Trayvon Martin Smear Campaign…

March 27, 2012

I was really hoping it wouldn’t happen, but I can’t say I haven’t been uneasily awaiting the impending inevitability of a smear campaign against Trayvon Martin. I saw its conception, as whispers began about the theories for Trayvon’s “mysterious” school suspension. And then it began to take shape as people’s racist rhetoric and pictures flooded my Facebook newsfeed and Twitter timeline; “he shouldn’t have been dressed like a thug”, a picture of Trayvon wearing a gold grill on his bottom teeth, a picture of “Trayvon” (that was not actually even him, but just another random black kid) giving the camera the middle finger with his shirt off, and videos and articles with ridiculous comments made by Right Wing leaders and commentators.

And suddenly, the ugly beast was birthed in full effect, and the real smear campaign commenced. Zimmerman, painting himself as the victim, reported that Trayvon was the aggressor and attacked him. The Sanford Police Station unjustifiably leaked information about Trayvon’s school suspension (he was caught with a trace-amount of marijuana), as if that had anything to do with this case. There have even been ridiculous, erroneous claims that Trayvon was a drug dealer. And in general, Trayvon has begun to be painted as the “typical thugged-out, blinged-up, gang-affiliated, violent, drugged-up” stereotype of black man, ostensibly “justifying” his murder for White America. It is devastating, and sad, and sick. It makes me weak.

His mother said, “They’ve killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.”

I don’t know what is more heinous in my eyes, how the media is unashamedly ripping apart the character of a voiceless murder victim, or how certain people are so quick to jump on the smear bandwagon with their, “See! I told you so,” posts and attitudes. What I do know, is Trayvon’s suspension for trace-amounts of marijuna has nothing to do with this case, except for the fact that Trayvon probably would not have been there on that dreaded night, had he not been suspended by the “Zero Tolerance” policies of the school, because he was visiting his father during his suspension. I also know that in the United States it is statistically proven that though white kids are more likely to use drugs, black kids (making up 70% of all youth reported to authorities by schools but only 18% of the school population in the U.S.) are more likely than their white peers to be suspended from school for drugs.

Speaking of white kids’ drug use, I smoked weed in high school. And I smoked way more than trace amounts. Does that mean that it would have been okay for some self-proclaimed neighborhood watch vigilante to gun me down? Nope. But come on, are you really trying to say that the possibility of Trayvon smoking weed at some point, and getting suspended from school vindicates his murder? Please! That makes about as much sense as the picture of the random black kid who is not even Trayvon providing reason for his death.

This is one of my actual Facebook pictures from 2011. Maybe if I am murdered it will be used to determine that I deserved it.

As for Zimmerman’s reports that Trayvon attacked him, I think he’s lying. And yes, I am entitled to my own opinion. Sure, I definitely believe they probably got into a scuffle when Zimmerman confronted Trayvon, which would explain the scrapes Zimmerman received on his face. Trayvon might have even gotten in a few good punches, because he felt threatened by the strange man who had followed and then confronted him. But no, I do not believe Trayvon turned around, chased Zimmerman down, and beat him to the ground, as Zimmerman is trying to claim.

I am not professing to know what happened that evening. The truth is, the only two people who know exactly what happened are George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Most unfortunately, one of them was killed by the other one and is therefore unable to give his account. We may never know all the details of what really went down. I am not trying to paint Trayvon Martin as a perfect angel, nor George Zimmerman as an evil demon. I am merely trying to say that it is ludicrous to get caught up in the media’s smear campaign aimed at a dead child.

We don’t know all the facts, but here are some important things to remember:

It is more than a month after the murder took place. Of course Zimmerman has had plenty of time to speak with his lawyer and anyone else, working up a solid story that would protect him under the Stand Your Ground law. Let us also remember that police did not check Zimmerman for toxicity on the evening. If he had been under the influence of a substance, which he very well may have been, it could have given explanation as to why he was hyped up enough to kill someone, why his judgement was clouded, or why his recollections of the events may not be accurate.

Zimmerman was renowned for both habitually calling 911, and racially profiling young black men. In Zimmerman’s 911 call we see that he has already labelled Trayvon as “up to know good” and classed him in the category of those who “always get away”. You can hear when he begins walking fast or even jogs as he follows Trayvon and breathes heavily into the phone. The dispatcher told him they don’t need him to do that. He says ok, but you can hear that he does not stop, and continues moving swiftly and breathing heavily.

Now, the media says there is about a minute after this call where we “don’t know what happened”. That’s actually not true because Trayvon was speaking on the phone with a friend. His friend recounts, “He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man. I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run.” His friend said he eventually began to run, and thought he had managed to escape, but suddenly said the “strange man” was back, which concerned Trayvon. “Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.” And then the line went dead. That does not fit with the “Now you’ve got a problem!!” kind of threat that Zimmerman is claiming.

Then, of course, we have the horrible 911 call from the neighbor, where you don’t have to be a voice recognition specialist to hear that the screams, cries and pleas for help are not Zimmerman’s. A couple of the witnesses (who only heard what was going on or saw vague figures) on the night have reported that they were told by police to say the screams came from Zimmerman, when they were not even sure what was going on. They have come back and retracted those statements.

