March 26 2012

The Trayvon Martin Tragedy

Charlotte Hays

Our hearts go out to the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was killed a month ago in Florida. It is a heartbreaking story. But it is no excuse for vigilante justice.

It is very unfortunate that the president of the United States has seen fit to weigh in on this sad story in a way that makes the issue more racial, more incendiary. Here is what the president said:

"My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said. "All of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves."

So, yeah, it's all about him. As usual. The president's “main message” to bereft parents is what his son would look like if he had a son? This is extreme narcissism, not to mention that, if the president had a son, he would, it has been noted, be a student at the exclusive Sidwell Friends School.

It was entirely predictable that the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton would be holding rallies, but the New Black Panther Party’s offer of a $10,000 bounty for George Zimmerman, the suspect in the shooting, takes this to another level.

I have to admit that at first it looked to me that Zimmerman was guilty of a racially-motivated shooting. But new facts are emerging. Zimmerman’s friend Joe Oliver (an African-American) and lawyer were on ABC News, and they made a good case that something else beyond the original narrative likely happened. This is a matter for law enforcement, not rallies. Indeed, George Will has raised the specter of the Duke lacrosse team,later shown to be innocent, who were blamed before the evidence was in because the allegations against them fit in with a particular narrative (or racism and sexism). The New York Times’ decision to designate Zimmerman a “white Hispanic” shows a certain propsensity to make this a race crime.

Heather Mac Donald notes:

So determined has the New York Times been to fit the shooting into its favored racial story line that it has been referring to the Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic,” contrary to its usual practice of referring to Hispanics without any additional racial characterization. The fact that Zimmerman’s father is white does not explain this departure from the Times’s racial protocols; the Times’s one-drop rule still applies to Barack Obama, who is, according to the Times and every other media outlet, America’s “first black president.” (The Grey Lady referred to Zimmerman for the first time on Friday simply as “Hispanic.”)

The underlying idea behind the rallies is that America is a racist society and that young black men are gunned down all the time. Once again, Heather Mac Donald has important insights. Responding to a column about the violence that affects black youths New York Times' Charles Blow, she writes:

Blow is right about one thing: Black boys do face a much higher chance than non-blacks that they will be shot when they are “out in the world.” Black males between the ages of 14 and 24 were seven times more likely to die of homicide in 2007 than white and Hispanic males of the same age group combined. But the danger they face comes overwhelmingly from other black males, whose homicide offending rate in the 14 to 24 age category was nearly ten times higher than that of young white and Hispanic males combined.

 

That the hoodie has become the emblem of the rallies is unfortunate. Harry Stein writes:

The pretense is that the hoodie is an innocuous clothing item or, at any rate, that it is unfairly seen as carrying negative associations. There’s a word for this: nonsense. The hoodie isn’t like a letterman’s jacket or a t-shirt or a pair of jeans. It does indeed carry associations—for many, ominous ones. Like pants worn low to reveal the shorts underneath, hoodies are part of a style favored by gangbangers and drug dealers and others who hold life exceedingly cheap; which is to say, under certain circumstances, it is apt to heighten another’s uncertainty and fear, and bring potential danger for the wearer.

Of course, Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die for wearing a hoodie. He deserves justice. So does George Zimmerman. Speaking only for myself, I have zero qualms about the death penalty, and I’d certainly have no problem with the ultimate penalty, depending on various factors, if Zimmerman is guilty. But first we need a trial, right? It's the vigilantism that bugs me. Will the president have the courage to condemn the New Black Panther Party and their call for vigilante justice?

I’m taking bets.

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