There are so many appalling aspects to the Trayvon Martin case that it’s hard to find a permanent home for outrage.
Most appalling, obviously, is the fatal shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old who was targeted by a 28-year-old volunteer neighborhood watchman. George Zimmerman thought Martin seemed “suspicious,” and followed him for a while before Martin allegedly attacked him.
What really happened is anyone’s guess since Martin isn’t here to tell his side of the story and there were no witnesses to the shooting. There’s audio of Zimmerman calling 911 to report his concerns about Martin. There’s grainy video of Zimmerman arriving at the police station not looking, by some appraisals, sufficiently battered to corroborate his tale of being attacked.
Also appalling is the presumed racial motivation. Given that Martin was armed only with iced tea and a bag of Skittles — and given that his suspicious behavior seems to have hinged primarily on the fact that he was wearing a “hoodie” — it’s easy to see why some have concluded that race was a factor, though not only blacks wear hoodies. How many police sketches have we seen of white suspects wearing hoodies? Plenty.
Would Zimmerman have found a fellow Hispanic suspicious under the same circumstances? A white male? We don’t know, but we do know that Zimmerman and his wife mentored two African-American children, hardly the actions of hardened racists.
Add to the “appalling” roster the growing congregation of usual suspects crowing, profiling and politicizing the case. From movie stars to talk show hosts and then to a congressman who wore a hoodie to the House floor — the tragedy of Trayvon Martin has become a cause celebre. A month later, the hoodie has become a symbol of solidarity against institutional racism. We all wear hoodies now.
That we all want justice for Trayvon Martin should be a foregone assumption. But also assumed should be the understanding that we await all the facts before we convict. Without knowing much of anything, we seem to have reached a consensus that this is a case of racially motivated violence. When President Obama commented on the case, saying that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon, he set a narrative in motion from which there seems to be no retreat.
Another appalling feature of this horrific event is the apparent attempt by some to paint a less-than-favorable portrait of Martin. It is true that early photos released of him showed a younger, more apple-cheeked version. More recent images reveal a youngster becoming a man — not quite as cuddly, but certainly no less attractive than other teens as they morph from child to adult.
We’ve also learned that Martin used the Internet as many his age do. He used rough language and a handle that includes the N-word. He also apparently had been suspended from school for marijuana possession at the time of his death. It happens, but really, so what?
It isn’t wrong to try to learn more about the involved parties in an attempt to imagine how they might have interacted. But I can’t fathom what these details have to do with Martin’s death. A teen who smokes pot and plays tough guy on the Internet isn’t necessarily going to punch a stranger in the nose. Isn’t this something like pointing out that a rape victim was flirty and wore short skirts?
What is likely is that both men scared each other for different reasons and one tragically overreacted. It is certainly plausible that Martin was terrified and acted accordingly. When he told his girlfriend by phone that someone was following him, she told him to run. Would that he had, but in his mind, Martin might have considered this a risky option.
Apropos of Martin’s less angelic side, parents of boys know that young males say and do dumb things that don’t mean anything. They act cocky out of fear or talk trash to deflect. They wear hoodies or backward baseball caps or low-hanging jeans because these innocuous gestures of grandiosity are often the only weapons available to the unarmed. We all have our ways of telegraphing, “Don’t mess with me (please).”
That someone would interpret one such symbol or gesture as suspicious or threatening, prompting him ultimately to use lethal force, is the most appalling feature in a case in which outrage has too many homes.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.