As I’ve said, I wasn’t there on the evening, so I don’t know. But from the evidence we have, it seems to me that Zimmerman was the aggressor from the beginning, not Trayvon.


Trayvon Martin, White Denial and “Post-Racial America”…

March 26, 2012

It happened again. Another tragedy-turned-headline sparked a torrent of racial debates. I saw this happen time and time again in South Africa, as it often does here in America; people don’t want to talk about the existence of racism, they say it’s not a problem, and then a race-based crime makes headlines and the racial battle rages. The problem is, these battles often leave us further polarized in our views of reality, no real healing or resolve is brought, and after the headline disappears from our TV and computer screens, the average person retreats back into silence about the matter.

What is most troubling to me, during both the media hype and the lull, is there are people who genuinely seem to believe that racism is not a problem. Most of those people I come in contact with are white people, too blinded by their own privilege to see any other alternatives. They are quick to tell you “racism is not a problem anymore”, and “cases like these have nothing to do with race”, but they are even quicker to tell you how, if anything, they are discriminated against. There are even those amongst that group of white people who try to invalidate the experiences of discrimination people of color face on a daily basis, experiences told by the only experts on the matter: the very people who experience them!

I guess it makes sense that people completely unaffected by discrimination could never really understand it. They have never felt what it’s like to be the outside of their privilege-enabled protection. They have never felt what it’s like to have paranoid, watchful eyes on them in almost every store they’ve ever gone in. They have never been stopped by the police for merely being “black and walking.” They have never felt the sting of a fake smile matched with a pair of eyes, that have predetermined they are superior, looking down on them. They have probably never been called a racial slur. They have not had to deal with the tragic ramifications that systemic racism plays on their day-to-day life. If they are reading this, they are probably rolling their eyes right now. They are untouched. Their privilege blinds them, and their denial protects them as they live on in blissful ignorance.

These people will also try to tell you that speaking about racism only perpetuates the problem. They say that we are only “making the problem worse by trying to make this about racism”. I won’t even beg to differ. I will just differ. Racism is the problem. Not speaking about racism perpetuates it. Not intentionally acting against racism is unpardonable. If we ignore racism, it will not “just go away”. We are not dealing with an imaginary Boogie Man fabricated by the mind of a frightened child. Racism is real, and it negatively impacts the lives of millions of people in America. In one of his lectures, Tim Wise said there is no other social ill we take this “talking about it only perpetuates the problem” stance with. Imagine if we told our kids, “If you just ignore AIDS it will go away,” or, “As long as you don’t talk about drug abuse, drug addiction amongst teens will stop.” Absurd!

No matter how you look at it, George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin, seeing him as “suspicious” because he was black, and that is what began the tragic series of events that led to the murder of an innocent child. Period. Now, more than a month later, the killer remains armed and free, sending the message, whether intentional or not, that young black men’s lives in America are completely disposable. But somehow the truth gets muddied by people not wanting to call a spade a spade. And like the magician’s hand, waving around in the air, concealing the trick he’s doing in his other hand, we get distracted and caught up in arguments over Zimmerman’s race, Trayvon’s articles of clothing being the “real killer”, and the young black victim’s past.

People try to disprove a killer’s discriminatory motives by saying, “Zimmerman is only half white, and he’s half Hispanic,” as if other races are not capable of racism. Geraldo Rivera tries to say the hoodie is just as much responsible for Trayvon’s death as Zimmerman is, as if thousands of children don’t wear hoodies every day without getting murdered. Right Wing leaders try to draw attention to the fact that Trayvon had been suspended from school, suggesting he was a “troublemaker”, as though it is perfectly alright to gun down random troublemakers in the streets. Normal, everyday, loving white parents of white children say Trayvon “should not have ran, fought, or tried to get away from Zimmerman”, as if they would tell their child not to run, or do anything to get away from a strange grown man, stalking them on their way home from buying candy from a store on a dark, rainy night.

Does he look suspicious?

Zimmerman’s race doesn’t matter if his reason for noticing Trayvon was because of Trayvon’s race. What Trayvon was wearing doesn’t matter if white children wearing the same thing don’t get killed for the alleged “fashion faux pas”. Whatever might have happened in Trayvon’s life before that dreadful night doesn’t matter if all he was doing that night was walking home from the store, talking to a girlfriend on his cellphone, armed only with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Tea. Trayvon was “suspicious” because he was black, and that is the root of the problem. His killer remains free and that only complicates the problem further. What will indeed perpetuate this problem is if we are not dedicated to the continuation of this racial dialogue met with appropriate action, even after sweet Trayvon has left the peripheral of our sight.

Racism is a problem in America, and we should be just as vigilant at fighting it as we are with any other social ill. And for those who boast that we live in a “Post-Racial America” and say that racism is not a problem…I cannot believe that anyone has honestly convinced themselves of this, unless they have truly deceived themselves into believing that hundreds of years of oppression, inequality and injustice dealt out by the hands of a racist system have magically “fixed themselves” and the direct manifestations birthed by that very system, in less than a quarter of the time it took to create this mess. I would go as far to say that if that connection is not being made, the person unable to make the connection is more unwilling to make it than unable. Why bring attention to the injustices and inequalities of a system that benefits you? It’s called denial.