Trayvon Martin’s Character Under Fire

Well, the inevitable Trayvon Martin backlash has begun. Instead of the ubiquitous picture of Martin as a young kid in a football uniform, we’ve begun to see pictures of Martin in gold fronts and doo-rags. Martin was reportedly suspended for smoking weed and getting into fights. Further, George Zimmerman’s statement to the police that Martin had jumped, broken his nose, and was slamming his head into the ground has been leaked and corroborated by a witness. A black friend of Zimmerman’s has also taken to the airwaves to vouch for his character. The subtext is clear: Zimmerman isn’t a racist hothead out hunting for juvenile black males, but a brave Samaritan forced to “stand his ground” against an aggressive black teen.

Trayvon Martin’s hoodie was always a source of contention. Many folks pointed to the ludicrousness of profiling based on a hoodie, and it became a rallying point for Martin’s supporters. Geraldo Rivera, on the other hand, argued that Martin’s hoodie played an equal role in Martin’s death as George Zimmerman. Rivera’s comments were widely mocked and he was forced to apologize. It seemed to be agreed that Martin’s hoodie was not evidence that he’s a bad kid, but new pictures of him in wife beaters, gold fronts, and other getups common amongst today’s youth, are enough to call his character into question.

It was always a little weird that the media wasn’t showing contemporary pictures of Martin. The implicit sentiment in shying away from presenting Martin as he was seemed to be that black teenagers are scary but younger black children aren’t. I think this reinforces racist tropes. Martin didn’t deserve to be killed even if he wasn’t out buying Skittles for his brother, but smoking weed in a doorag, goldfronts, a wife beater and baggy jeans. The fact that images like these new ones circulating of Martin are seen as a knock against his character is ridiculous, he was a teenager dressing in the popular style of the day.

I’ll also take issue with the idea that Martin fighting Zimmerman somehow justifies Zimmerman’s actions. Zimmerman created the conflict: he stalked Martin as he walked home, and even pursued him after the cops told him not to. Zimmerman had a gun and knew full well how the confrontation would end. Either Zimmerman would whoop this young man’s ass or he’d shoot him and justify it as standing his ground.

No one points out that Martin may have been terrified of Zimmerman; he seemed to indicate that to a girl he was on the phone with. If you notice someone aggressively stalking you, it makes sense to respond with aggression. In other words, it was Martin standing his ground. I just don’t believe that Zimmerman’s only recourse was to shoot to kill Trayvon. It seems fishy to me that the Police didn’t take photos of Zimmerman’s injuries at the scene of the crime, and that he refused to be treated for his broken nose, based on my limited knowledge of crime scenes(mostly gleaned from COPS) both seem to be compulsory.

Another fact that goes unmentioned by the media is that Martin didn’t live in Sanford. He was visiting his father. He was a stranger in Zimmerman’s community. I don’t mention this to try and absolve Zimmerman, but rather point to a culture of fear that is prevalent in America. Gated communities, like the one Zimmerman was guarding, are an indication of a fear of fellow citizens. They are exclusionary and the whole concept just smacks of intolerance. There’s a culture of fear in America, and it causes paranoid delusions and itchy trigger fingers. Let’s not get distracted from the tragedy of Trayvon Martin because of this blatant character assassination.

Lastly, let’s mention the utter stupidity of these “stand your ground” laws. What is this the Wild Wild West? Why not just have duels? These kind of laws invite vigilantism as evidenced by Zimmerman. “Concealed Carry” and these kind of laws encourage violence, and make society a scarier place. What’s more threatening, a teenager in a hoodie or a man with a gun?

Jonah Redel-Traub is a blogger from New York City. Recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Mr. Redel-Traub started The Redel Traub Report, which features his hard hitting, insightful, tre ...read more

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