There are several things that we should learn from the murder of Travon Martin, the 17-year-old African American boy who was shot and killed by 28-year-old George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012.
For two weeks after this story broke (which was two weeks after the murder occurred) I thought that this wasn't going to be a racially polarizing moment, as the whole country including our social media seemed to be horrified by the incident. I was wrong. It just took a little while for the racial backlash to hit full tilt boogie in the right-wing media.
Now the demonization of this boy has ensued, with plenty of help by the Sanford, FL, police department that has leaked info about the kid being suspended from school for the possession of an empty marijuana baggie, among other things. Then the fake photos of Travon started showing up, produced on the web by racial hate groups, and later picked up by some of the media and presented as genuine. The internet can be a real sewer.
The great American polarization machine is doing its thing telling white people (mainly) why this black kid was asking for it by wearing a hoodie and accusing others who are condemning this atrocity as playing the race card. Rush is telling anyone who will listen that the whole thing has been trumped-up by the left to make it look like the whole country is agitated. Bill-O is comparing it to the Rodney King incident.
It seems like many on the right feel it is incumbent upon the victim to wear clothing and not act a certain way to make sure that conservatives don't respond to them in a fearful manner. Really? They are actually defending Zimmerman because of this? But George Zimmerman has blood on his hands regardless of what the fine details turn out to be.
All of this demonization is designed to erode the empathy that most of us feel for a dead 17 year old by making him look like something he is not...something menacing. They dehumanize him and make him look like a criminal so that their base can call-in that fear within themselves of black men. This should confirm to all of us that we are not in a post-racial period regardless of the claims to the contrary...we still have work to do.
So what does Travon's murder have to do with the power structure in this country. Plenty! This case opens up a bunch of structural questions about our gun laws, our criminal justice system, Stand Your Ground Laws (SYGLs), and racial injustice. When race is involved, those who are pushing a certain agenda try to misdirect the attention towards the victim's perceived flaws so that they don't have to deal with these structural challenges. We need to be having that discussion about those structural questions.
The best way that we establish facts in a case like this is to have a trial. These SYGLs impede this process because all too often the shooter is not even charged by the police. In this case, Florida's SYGL has produced a climate where Zimmerman was allowed to gun down a kid and not be arrested or charged for over a month. The SYGL has tacitly bastardized the investigation and subsequent legal process, although for reasons that have yet to be revealed, the Sanford Police Department was inept here too, or worse.
It is important to note that since the SYGL has gone into effect, Florida's crime and gun violence has gone up 300% and justified homicides have tripled.
In America, a young man or woman should be allowed to walk the streets without being assaulted. The fact is that Zimmerman shouldn't have even stopped Travon and the reason that he did was because of the color of his skin and the clothes that he was wearing. There is something very seriously wrong here, something much deeper in our social psychology. At its core is racial suspicion, paranoia,vigilantism and the idea that we have to be armed to protect yourself from the "other".
Even if the facts were different, or even if Travon had had arrests, or (gasp!) even if he had been a convicted felon who was legally out on the street, it doesn't matter. He still would not have deserved what he got. People that we don't agree with or don't dress and look like us still have rights as an American and human beings.
America's irrational fear of crime, in spite of the national statistics that indicate violent crime is decreasing, is fueling this proliferation of SYGLs. These laws address our fears but not crime itself.
Another structural issue here, of which racial profiling is a component, is that it's an accepted system inside of our police departments to stop young black men and search them illegally as a way to find drugs and guns. That is the conversation that we should be having along with the validity of continuing the failed war on drugs and funding the prison industrial complex.