Commentary:  Are People Diluting the Trayvon Martin Case?

Are new claims of Trayvon Martin-like treatment doing more harm than good?

Posted: 04/02/2012 05:37 PM EDT

Ever since the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman captured national headlines, claims of similar cases have been popping up all over the place. And while I won’t discount the fact that instances of injustice and racial profiling are rampant in the country, I wonder what harm to the actual Trayvon Martin case is being done when unrelated claims begin to flourish in the media.


Case in point, a second shooting of an unarmed Black California teen by police is drawing immediate parallels to the Trayvon case, even though many of the foundational facts are patently different.  


In the California case, a man who says his car was being broken into by two Black teens reported the incident to police as an armed robbery in order to get a faster response. As a result, police followed the teens, opening fire on them after they say 19-year-old Kendrec McDade motioned toward his waistband. McDade was killed even though it was discovered that he had no weapon in his possession.  


The similarities between the California case and Trayvon’s appear to be limited to a narrow group of isolated facts. The supposed victims are both Black teens and both were accused of being up to no good.  


But, at least from my point of view, it seems that’s where the similarities end. Trayvon was not killed by a police officer but a self-appointed community watchman. And while the California caller reported that McDade indeed had a weapon, Trayvon was armed with just tea and a bag of Skittles.  


Filmmaker Tyler Perry has also used his own unfortunate encounter with law enforcement to connect with the Trayvon Martin case. Perry claims he was profiled by Atlanta police even though he admitted to making an illegal turn. But in the Trayvon case, there is no such report of him violating any laws on the night of his killing.


Perry posted a message on his Facebook wall saying, “RACIAL PROFILING SHOULD BE A HATE CRIME INVESTIGATED BY THE FBI!!!” But while it may have been jolting for someone as recognizable as Perry to be stopped by police, it remains to be seen whether racial profiling was truly at play.


So, although there may be elements of injustice in many cases we hear about, I would caution against the urge to jump on the Trayvon Martin bandwagon. No matter how many people claim “I am Trayvon,” the fact of the matter is that they are not Trayvon. To claim some sort of instant connection with the uniquely nuanced killing of the Sanford, Florida teen can have a harmful effect.  


And just like the story of the boy who cried “wolf,” if done in excess, this practice can cause people to become numb to other calls for justice. Overusing the Trayvon Martin metaphor can produce compassion fatigue and spread skepticism instead of awareness.  


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



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