Yesterday marked the first day of the George Zimmerman trial.
At first glance that sentence must seem like a mistake. After all, the media, celebrities, and community organizations already branded Zimmerman guilty ages ago. What began as very much a local crime story escalated exponentially into a chaotic media circus and sent the nation into frenzy. Between the fluff pieces, the school rallies, and the courageous celebrity tweeting, the fact that there is still a trial seems almost absurd. The New Black Panther Party (not to be confused with the old Black Panthers; in fact many original members condemn the new movement) even offered a $10,000 bounty for his head.
The reactions seemed endless, from the nonsensical lyrical references of several songs (look up Tyga’s “Designer” and Usher and Rick Ross’ “Let Me See”) to the “million hoodie” marches. I won’t dwell on the details of many of the marches and tweets, although Spike Lee’s Twitter fiasco deserves another nod. For those who are unaware of what happened, let’s just say his irresponsible tweeting of what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address put an elderly couple in harm’s way.
Rhetorical question: Had Lee managed to post Zimmerman’s actual address, what, exactly, did he think would happen?
Certainly the real culprit throughout all this has been the media, specifically the news media handling this case. From the start it was a failure. Original reports classified Zimmerman as a “white neighborhood watch captain” or simply as being “white,” thus making the headlines and leads a lot juicier. After all, why should the nation care about a local shooting? Well, certainly if a white guy shot a black teenager after he racially profiled him, that is worthy of national news.
The problem was that wasn’t the case. Very quickly the reports switched “white” and “white neighborhood watch captain” with “white-Hispanic.” The latest headlines and articles covering the trial have been excluding race almost entirely in the descriptions of Zimmerman and Martin, except for references to the previous race controversies.
The vilest offense by the media, however, was with the supposed proof of Zimmerman’s racist rants. The first instance was where he allegedly called Martin a “f—ing c–n,” as reported by CNN, although later it was decided the word used was unintelligible, with many agreeing it was “punks.”
The second, more serious distortion was the direct tampering with the audio of the 911 calls by NBC, where, after the dispatcher asked Zimmerman what Martin was doing, the network reported as a direct quote from Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good … he looks black.” (This has since been changed; check the note at the end.)
Breitbart’s Dan Riehl was the first to notice the distortion, noting that there was crucial information that actually was said in-between the ellipses:
ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he’s up to no good, [begin ellipsis] or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
911 DISPATCHER: Okay, is this guy, is he white, black, or Hispanic? [end ellipsis]
ZIMMERMAN: He looks black.
The ramifications of such distortions are colossal. By reporting that Zimmerman was “white” (or the ambiguous “white-Hispanic”) and that he assumed Martin “was up to no good” because “he looked black,” the story became an example of the supposed cancerous racial profiling that plagues the country. Such distortions caused irreversible damage – now, before the trial has even begun, we have a situation where a man has already been convicted by countless citizens. What else do you think the phrase “justice for Trayvon Martin” means?
Without Zimmerman being a white shooter who profiles young black men because they wear hoodies (which is ironic because hoodies are very much a part of Hispanic culture, and even arguably mainstream American culture, too), this is nothing more than an unfortunate story about a young teenager’s life ending early due to a possibly over-zealous self-proclaimed “neighborhood watchdog.” Race should simply have nothing to do with this, even if Zimmerman truly was a “white” guy, whatever that even means these days.
Allow me to be clear – I don’t mean any disrespect towards Trayvon Martin. He very well could have been wrongfully shot, whether accidentally or intentionally. Don’t forget Martin was unarmed and Zimmerman instigated the whole matter. Although Martin may have attacked Zimmerman, it still doesn’t necessarily justify Martin being shot. I also can’t imagine the pain Martin’s parents still feel, because I haven’t ever had a loved one shot and killed.
But the tragic nature of the story doesn’t warrant irresponsible journalism, nor does it require that extra layers of sensational details such as racial profiling be added to grab the nation’s attention. Although lethal shootings normally shouldn’t make national headlines, the skeleton of the Trayvon Martin killing does indeed warrant national discussion. The controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which was what almost let Zimmerman off the hook in the first place, is a story in itself; that is the crux of this trial.
Without “Stand Your Ground,” which allows for lethal force if the alleged victim decides their life is at risk, Zimmerman may have never walked free. Furthermore, there is reason to believe Zimmerman never was in as much risk as he let on, especially since the 911 operator specifically told him to wait for the police.
But rational discussions and conclusions have rarely been seen in this case. And we have the news media to thank for that. If justice for Trayvon is to come, it should be in the form of an impartial jury deciding Zimmerman’s fate based on known facts, not pseudo-activist hoodie marches.