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.
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.
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.
That we all want justice for 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. Isn’t this something like pointing out that a rape victim was flirty and wore short skirts?
What is likely is that the 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.
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. 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.