployment level, and Crystal Wright on her blog http://www.conservativeblackchick.com points out a problem that is even deeper than these.
“In his 1965 research paper The Negro Family: the Case for National Action, Daniel Patick Moynihan then Assistant Secretary of Labor revealed the breakdown down of the black family was contributing to higher black dropout and incarceration rates and lower wealth achievement compared to whites…
The unemployment rate for black teens in 1965 was 29%, today it’s 40%. Since the days of Johnson, Democrat policies like welfare have only worsened the problem for blacks by rewarding black women with taxpayer dollars for raising fatherless children. Moynihan’s report reads like it was written yesterday rather than nearly 50 years ago. “In a word, the tangle of pathology is tightening,” wrote Moynihan. Indeed it is…”
No matter who attacked whom, the culture that feeds the stereotype deserves some blame too.