Monday, March 26, 2012

Tattoos and Gold Teeth Don't Justify Murder

I've been following the Trayvon Martin case for over 2 weeks now. I first became aware of it all when my Twitter feed began to slowly show more and more instances of Martin's name. I finally decided to figure out what all was going on. From everything I read, the events on February 26th went like this: Martin, an unarmed teen, walked to a convenience store to buy skittles and ice tea. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchmen, then racially targeted Martin, pursued him, engaged him in an altercation, and shot and killed him.  Because of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, Zimmerman has not been charged. With anything. At all.

Almost everyone I talked with about the case agreed that this sounded atrocious. I mean, who could not become outraged hearing this?

At that point, the voices talking about the case were mostly limited to social media, people interested in social justice, and Martin's friends and family. But eventually, the bigger news outlets could no longer ignore what was happening and they began to cover the story as well. ABC News has a good rundown of the timeline of events.

So of course, as the ugliness of racism in America has another name and face, more racism is popping up in an attempt to obscure the facts of the case. I'm really uncomfortable with the "token black friend" in movies and TV shows, so of course, when the media provides us with Zimmerman's black friend to come to his defense, I can't help but cringe a little. And then there was Geraldo Rivera's comments about how hoodies are really the reason Martin was shot.

It's all pretty despicable, but by far the most offensive voice I've seen in this discussion is Dan Linehan at Wagist, which I discovered from scATX's Twitter. The title of Linehan's piece is "Was Trayvon Martin a Drug Dealer?" In it Linehan posits that Martin's family has been selling the media a depiction of the teen which is much more fresh-faced and innocent than Martin really was.

I don't typically make it my business to respond to every bigot with a computer and a blog, but I feel that I really must make the point that Linehan--and anyone else who might try to use this argument--is plainly wrong.

Here are a few excerpts from the piece:
Even though Trayvon was only 17, he already was sporting gold teeth, and several large tattoos. This one was on his wrist, apparently of his girlfriend’s mother’s name.
His screen name was “@NO_LIMIT_NIGGA"...At first, I was skeptical that anyone would maintain an account with that sort of derogatory slur in the title, but after doing some research, it’s apparent that it was Trayvon’s account.
Several of his friends have posted pictures of rolled blunts to twitter in memorial to Trayvon.
After laying out these pieces of "evidence," Linehan concludes:
Hopefully this info paints a somewhat different picture of Trayvon than the one the media has been forcing down our throats for the last several weeks.
This is a complex case, and while all the facts are not in yet, we do know that Zimmerman was well within his rights to make verbal contact with someone he didn’t know or recognize in his neighborhood....This is a textbook self-defense case, and I’d urge anyone reading to look at the full set of facts before drawing conclusions.
I did a bit of Googling to try to determine if Dan Linehan and Wagist are Onion-esque...or just a hoax (because this isn't funny in the slightest) but the most I could find was Wagist on Facebook where it says they are "Offbeat news and culture" and have 84 likes. But seeing as how this post has over 700 comments so far, I can assume that I'm not the only person who thinks this piece is serious and seriously offensive.

I can't even believe I'm about to say this, but Martin didn't deserve to die for having tattoos and gold teeth, using a racial slur in his Twitter name, or potentially using recreational drugs. There's no real evidence that Martin was a drug dealer, but even if he was, that is, again, no grounds to be murdered in the street for simply passing through. This feels very much like the victim blaming thrown at rape survivors. Why are we asking about what Martin was wearing and digging into unrelated parts of his past instead of placing the scrutiny back on his killer?

Here, Linehan is attempting to use racial stereotypes to make the case that Martin was not innocent. He hopes, in constructing this piece which brings in so many irrelevant things, that he can capitalize on society's greater fear of young, black males. In doing so, Linehan's goal is to cast doubt on the fact that Zimmerman was simply wrong to kill Martin. But the truth is that everything about Martin's life prior to what went down on that street in February is irrelevant. Martin had every right to walk to the corner store and buy skittles and tea and walk home with his hood up. Witness accounts and 911 calls demonstrate that Zimmerman targeted and pursued him. To me, any legitimate claim of self-defense would be purely Martin's, had he actually survived the incident that evening.

The whole story is sickening and Linehan's defense of Zimmerman only serves to further illustrate that racism isn't going anywhere. It is a simple fact of my life that when I walk down the street at night with my hood up, no one assumes that I have committed a crime. Similarly, when people see my tattoos, I don't hear anyone assuming I am a drug dealer.

If you would like to sign the petition to bring justice for Trayvon Martin, you can do so here.
For a great rundown of where they case is and what others are saying, check out Shakesville.

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