A pistol-packing, overzealous off-duty neighborhood security guard versus a hooded teen defending his right to walk home without being stared at.
I think pride, and not race, was the governing factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. Both young men had at least one opportunity each to stop what they were doing and back off, but they didn’t. And both made fateful decisions while on the phone.
That race has played a part in the aftermath of Martin’s killing is as certain as the fact that both men willingly walked into trouble.
Defense attorneys for George Zimmerman, 28, the former neighborhood watch volunteer this week acquitted of manslaughter charges in State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman, suggested that the 17-year-old had a chance to walk in the other direction, but didn’t, and was the architect of his own death by physically assaulting Zimmerman, who then shot Martin. Martin was staying with his father in a home 70 yards from where he died, and was walking home from the store with a package of Skittles and some Arizona Iced Tea.
On the phone with friend Rachel Jeantel, whose sometimes hostile testimony a year later also stirs questions of race and class, Martin says he is going to confront the “creepy-ass cracker” looking at him. “Creepy-ass” is a fair description for anyone spying on you from a car, and “cracker” is what happens to the adjective “Caucasian” when it is modified by “creepy-ass.”
A few minutes later Martin is dead. Not because he’s black, but because he and his killer both had something to prove.
Zimmerman appears calm in the 4-minute non-emergency call he placed to Sanford Police the night of February 26, 2012. He is calm because he is armed and because he has been invested with a small amount of authority. He guesses—then confirms—that Martin is black, and finally ignores the dispatcher’s warning (“We don’t need you to do that”) not to follow Martin, who appears to have spotted Zimmerman making the call.
Was Martin “up to no good” because he was black? No. Zimmerman similarly uses the term as a descriptor. He flouts the dispatcher’s words because he feels there’s been too many burglaries in the area and fears the police won’t get there in time.
Zimmerman remarks that “these assholes always get away” and finishes the call at 7:15 p.m. Two minutes later, when Sanford police arrive at the gated community (described by numerous media outlets as a “multi-racial gated community” to distinguish it, it is clear, from the type of gated community either Zimmerman or Martin would have cause to be seen in), Martin is face down on the grass, unresponsive. He is declared dead at 7:30.
Zimmerman is cuffed, questioned, and released by Sanford Police, his claim of self-defense supported by injuries to his nose and the back of his head, which he says Martin slammed against the sidewalk.
In the weeks that follow, both Martin’s and Zimmerman’s brushes with authorities (Martin was suspended from his high school at the time of his death, under suspicion of drug use, vandalism, and burglary, and Zimmerman had swapped domestic abuse restraining orders with an ex-fiancee) are brought to light. Neither seems a paragon of virtue, but their crimes are petty, and Zimmerman seems to have aged out of his more youthful indiscretions until Martin shows up.
And the hoodie becomes fetishized the way Columbine’s trenchcoats were. Martin wore a hood because of the rain, defenders say, and not because he was a surly teen with something to hide. The hoodie becomes a symbol of racial profiling.
I think the public outcry and the ensuing court drama would have been different if the race variables had been different (Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic on his mother’s side). But I don’t think race played a part in the death.
President Barack Obama, from WhiteHouse.gov:
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman could have prevented the tragedy that will surely shorten his own life by letting the police do their job. Martin was not a killer, even if he was a bruiser. Jeantel should have told Martin to take a breath, calm down, and go home to eat his Skittles.
But now backing down is less of an option.
On whether Zimmerman will re-arm himself when his confiscated Tec-9 handgun is returned to him, Defense Attorney Mark O’Mara tells ABC News, “Even more reason now, isn’t there?”
Top Image: From Art for Trayvon Martin