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Have you ever had a truly meaningful conversation with someone and thought to yourself during the conversation, “I should have done this years ago”? This writer would like to attribute this to the United States, but can’t. The sad truth is that the legacy of the George Zimmerman trial over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida will be that we as a society delayed important conversations for a battle of opinion along racial lines.
The saddest part about this whole thing is how easy it was for this country’s media and public to make this entire case solely about race. This writer isn’t saying that there weren’t racial elements to the case, but the notion that it was entirely about race is ridiculous.
For starters, Zimmerman is still seen as the evil white man by many. In reality, Zimmerman is the son of a Caucasian father and Peruvian mother. In other words, despite what his name suggests, he’s not fully Caucasian as much as he is mixed. Unfortunately, the image of a white man killing a black teen in a fight that started based on suspicion was much easier to express on a national level. Given the ugly history of black and white relations in this country, it’s understandable people saw this instead of a guy killing a teen in a fight based on suspicion.
If it were about a man killing an unarmed teenager, instead of a white man standing his ground against a black teen, would people have cared as much? Maybe, maybe not? It seems that when it became a racial issue, everyone cared.
The other major diversion was how the plaintiff and the victim were portrayed by the media during the time between the shooting and the end of the trial.
It would have been responsible for this nation’s media to use multiple different photos of the two men at the center of this case, as there were plenty of ways to find multiple photos of both. Instead, Martin was always presented with the same smiling photo and Zimmerman was always shown through a less flattering photo. This fueled public perception of both as Martin’s negatives weren’t properly represented, and ditto for Zimmerman’s positives. Because, again, it became solely about race too quickly for a more rational debate to even begin to take shape.
Also, the focus throughout was solely on Zimmerman’s actions that fateful night. This writer agrees that Zimmerman’s actions should be focused on, but a look should have been given to Martin’s actions too. Zimmerman did get out of the car and essentially hunted Martin down, but Martin stuck around and fought.
Don’t get this twisted: this writer’s understands and agrees with the notion that deciding fight over flight when confronting someone who’s been following you is a perfectly understandable instinct for a 17-year-old boy to have. And it is a perfectly understandable instinct when you consider raging hormones, puberty, machismo, testosterone, etc. Add to that someone who comes along appearing to want to fight and ask yourself if there is going to be some kind of physical altercation?
All this writer wishes is that more examination of that instinct had taken place.
This case wasn’t only about race. And in this writer’s opinion, the most vital elements of this case had nothing to do with race. Plus, the only way we’ll ever know that Zimmerman was acting based on race would be to hear it from his own mouth. Past that, there was nothing there that conclusively says Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was black instead of that he looked to Zimmerman like an everyday punk kid. The most important elements of this case had to do with vigilantism and the Stand-your-ground laws that Zimmerman’s defense used as justification for his actions.
Those are the conversations that this country needed to have after the night Martin was shot dead. Instead, we spent 18 months bickering about race instead of actually examining the problems associated with what happened that night.