Ah geez. I’m probably going to hate myself for posting about this later, but what’s the point in having a blog if you don’t wade into controversial subjects now and then? Trayvon Martin. I know not all of you who read this blog follow the news too closely, so let me sum up the case as I understand it right now. Trayvon, a 17 year-old black kid, was walking home near Orlando. He had on a hooded sweatshirt, and he was carrying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of ice tea. A half-white, half-Latino man (George Zimmerman) saw Trayvon and thought he looked suspicious. He called 911 to report this suspicion, and started following Trayvon, despite the fact that 911 told him he didn’t need to do that. Oh yeah–and Zimmerman was carrying a gun.
Something happened in the next few minutes. It’s not clear what. What is clear is that at the end of those minutes, Trayvon was shot and killed.
In the aftermath, no small number of people have spoken out about this case, and it’s proving to be quite the firestorm. You’ve got people accusing the media of painting Zimmerman in an unfavorable light. He wasn’t racist. He was a loving father. They’re using unflattering pictures of him to make him look like a criminal. And other people launch in on the other side. The press is being too light on Trayvon. They’re using flattering pictures of him to make him look innocent. He’d been suspended from school. And so on and so on.
I’m not here to say what side is right and what side is wrong. Why? Because like almost all of the people commenting on the case, I don’t live anywhere near Florida, let alone Orlando. I didn’t know Trayvon, and I don’t know Zimmerman. It’s understandable that after the fact, both Trayvon and Zimmerman have all sorts of people speaking up about what great people they were or are. That’s what people do when bad things happen to people they like. The thing is, there’s always something good to say about people. It has no real bearing on what the person was actually like in that moment.
Do wonderful people murder in a moment of rage and fear? Yes.
Do wonderful people strike out at strangers in a moment of rage and fear? Yes.
Did that happen in this case? I have no idea, and neither do you, in all likelihood.
But wait–I’m not done. Because to all the people saying “This case is irrelevant,” because of various and sundry reasons, I’d say anytime you get something that causes this big of a firestorm, it’s hardly irrelevant. What is irrelevant is why it started, at this point. Trayvon could have beat Zimmerman within a breath of his life, with no provocation whatsoever, and that wouldn’t matter at this point. (Please note–I’m not saying he did. Please note–I’m not saying he didn’t.) The boulder’s rumbling down the mountain, and all the “But ______ is what really happened” in the world ain’t gonna stop it.
And why did it get to this point?
Because this case sheds light on a reality. Minorities are judged and forced to live by a different set of standards than non-minorities.
You can clamor all you want that you’re not a racist, and that the world has moved on, and that everyone should just be judged by their actions, not their skin color or sexual orientation or gender. Ain’t gonna make a difference to that singular fact.
Let’s take race out of this for a moment, and see if it look any different on either side. I’ll paint two scenarios, trying to make them as one-sided as possible. Seventeen year old kid is walking home wearing a hoodie. Adult male thinks he looks suspicious, calls it in. (‘Cause hoodies, like it or not, freak some people out apparently.) Adult male follows the kid.
Scenario A: Kid tries to get away. Adult confronts him more. Kid defends himself by taking a swipe at the adult (Zimmerman’s nose didn’t break itself, people), and adult shoots and kills the kid.
Scenario B: Kid goes up and confronts adult. Knocks him to the ground and starts banging his head into the pavement. Adult shoots and kills the kid.
Now, let’s take away the fact that Zimmerman looks like a guy who can take care of himself in a fist fight. And the fact that Trayvon looks like he’d have a hard time going up against a guy of Zimmerman’s size. I can see scenarios where both of these play out. Where Zimmerman’s the victim who narrowly escaped, or where Trayvon is the victim who died. (As much as people like to say 17 year-olds are children, I’ve met some pretty darn scary 17 year-olds. Again–not saying Trayvon was one, but at night, in the dark?)
Back in the day when I read gas meters, I wasn’t allowed to carry mace with me, despite the constant threat of dangerous dogs. (And ooh boy, do I have some dangerous dog stories.) Why wasn’t I allowed to carry it? Because if I had it, I’d be macing the heck out of some pooches. I never was bit–though there were some scary close calls to being mauled. I never ended up needing the mace.
My point is that if you’ve got a gun with you, you’re much likelier to end up shooting someone than if you don’t have one. Did Zimmerman need to shoot Trayvon to save himself? Darned if I know.
But I don’t want to turn this conversation into a debate on gun control laws. At this point, I’m not even sure where I want this conversation going.
I suppose my point is that I hope this all ends up helping the situation some. I hope all the attention this brings to racism helps further reduce the overall level of racism in this country. I don’t think it’s going to wipe it away. Nothing will do that. I’m fairly certain that the more we know of the facts, the more muddled it will become.
It’s easy to paint a villain when you don’t know who the villain is. Once you know who that person is and what his background is–who is family is, what his hobbies are–once you make him an actual person . . . It’s hard to see villains anymore.
What do I think of the Trayvon Martin case? I think it’s a sad situation. One that’s repeated across the country every day. Maybe not with Skittles and iced tea. Maybe not with bullets and bodies every time, but if you want to sit back and say that racism doesn’t have a huge effect on this country, then I got a bridge I want to sell you while we’re at it.
To the country as a whole at this point, the facts don’t matter. Where we go from here, does. Instead of devoting so much energy to find out “what really happened,” why don’t we find out ways to keep thing like this–either Scenario A or B–from happening again?