Commentary: Should Anyone Profit from Trayvon’s Death?

The community’s zeal to raise awareness may unwittingly raise profits for private interests.

Posted: 03/29/2012 04:08 PM EDT

All across the country, thousands of citizens have taken to the streets rallying for justice in the Trayvon Martin case, with hoodies, Arizona Iced Tea and Skittles candy in tow. They’re point is to use these items to bring attention to the stark contrast between the admitted armed gunman George Zimmerman and the 17-year-old victim who was only armed with a drink and bag of candy. But, while the visual symbolism of a hoodie, iced tea and candy are quite effective in raising awareness to an unspeakable travesty of justice, it may also end up raising profits for the brands that get a free ad with every mention.

 

Is this OK, or does profiting from the tragedy violate some unspoken code of ethics? On its face, it is an  uncomfortable question to ask. On some level, asking questions seem a bit of a buzz kill amid the widespread involvement of so many in rallies, on TV and on social media platforms nationwide. In an era that begs people to lift their voices for a cause beyond themselves, it almost feels inappropriate to bring up how companies are benefitting from the shows of support for Trayvon.

 

But as journalists, it is our job to not only find answers, but ask questions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. Should hoodie companies or the ones that own Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea earn profits after Trayvon’s death? Should those companies donate the proceeds? Should participants in these public rallies stop purchasing these products altogether?

 

Wrigley, the company that owns Skittles candy, issued a statement of sadness for the family of Martin saying it “finds it inappropriate to get involved or comment further as we would never wish for our actions to be perceived as an attempt of commercial gain following this tragedy.” Still, even before Trayvon's death, Skittles were already the most popular chewy candy among teens.

 

The people close to Trayvon are also under the microscope as people probe to see if the family is somehow cashing in. Last week, the family sent filings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for two slogans, “I Am Trayvon” and “Justice For Trayvon,” which cover digital media, CDs and DVDs featuring the teen. However, the family says profits are not the goal. They see it as a way to protect attempts to exploit the cause and to protect against fraudulent fundraising claims. 

 

The attorney representing the family fielded questions about the matter this week in Washington, D.C. “We keep getting called about trademarks and this kind of thing," Benjamin Crump said. "There are so many people out there doing things with Trayvon's name and some inappropriate people, so without that trademark they did not have the right to tell them to cease and desist."

 

Unknowingly, makers of hoodies, candy and iced tea have become interwoven in a narrative that is now a movement. It’s a complicated matter that raises uneasy questions about who can benefit from notoriety that was never earned.

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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(Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

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