Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Narratives and Agendas

Through last weekend there was one main narrative about the fatal shooting of Treyvon Martin - that George Zimmerman, a "neighborhood watch", stalked Martin and executed him, possibly fulfilling a life-long desire to kill a black man then literally got away with murder by claiming self-defense.

Reporters poured through 911 records and pronounced that Zimmerman had a fear of blacks in hoodies based on three calls (out of 26 pages of transcripts). Nearly every account mentioned that Martin had just bought a packet of Skittles.

Many details were left out or outright wrong. Some accounts said that Martin was returning to his father's house. Actually his father lived in Miami and Martin was visiting his father's girl friend who lived near Orlando. The fact that this was a gated community lead many to assume that it was an affluent, white neighborhood. It was a mix-race neighborhood of condos. Some questioned if Zimmerman was actually a member of the neighborhood watch or just a busy-body. Zimmerman's race was seldom mentioned (he is half-Hispanic). The main picture shown of Martin has been touched up. Among other things, his skin has been lightened. The picture and another one of Martin in his football uniform make him appear small when he was actually 6'2".

More recently other details have emerged. Previously the only public account came from Martin's girlfriend who said she was on the phone with him at the beginning of the fight. Witnesses have emerged who said that Martin approached Zimmerman from behind and threw the first punch, knocking Zimmerman to the ground then sitting on his chest and banging his head against the ground. Zimmerman is supposed to have suffered a broken nose and needed stitches in the back of his head from this treatment.

Initial reports said that Zimmerman was questioned at the scene and released. Later reports say that he was handcuffed and interrogated without a lawyer before being allowed to seek medical aid.

Martin's character has suffered. He was able to be in Orlando because he had been suspended from school for two weeks, his third suspension. There is also a report that the school found some women's jewelry in his backpack that he could not explain but nothing was done about this. This last is important because it indicates that Martin might not have been as innocent as his supporters make him out to be.

In the meantime, activists across the country have continued to call for Zimmerman's arrest and conviction. In some cases they have bordered on calling for his assassination. Black activists are using this as an example of the violence that all whites do to all blacks. Anti-gun advocates are using the incident to try to repeal Florida's Stand and Defend law (which may not apply here). Anti-police activists are using this as an example of police-sanctioned killing. Even the President commented that his son would look like Treyvon before calling for more investigation. Congress is holding hearings.

Would any of these people care is the races had been reversed?

In many ways this is a mirror image of society in the early 20th century. Back then, if a black man killed a white man in self-defense he would have been lynched. That could easily happen to Zimmerman (especially after Spike Lee Tweeted his home address).

Everyone who contributed to this atmosphere of hysteria should be ashamed. Facts are still dribbling out. Take a deep breath and remember the Constitution's presumption on innocence.

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