Do Trayvon Martin’s suspensions, potential drug use, or Twitter account explain why he was killed? Not really.
But they have become important anyway–to a debate that is much larger than what happened that night.
The nation has been gripped by the story of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watchman.
And in the rush to issue some kind of judgement about the events of that February 26th night, everyone is grasping for details about the background of both Martin and Zimmerman. At first, the only details about Travyon Martin’s life were the following:
The Orlando Sentinel reported his that his English teacher said “He was an A, B student who majored in cheerfulness.”
ABC news reported that Trayvon was on his way back from a 7-11 to watch the second half of the NBA All-Star game at his father’s house. He had bought an iced tea and Skittles.”
In the past few days, other elements of Martin’s behaviour have been blasted across the media.
According to a report in the Miami Herald, Martin had multiple suspensions from school, including one for graffiti, though a police investigator said that he was carrying pieces of women’s jewelry.
From the same report: his suspension from school at the time of his death was due to him being found with a bag with traces of marijuana in it, and a marijuana pipe.
These are all interesting details in themselves, but they don’t add any understanding to the story of his death.
They don’t explain why George Zimmerman thought he was suspicious (other than simply being a black person he didn’t know).
And they don’t explain what happened in the moments between Zimmerman pursuing him on foot against the instructions of a 911 dispatcher, and the physical confrontation that led to Zimmerman shooting Martin.
Obviously, no one deserves to be shot in the street for having a Twitter account that offends someone’s sensibilities. Or because they brought marijuana into school.
And of course, Zimmerman didn’t know about any of this, nor would the knowledge of it make Martin’s presence on Sanford’s streets any more menacing or “suspicious.”
There are two reasons why the public has been so desperate for information about both Martin and Zimmerman.
1) According to this report from The Grio, the Sanford police did not seem to do a very good job. They did not take samples of his blood and test them for alcohol or drugs, as is common at almost every homicide, whether it seems like a justifiable homicide or murder. Martin’s next of kin were not notified. And since Zimmerman has not yet been charged with a crime, meaning that there is no promised finding of fact.
2) The case has huge symbolic importance. Many believe that this incident is an indictment of American society and our legal system. Why else would Martin be seen as suspicious other than that he was black? If a white teenager was shot, wouldn’t someone have at least been arrested and all the proper legal procedures followed? Why did Zimmerman feel empowered to pursue him? Perhaps it was Florida’s legal culture, where people in a conflict are allowed to “stand their ground” and even use lethal force.
And if America’s culture and legal system conspired together to kill an innocent man, our grief over this tragedy must be mobilized into political action.
People who oppose these political actions and resist the indictment are now suddenly motivated to challenge the story itself. That’s why there is a ferocious backlash, and a deep hunger for any incriminating information on Martin. And it is why some are trying to flip the story around and say that the issue isn’t white racism and gun laws, but criminality.
To the wider public the facts of the case are mattering less for doing justice in the matter at hand, but more in a symbolic battle over what is wrong with America, and what needs to be fixed.
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