In the weeks after the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin on a dark street in a gated community in Florida, there has been a steady and profound outcry throughout the nation as protesters have called for the arrest of the man who shot him.
But, during these same weeks, there has been another countervailing groundswell. It has been far less demonstrative and vocal than the hoodie marches and rallies. But its intention is as fierce and single-minded as any protest by those in sympathy with Trayvon Martin’s parents.
There is a clear movement by people within the ranks of law enforcement in the case, aided and fueled by right-wing media, to portray the 17-year-old high school junior as anything but the all-American teenager he has been so widely portrayed to be.
First came the disclosures that Trayvon had been suspended from school for the relatively minor — and non-violent — misdeed of having traces of marijuana in an otherwise empty plastic bag. Then came the more heinous effort to portray this young man — the kid whose teachers referred to him as an A and B student who majored in “cheerfulness” — as a violence-prone monster determined to kill George Zimmerman, the man with the gun.
The good folks in the conservative media, Fox News in particular, have picked up that description, as well has his suspension, and have run lustily with it. We don’t know all the facts surrounding Trayvon’s personality, they insist.
Zimmerman’s lawyer, who, like his client, remained oddly silent for weeks, has now emerged with portrayals of the 17-year-old that seem as bizarre as they are incredulous. Trayvon, Zimmerman’s lawyer insists, was the ferocious aggressor who threatened the neighborhood watch volunteer, a man who was 100 pounds heavier and carried a 9-milimeter handgun.
Furthermore, the lawyer maintains, Trayvon’s character was so embedded with violent rage that he fought Zimmerman bitterly, leaving him bloodied and with a broken nose. And so, the Zimmerman account goes, the teenager, carrying nothing more than a bag of Skittles, a can of iced tea and a cell phone, pursued his victim in an avalanche of violent rage.
And, as peculiar and unimaginable as it sounds, it has been entertained as a reasonable theory by the commentators on the right, who seem bent on questioning any action that would give legitimacy to those who would challenge the presence of racism and even the most casual cry of racial profiling.
So far, however, they have not been particularly successful in making their case. For one thing, there are the 911 recordings between the police and Zimmerman that make clear that the elder man was intent on following the younger, a pursuit police urged him to abandon before the shooting.
And in the last few days, other evidence has emerged that has created a huge crack in their case. There is the surveillance video of Zimmerman walking into and through the police department in Sanford, FL, where the killing took place. The video shows Zimmerman looking no more disheveled than someone walking off the golf course or from a business lunch.
This refusal to look squarely at the nation’s sad history of brutal violence toward innocent young Black men even extends to the Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Both men callously criticized President Obama’s brilliantly balanced and empathetic remarks about the shooting, calling them racially divisive.
It seeps into every level of society, even at the university level. The student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin printed a highly offensive cartoon seeking to make the case that the controversy over the slain teenager was overblown, referring to him as “colored.”
The sad objective of the right, aided by their sympathizers in the conservative media, is to portray this young man with a full life ahead of him as a derelict who somehow got his rightful comeuppance.
It is not just an unfair attack on the memory of this dead young man, but an assault on young Black men everywhere who must continue to deal with the humiliation of an America that remains cruelly bent on a legacy of racial profiling, stop-and-frisk and outright discrimination.
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