Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trayvon Martin, in particular and general

The Trayvon Martin case has been a nightmarish throwback to the prime segregation times for me in the way that Republican commentators, ministers and politicians have reacted to it. trying to minimize or completely deny that race or white racism played any part in the killing of the Sanford police's handling of it. Rhetorically turning the killer into the victim. Dredging up scare images of killer black people. It's awful.

On the murder case itself, considered narrowly, the facts that are known from the 911 recording and the result of the encounter, i.e., Trayvon Martin being shot to death by George Zimmerman, are pretty damning for Zimmerman on the face of it. That's why he needs to be arrested and tried so that there can be a systematic legal determination of guilt, not trial and defense through news leaks and PR.

Gene Lyons has a timely reminder based on his own journalistic experience that we should all be cautious in evaluating a case like this being tried in the media, though he makes it clear that he also thinks Zimmerman should have been arrested: The Danger Of Rushing To Judgment On George Zimmerman National Memo 03/28/2012. He's concerned about careless reporting on the case. The Orlando Sentinel has been covering the case intensively and is maintaining a Trayvon Martin case page.

I've been thinking about what made this case turn into a national political issue that highlighted the current role of white racism in the United States. One obvious thing is that the basic facts that Zimmerman stalked Trayvon and killed him are not in dispute. The fact that the police made no initial arrest - and still haven't - is another. Zimmerman is arguing through surrogates that he was assaulted by his stalking target, but no one right now seems to be arguing that anything other than Trayvon's physical appearance made Zimmerman suspicious of him. Zimmerman looks to be a cop wannabe who was looking for trouble. And there were apparent problems in the crime-scene investigation and initial interrogation, like the fact that Zimmerman wasn't tested for intoxication, and one witness has claimed that when she reported to the police that she heard Trayvon screamed, the policeman "corrected" her and said, no, you heard Zimmerman scream.

And the fact that Florida's Stand Your Ground Kill At Will law gives a big loophole for murders in circumstances just like this one has heightened the significance of the case.

Then the sliminess of the defense so many conservatives are putting up for the murderer - whatever a jury may eventually find his degree of guilt under Florida law to be - is repulsive. This is a notable example: "The shooting of Trayvon Martin seems to have once again proved that we white people are never above suspicion in the eyes of many." (Jack Chambless, Trayvon Martin aftermath: Blacks should look deeper at perceived white contempt Orlando Sentinel 03/28/2012)

Yet another piece of evidence that white racism causes brain damage in its adherents. Yeah, dude, the Trayvon Martin murder shows there's too much prejudice against white people. I'm sure that goes over well at the White Citizens Council meetings. But don't they get bored at hearing the same old whine over and over and over?

Passion carried away some of those advocating for Zimmerman's arrest, like Spike Lee: Susan Jacobson, Elderly couple abandon their home after address is posted on Twitter as that of George Zimmerman Orlando Sentinel 03/29/2012.

But in pointing that out, I'm not making any "both sides do it" equivalence. Mistakes aside, the demand for justice for Trayvon is not equivalent to using white racism to enable George Zimmerman to avoid giving a legal account before a court for his actions.

In a strange side-effect of the case, a New Orleans police officer was required to quit the force after posting an online comment that defended Zimmerman: New Orleans police officer resigns after post on Trayvon Martin CNN 03/27/2012. He's suffered more serious official consequences than the shooter George Zimmerman has! And more serious than any of the Sanford police department.

Judd Legum at Think Progress discusses five issues about the case and its handling in Trayvon Martin: The 5 Key Unanswered Questions 03/28/2012. His five questions:

  1. What was the purported "conflict" that required the initial prosecutor to step down?
  2. Why did the prosecutor ignore the recommendations of the lead homicide investigator?
  3. Why did then-Police Chief Bill Lee make public statements directly contradicting the official recommendations of the police department?
  4. Who leaked Trayvon Martin's school records?
  5. Why was Trayvon Martin's body tagged as a John Doe?
For whatever reason, the case has shined a fresh light, at least for a few days, on the extent that US justice is seriously warped by racial prejudice, especially against African-Americans. Sadly, it has also shown how deeply and broadly white racist sentiments are present in the public face of today's Republican Party and conservative commentariat.

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