In 2009, when Eric Holder assumed the reigns as Attorney General under the Obama Administration, Holder shocked many of us when he called us a “nation of cowards” with regards to race relations in America.
It’s been difficult to gauge whether the nation has benefited or regressed in an Obama Administration with regards to race relations. From New Black Panther Party voter intimidation to The Beer Summit, to Tea Parties to state voter ID laws – it seems that race has been a marker on the nation more so than any of us would have wanted – having elected the first Black American as President of the United States.
Now, the country finds itself wrapped up in yet another racial controversy – this time involving the shooting of a 17 year old Central Florida teen at the hands of a neighborhood watchman.
By now you’ve heard the story – in Sanford, Florida about a month ago – a neighborhood watch person named George Zimmerman called 911 as he followed an unidentified man through his neighborhood. At some point, there was a scuffle, a gun fired by Zimmerman that left 17 year old Trayvon Martin dead. After an investigation the Sanford Police did not charge Zimmerman with a crime and for weeks, the story laid dormant.
Then… through social media the story went viral – Martin, a 17 year old Black male who was armed only with a bag of Skittles and Iced-Tea was gunned down by a white male, and the white male walked away without any criminal charges. This sparked outrage all over the place – as pictures of an baby faced Black young man donning a hoodie sweatshirt littered the Internet – a young life tragically lost in a confrontation that didn’t need to happen.
The story caught fire as prominent Black figures like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the New Black Panther Party, and the media fanned the flames of racial tensions to the brink of full fledged insanity… George Zimmerman has gone into hiding, there’s talk of a $10,000 bounty on his head, opinions are sought from everyone up to the President himself on what happened to Trayvon Martin.
At first, the Administration chalked this up as a local matter – but as the national discussion on race continued – especially the image of an older white man gunning down and killing an unarmed Black teen – forced the President to opine.
The case has gone to a grand jury, and the Sanford Police Department’s job performance is called into question, authorities are stepping down or asked to step down, and once again the country finds itself divided down racial lines.
So here we are, a nation, donning hoodies and hashtagging #justicefortrayvon … conflicting stories about what happened are emerging – as well as serious questions about how the Trayvon Martin story has been tried in the media.
For one, were you like me? When you saw Trayvon’s pictures online did you think, “That kid’s 17?” … as it turns out, many of the pictures that have been posted on the Internet and in the media is a 13 year old Trayvon. So, why would that happen? It also turns out, the photo circulating of George Zimmerman, what looks like a booking photo of a cold, emotionless man – isn’t what Zimmerman looks like now. In fact, a more recent picture shows a slimmer, smiling Zimmerman in a suit and tie.
Now – does that mean anything? Not really. It shouldn’t matter how you choose to express yourself in dress – that doesn’t make you any more or less guilty or innocent in the eyes of the law. But what’s more disturbing is the forced narrative coming out of this story. Zimmerman is clearly of Hispanic origin – so much so that the first time I saw his picture I thought “That guy’s not White…?”
Now, one national media outlet has taken to referring to Zimmerman as a “White-Hispanic”.
Nation of cowards.
I’ve listened to the 911 tapes – and I have to say it certainly sounds like a young man calling for help before a gunshot is heard – and yet one eyewitness has come forward to suggest it was Zimmerman calling for help – other witnesses have confirmed this (although there are conflicting eyewitnesses who say it was Martin calling for help). There’s also conflicting stories on what happened that unfortunate day – initially it was thought Zimmerman stalked Martin even after being told not to by 911 – Zimmerman engaged Martin, a scuffle ensued, and Zimmerman gunned down Martin.
Now we’re hearing a different side – Zimmerman, on the heels of recent neighborhood break-ins, broke off his engagement of Martin – but Martin went on the offensive, attacking Zimmerman with a punch and then ramming the back of his head into the concrete – forcing Zimmerman to defend himself by retaliating with a gunshot to Martin’s chest.
The narrative of Martin is also changing … a young man who was suspended at school for having marijuana, allegedly attacking a school bus driver… is it foreign to believe a young man (of any color) would have a chip on his shoulder if he was being followed through a neighborhood by someone?
The 911 recordings certainly captured a scuffle and someone crying for help … the Sanford Police report suggests Zimmerman had a blasted nose, a grass stained shirt and deep bruises on the back of his head (certainly hard for those to be self-inflicted).
Now – the narrative of the Trayvon Martin tragedy has spun completely out of control thanks to prominent talking heads and media pundits who are trying to turn a tragedy into a statement on race relations in America. What on the surface seems like a gross injustice by many institutions has, like most stories, has many layers.
And because the layers of the story have not been able to be effectively peeled back – the country now finds itself running to its collective corners. Crying foul and demanding justice without fully knowing the entire story. Is this a legitimate case of a hate crime exponentially made worse by a failed authoritative institution? Or is this the case of two men who unfortunately crossed paths at an unfortunate time, and a man – trying to defend and protect his property and person – engaged in a kerfuffle with someone who misunderstood his intentions, and took out anger and frustration on him in retaliation?
Did race have anything to do with this at all?
One thing’s for certain – the unfortunate tragedy of a young man’s loss of life has turned into a political and racial football – with each side trying to advance their agenda and make a case much larger than the facts may prove out.
Do I think George Zimmerman should have been following Trayvon Martin like he did? Probably not. Did Trayvon attack George Zimmerman instead of just verbally confronting him and moving on? Did Zimmerman feel his life was in danger? So many questions need to be answered…
But because we are a nation of cowards, many of us have already formed an opinion and for the lowest of the low in this country – the tragedy has turned into racial fodder – serving only to continue to divide us rather than bring us together.
When so many killings go without this type of media attention – Black on Black, Black on White, Hispanic on Black or White … why this case? why now?
This nation has had generations to learn its lessons of a racially divided past – we’ve had opportunity after opportunity to learn to grow together – and yet it feels like we’re pushing each other farther apart.
My heart weeps for the Martin family – who have lost a young life. My heart weeps for Zimmerman – a man in hiding presumably fearing for his life with a bounty on his head.
It’s a tragic story all around – and lost in the depth and breath and texture of this story is a judgement on the color of skin and not the content of character.
Maybe Eric Holder was right after all.