If you guys haven’t heard about the Travon Martin case by now, you should. Here’s a quick background:
- Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Florida high school student, was found shot and killed, in Sanford, Fla., a community north of Orlando. Several eyewitnesses reported that they heard a scuffle, then a cry for help, and then a gunshot.
- According to the Sanford police report, George Zimmerman, 28, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, was later found armed with a handgun, standing over Martin. He had a bloody nose and a wound in the back of his head.
- Martin was pronounced dead at the scene. He had no weapons on him, only a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea. Yet Zimmerman told the police he killed Martin in self defense. The police, stating there is no evidence to dispute the self-defense assertion, have yet to arrested him, nor administered a drug test, an alcohol test, or a background check.
MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry offers a solid account of the case:
After hearing about this story, a few thoughts come to mind:
(1) There is a clear difference, which needs to be explored and emphasized, between an actual police officer and a neighborhood watchman. I won’t turn this into an issue of gun control, as everybody has a right to carry to protect themselves (or whatever the argument is by gun enthusiasts), but I will say that a neighborhood watchmen has no earthly business being armed with a gun in this capacity. A neighborhood watchmen’s job – and I use the term “job” rather loosely – is to monitor activity going on in the neighborhood. That’s it.
(2) As Harris-Perry noted, the “Stand Your Ground” law is a breeding ground for vigilantism. On top of that, the law is so vague and subjective that it virtually leaves room for any type of encounter to fall under what could be considered “responsive force.” Despite evidence being uncovered which suggests otherwise, Zimmerman was claiming he felt threatened and the situation warranted the use of deadly force. Unless Martin planned to assault him with a bag of Skittles, Zimmerman’s life was not in danger. This whole “shoot first, ask questions later” situation is dangerous.
(3) I think this story was definitely racially motivated, but it also reaffirms everybody’s tendency to look at minorities a certain way. Normally when we think of racial profiling, we limit it to white people and their perceptions about a minority group. But that’s entirely unfair to white people. We may not want to admit it, but minorities are also guilty of racial profiling, even to each other. Even the most socially conscious amongst us have harbored certain thoughts when a young, black person in baggy clothes and a hoodie is walking directly toward us. As I argued on Twitter, how and what we think about black people is often informed by what is projected in the media or what we’ve experienced in our personal dealings. Which leads me to my next point…
(4) …this is a perfect opportunity for us to once again examine the disastrous affects of the thug culture so many of our young people embrace. This, in my opinion, indirectly led to Trayvon Martin being killed. Something possessed Zimmerman to think that an otherwise innocent black kid was up to no good. I suspect, as I mentioned before, that some of Zimmerman’s thinking was informed by what he’s seen or heard about black youth. Unfortunately for minorities in this country (black and latino men, especially), we are usually defined by the more deviant folks in our group. Is it fair? Of course not. Does it happen? Absolutely.
(5) The Trayvon Martin case represents the very reason why black people fear figures of authority (I wouldn’t call Zimmerman an authoritative figure per se, but him having a deadly weapon and Martin not having one gives him some kind of authority in this situation). My mother – along with countless other black mothers in this country, I suspect – taught me some very important lessons when it came to dealing with police. Always comply. Respect them. Don’t talk back. Never run away from them. Keep your hands in sight. To this day, I’m still shocked (thankful, but shocked nonetheless) that Skip Gates had the kind of encounter he had with police and is still alive to talk about it. Black men , obviously including Mr. Martin, have been killed for much less.
(6) Finally, while I can certainly appreciate how black folks have rallied behind all things Trayvon Martin, it seems to me that our outrage is only evident in the face of violence against black people from some other group. But where is the similar outrage when it comes to black-on-black violence? Twitter and (probably) Facebook (I can’t tell with Facebook. I’ve been off the site for Lent) have been blazing with activism regarding this story. Meanwhile, this same world is mute when it comes to the proliferation of killings in Flint, Saginaw, and Detroit. Gary and Trenton. Compton and Philadelphia. We ignore the reality that approximately half of all the murders that take place in America are against black folks and nearly all those black folks are killed by other blacks.
There is a scene from the 90′s horror flick “Tales From the Hood” (a very underrated movie, I should point out), where a gangbanger is going through rehabilitation. During his treatment – in some Clockwork Orange sort of a way – he is forced to watch flashing images of lynchings shown in juxtaposition to images of black-on-black violence. Some pretty prophetic stuff, especially from around the 1:45 – 4:20 mark:
We get outraged when violence against blacks is perpetrated by non-blacks. But we meet black-on-black violence with a collective “meh.” All that being said, if Mr. Zimmerman been black, would we see the same outpouring of anger and emotion? Not likely.
Anyway, that’s my six cents. What do you think?