Lessons from Zimmerman, Trayvon and The Media
“I believe that this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised. We must not, as we have too often in the past, let this opportunity pass.” Attorney General Eric Holder speaking to Delta Sigma Theta in Washington regarding the Trayvon Martin case.
Trayvon Martin’s death should not be in vain. Let’s take the opportunity to learn from this incident. Here are some lessons Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and the Media can teach us.
1. There is legitimate frustration with the criminal justice system in the African-American community. African-American citizens are frustrated. They see a system where young men are killed on a daily basis, where innocent children are shot in their homes and where black males ages 18-30 are incarcerated at an alarming rate. African-Americans receive longer sentences than do other racial groups for similar crimes. African-Americans who are convicted in cases with victims who are not African-American are much more likely to receive the death penalty than any other group.
2. Most Americans do not want to acknowledge that there are problems with the criminal justice system. We have to continually strive to do better in America. Our system is founded on the principle that all men are created equal. The justice system should treat all men as equal.
3. The media is perfectly happy to play on this dynamic for ratings and to advance a political agenda.
We cannot change the past, but we also cannot learn from it if we do not honestly address it. Here are some facts that are undisputed in the Trayvon Martin case and which the many people still do not or will not acknowledge:
1. On the night of the incident, George Zimmerman was told there was a video recording of the shooting. Zimmerman’s response was “Thank God.” There was no video, but this is a tactic used by police to try to get suspects to answer honestly.
2. George Zimmerman taken into police custody, was mirandized and interviewed at least two separate times on the night of the shooting. These interviews lasted several hours and were voluntary.
3. Trayvon Martin had been caught with items from multiple burglaries at school just weeks before this incident. Near the scene of this incident, a “burglary tool” was found. (These facts are undisputed and I do not raise them to in any way suggest that the shooting of Martin was justified but to suggest that the initial report of “suspicious activity” may be justified.)
4. George Zimmerman had injuries to his nose and the back of his head when the police arrived. At least one witness at the scene testified that the back of Zimmerman’s coat and pants were wet.
5. The media used a picture of Trayvon Martin which was taken when Martin was 12 years old.
6. At least one media outlet intentionally “edited” an audio recording of the George Zimmerman 9-1-1 call in order to make it appear that he was using a racial slur.
7. George Zimmerman had a prior arrest for domestic violence, resisting arrest and resisting an officer with violence. These charges were dismissed through a pre-trial diversion program.
8. Zimmerman and his wife previously had a mutual restraining order issued.
9. There are approximately ten shooting incidents involving children in the United States every day.
The question then is, why THIS case? Why did this case warrant such media attention? Gun control advocates were frustrated that their agenda was not getting pushed enough in 2012. Stand Your Ground laws had been passed in 24 states and were gaining popularity throughout the US. This was a major concern to gun control advocates and something had to be done . . . public opinion had to be swayed at any cost. Along comes the Trayvon Martin case. A case that could easily be painted as an innocent child skipping home from 7-11 with a can of iced tea and a bag of skittles for his brother being gunned down by a crazy white vigilante with a gun. A case of racial profiling at its worst and an indictment of the right to own and carry a firearm.
Never allowing facts to get in the way of their agenda, information began to come out that this was not a “stand your ground” case. In fact, no matter what facts you believe , this case is about self-defense. Either George Zimmerman had a reasonable fear that his life was in danger or he did not. The media and the blogosphere set out in earnest attacking stand your ground laws and calling for more gun control. After all, here was a case where a citizen with a lawfully owned weapon killed a young man and was not charged. Certainly there must be something wrong with the system that would allow such a thing.
Now we know why the media, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, chose to jump on the Trayvon Martin story. That is the past. What do we need to move on, to address legitimate concerns about our criminal just system and to protect ALL law abiding citizens from criminals. We have taken great strides in recent years at doing just that. Federal Sentencing Guidelines narrow the discretion of judges in setting sentences. Many states have adopted similar approaches with mandatory minimum sentences, and mandatory objective standards for sentencing. Nonetheless, all bias will never be taken out of the system. The other piece of the puzzle involves minority groups being adequately represented in all segments of the criminal justice system. As long as African-American males make up the majority of the defendants and white males make up the majority of law enforcement, there will be the appearance of bias. Nonetheless, as citizens we have to be forever vigilant in watching for those who would use these frustations for their own political and financial gain.