Monday, April 2, 2012

I don't know what happened to Trayvon Martin

...and I seem to be the only one. Everyone else seems to think they know exactly what happened.

For me, the case started two weeks ago when a friend posted a ThinkProgress link claiming to tell all the important facts of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman shooting. The post began with the statement:

On February 26, 2012, a 17-year-old African-American named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida. The shooter was George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old white man.
It included statements like "Martin’s English teacher described him 'as an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness'" and "Martin had no criminal record." There were also claims about Zimmerman having an assault charge on a police officer in the past (which was later dropped), making 46 calls to the police since 2004, "Zimmerman was not a member of a registered Neighborhood Watch group" and "According to neighbors, Zimmerman was 'fixated on crime and focused on young, black males.'”

This painted a clean good-versus-evil story, where an obsessive neighbor attacked and shot an innocent honor student just for being black in his gated community. But as Tyler Cowen warned us about telling good-versus-evil stories, real life is never as simple as black and white.

In this case, it wasn't even black and white, as Zimmerman was quickly revealed to have a Latino mother - and based on his last name, a Jewish father. ThinkProgress amended the list and continues to add to it, with no mention that the racial introduction has been amended. I recall a line originally about Trayvon never getting in trouble at school, but this was found out to be false and I believe, removed with no admission it was ever there.

This was the first great revision in the case. There were many more. It turned out the photo everyone keeps using of Trayvon is from when he was 12. Trayvon was 17 at the time of his death and fully capable of causing bodily injury to someone like Zimmerman, as could be seen in the modern photos of Trayvon that turned up.

Then one of these updated photos turned out to be fake, and was at one time posted on a white power website. Some of them were legitimate, it turns out, and a white power hacker (who knew there was such a thing) said he had hacked Trayvon's social media accounts and posted screenshots of Trayvon setting up a cocaine drug deal, speaking of women in the crudest of terms and a friend praising him for taking a swing at a bus driver.

Of course, screen shots are easy to fake. I could pull it off with MS Paint in a few minutes if I wanted to. Instead of trying to check the authenticity of the screenshots, the Trayvon activists switched gears: How dare anyone carry out these "character assassinations" of a shooting victim?

This one is transparent; they were trying to have it both ways. We were sold a story that Trayvon was a squeaky-clean boy, but it quickly came that was not true. He was previously suspended for having a prying tool and a bag of stolen jewelry and at the time of his death, was suspended for having a marijuana baggie in his backpack. Talking about these facts is being mischaracterized as saying drug possession makes someone free game for target practise. No one said this, of course. Apparently, correcting the activists on their falsehoods was off-limits.

Other stupid things happened. Geraldo Rivera said dressing like a thug makes people perceive you as a menace, which is true, but went on to that wearing a hooded sweatshirt was as much to blame as Zimmerman. That was idiotic, and the Trayvon activists seized this single statement that no one else supported and acted like it was a pivotal defense of Zimmerman.

The race baiters and bigots came out to get Zimmerman as well. People like Spike Lee tweeted what they thought was his home address, then apologized for sending the lynch mob to the wrong house, but not for sending a lynch mob in the first place.

The racist New Black Panther Party put a reward out for Zimmerman's address. CNN's Anderson Cooper called them on it, saying the authorities have not called his arrest and any agency they turned him over to would release him. Their spokesman countered that yes, the white man's law has not found him guilty but he has been found guilty by "street people law."

There is nothing wrong with demanding a more detailed investigation than the one Flordia police initially performed. I hold that position as well. It's another thing entriely to say because the innitial investigation was not conducted transparently and did not reach the conclusion ones limited grasp of the facts implied, that lynch mobs are now justified.

Reasonable people have also spoken out against Zimmerman. I have a lot of respect for John McWhorter and he has a record of calling out black activists for making phony cries of racism. In this case, he's taken the position that racism against black boys created the incident.

Zimmerman said he followed a suspicious person, even after the dispatcher told him to stand down. That's very different than if Martin had jumped him for no reason. However, disobeying police orders is not on par with murder. Despite what ThinkProgress implied, Zimmerman was the captain of a neighborhood watch program (which explains all those calls he made to the police). If it's not accredited, should we say it was an "undocumented" group?

What happened next in the narrative is murky. Zimmerman said Martin attacked him and beat his head in a little and he shot him to save his life. People are saying Zimmerman is automatically guilty for shooting someone who was unarmed. Infact, it depends on the situation. If someone does indeed attack you and prevent you from running away, why should you be honor bound to engage in "fair" combat with them when your life is very much in danger?

A few days later a blurry video in the police station didn't show Zimmerman bleeding from the head. Then a few days after that we see in an enhanced screen shot what looks like a wound to the back of his head that was cleaned up by paramedics.

With the public's view of the story changing again and again as new evidence and narratives come forward, MSNBC's Chris Hayes said:
We've all been baited into essentially litaging, trying the case on the facts. and we don't have the facts. Right? So now it's, oh here's the video... and it shows... it contests the family members of Zimmerman's account...

All of this vaccumm is created by the fact that... the way that we establish facts in this country is we have an arrest and a trial. Right? So all of this is flowing into the vaccum that has been created by the absense of the legal process which is the way that we deal with this. Right? He can go before a jury... he can say all these things, but instead it's being tried in the media.
Sorry Hayes, but you don't get it. We don't assume people are guilty until a trial clears their name. Instead, we investigate and if there's enough evidence to prove guilt, we take it to trial and let a judge or jury reach a decision. Hayes thinks the weirdness in the case means Zimmerman should be assumed guilty and locked away until a trial occurs.

Instead, Zimmerman should be free unless the police conclude he should be arrested to stand trial, because that's the proper order of operations. The strength of my position is revealed by how it's remained unchanged even as new information came out. Here's what I wrote on March 20 when my friend posted the ThinkProgress link:
These things have a habit of being distorted, and we should be prepared for that. This is what trial by media looks like. After the Richard Jewell case, we should caution people from conducting their own advocacy trials. It's one thing to press authorities into investigating a case, it's another to reach a conclusion and try to ruin someone's life before a trial happens. This is not a defense of Zimmerman. It is a defense of the presumption of innocence our court system uses.
I'm glad to see there are a few other people out there who are avoiding reaching a premature conclusion, including lawyer Ken from Popehat, journalist Piers Morgan and even President Barack Obama, who deserves credit for trying to stay out of this story as long as he could until forced into making a vague comment.

The good news in all the mess is that all of this attention to the Trayvon Martin case has completely knocked Kony 2012 off the radar.


  1. Social justice, Michael. This class of victim is granted innocence, and that class of oppressor is assigned guilt. If you don't agree, you're probably a member of an oppressive class and you should be properly educated in critical race theory (or whatever balkanized Marxism is the flavor of the month, culturally).

  2. I highly doubt either one of them was innocent. That doesn't mean he should have been shot, but it doesn't mean he shouldn't have been shot either.