Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed February 26 in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, 28, is the admitted shooter, and has not been charged with a crime while the case is under investigation.
Zimmerman was initially identified in the media as ‘white’ and later, as a ‘white Latino.’ Zimmerman’s father is part Jewish and part Peruvian and his mother is of Hispanic descent.
While the case is debated among opinions in the media, groups such as The New Black Panthers have allegedly put a bounty on Zimmerman – offering a $10,000 reward for his capture and citizen’s arrest.
Spike Lee has paid the cost of retweeting the address of elderly couple David and Elaine McClain to his 256,000 Twitter followers. Lee’s attorney made a settlement agreement with the McClains, who had a son named William Zimmerman, after they received death threats, among other disturbances to their safety when many believed this to be the home of the George Zimmerman of Florida. In a case of mistaken identity, we question the initial motive to give out someone’s home address. What were those who viewed the address intending to do once they had it? Will someone act on the many death threats to exact ‘justice’ for Trayvon?
Even billionaire Oprah Winfrey weighed in, and questioned why this case has not been investigated further. Winfrey told Extra! that she wants to interview Zimmerman – and we hope she will. Meanwhile, Angela Corey, special prosecutor, has recently been assigned the case to investigate further before any charges are potentially filed. Zimmerman was not held previously in part due to the “stand your ground” laws, his injuries, and his account of self-defense corroroborated by witness reports and 911 tapes. Now witness testimony from the scene, including that of a 13 year-old neighborhood boy, is being questioned.
Various pundits have offered their two cents, from conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly to activists Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton. U.S. President Obama commented “If I had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon.” Other public officials and celebrities have worn hoodies in support of Martin, who has been labeled a ‘martyr.’
CNN Miami reported that Martin was an average student who recently gave up his love of football to pursue his dream of being a pilot. CNN interviewed Martin’s friend and football coach, while covered in a variety of sleeve tattoos up his arms, the coach seems innocuous enough. Martin’s family has released family photos of him skiing, at aviation camp, holding young babies, and even horsebackriding. The photos released of Martin from age 13 and more recently, range from a sweet and innocent looking teenager, to an older boy in a hoodie. Martin, a former high school athlete, was 6’3 and approximately 140 pounds. Martin’s family admits that he was suspended from school three times – for truancy and most recently, for a baggie with traces of marijuana.
Zimmerman, a former security guard and ‘dedicated’ neighborhood watch coordinator, reported a suspicious looking male walking behind houses during his watch. The area where Zimmerman patrolled included recent crime. According to Zimmerman, Martin did something suspicious enough to alarm the neighborhood watch organizer.
Since 2004, Zimmerman has made over 46 non-emergency calls to the police, including a report of children ‘running and playing in the street.’ The Daily Beast obtained a transcript of his calls. He told police that Martin initially attacked him, and that he sustained a broken nose and other head injuries. The police report notes blood and injuries on Zimmerman. Despite the police report, commenters in the peanut gallery on every news article seem to be majoring in forensic science these days, as they dissect video footage with no time stamp, or analyze a blurry photograph.
Zimmerman reported self-defense and the police did not arrest him. Zimmerman is 5’9, and not as heavyset as the 7-year-old 2005 mug shot of him indicates. He carried a 9 milimeter pistol that night that ended Martin’s life.
It’s tough for most of us to imagine a scenario that would lead Zimmerman to confront Martin and shoot him in cold blood, hence the debate and surrounding media frenzy. Critics have pointed out that many other deaths go unreported and unpublicized and wonder if some are sullying Martin’s memory for a chance at political gain. Because of the widespread belief in ‘racial’ tensions, the initial reporting of a white male attacking a black man only fueled the racial fire.
Florida’s “stand your ground” law permits someone to use deadly force if the person fears death or great bodily harm. If Zimmerman’s account is accurate, perhaps he was acting in self-defense. Special prosecutor Corey said she will consider every possible angle, including a potential bias.
While anthropologists like this reviewer have long known that there are no biological ‘races’ of humans, and biological differences are not varied enough to justify that concept, cases like these remind us how many people are entrenched in the idea of race, and how it shapes their identity. Ethnic background is certainly a point of contention among many, and there’s no doubt that many people are motivated by the conception of race, however faulty it is.
Descriptions of Zimmerman as ‘white,’ a ‘white Latino,’ or Hispanic only confound the issue, while the pundits question why black people support Trayvon and the Latino community has largely failed to weigh in on this hot topic. We don’t blame them for wanting to lay low and not throw out support for someone the community may think – in large part due to the reporting – is a heartless killer. Reports about Zimmerman’s character, his temper or propensity for inciting violence is being analyzed, including his work history as a security guard. Martin is being targeted by ‘racists’ as a troublemaking drug user, and not the happy-go-lucky admittedly cute kid in a red Hollister T-shirt that his family remembers from when he was 13.
Ultimately, we can only hope that Zimmerman’s account is accurate – the alternative version is almost too gruesome to fathom. We wonder, is this a case of violence gone too far, and if he wasn’t carrying a gun, would this incident be something minor Martin told his friends and family, another case of an over-zealous neighborhood watchman who doesn’t like when people walk outside, rather than having the whole world watch as we mourn this untimely death? Are depictions of Martin as covered in gang-tattoos and a gold grill, towering at six feet high, and running behind houses supsiciously enough to back up the story that he was an intimidating, imposing figure who attacked Zimmerman when confronted? Was Zimmerman so vigilant as neighborhood watch that he turned vigilante? And why don’t more decry the New Black Panthers as a ‘hate’ group for the supposed bounty?
We question The Daily Texan’s decision to fire college cartoonist Stephanie Eisner for depicting what many of us were thinking – that the headlines, content, and tone of most of the stories on this case were leading the audience to a conclusion rather than presenting the facts. We wonder if they will change their stance once again, as Jeremy Lin did with the ESPN headline writer for the ‘Chink in the Armor’ debaucle. The use of the term ‘colored’ most likely sparked student Eisner’s downfall in this ascerbic image. (It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a boss made a decision and then retracted it, only to blame an employee for something that did not go over well.)
We all have questions – and we hope that the prosecutors and forensics specialists do their duty to research this case. We hope the media coverage – and comments – in this case and others will be more balanced and less one-sided. In the meantime, we should remember the life and death of Trayvon Martin – and hope that truth and facts of this case will comfort those who grieve him.