“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” remarked F. Scott Fitzgerald, as if alluding to the fatal confrontation between George Zimmerman, the watch guard of a beleaguered and oft-burglarized neighborhood, and the unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who President Obama said would look like his son if he had one.
To prevent this painful case from jeopardizing social cohesion, Americans must Think Again before lining up behind their preferred tragic hero like rabid fans of opposing sports teams. All the world’s a stage, and on the rainy night of their deadly clash, neither Martin nor Zimmerman followed a heroic script. Merely players in a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, each displayed impulsiveness and bad judgment, sealing a heartbreaking fate.
It’s a fate consuming African-American men ages 15 to 34, and murder — 90 percent of which is black-on-black — is its No. 1 cause. Though blacks represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 54 percent of U.S. murders between 1976 and 2005, the majority in cities with black mayors and police chiefs. In historical perspective, the Children’s Defense Fund reported that since 1979, 44,038 black children were murdered, or 13 times more than all the black people killed by lynching between 1882 and 1968.
These startling statistics garner little attention, yet Martin’s killing sustains saturation coverage, activating divisions not seen since Rodney King. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a “Justice for Trayvon” campaigner, exclaimed, “We’re tired of going to jail for nothing and others going home for something,” while Zimmerman backers quipped, “If the head is split, you must acquit” — apparently a key argument for jurors who found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter because prosecutors couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman didn’t act in self-defense.
Martin sympathizers who don’t accept the difference between not guilty and innocent believe that if Martin were white, jurors would have found Zimmerman guilty. Zimmerman backers maintain that were he black, prosecutors wouldn’t have been pressured to charge him, to which Rep. Charlie Rangel countered that if Zimmerman were black, the police “would have beat him to death.”
Conjecture notwithstanding and before outside intervention, law enforcement officials believed that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Zimmerman for murder. Legal experts concurred, including Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who called it “a classic case of self-defense … with reasonable doubt written all over it.”
Nobody knows for certain who struck the first blow or called for help during the lethal struggle. Trial evidence suggested that Martin was atop Zimmerman, banging his head against concrete, when he was shot. But like any “he-said, he-said” dispute, without instant replay or Martin’s testimony, no one knows what actually happened.
Nevertheless, ratings-hungry media and ideologues discuss the tragedy as if they were there, inflaming passions and prejudicing Americans. They’ve transformed the tragedy into a hate crime, as if 14-year-old Emmett Till — whose horrifying 1955 lynching and murder went unsolved — encountered Bull Connor, the notoriously bigoted and violent Birmingham, Ala., public-safety commissioner.
Spinning a black-and-white morality tale — like the Duke lacrosse faux-rape case, the Tawana Brawley hoax and Paula Deen’s debacle — the media slant the news to fit their narrative. Depicted in five-year-old photos, Martin is youthful innocence embodied, not a school-suspended, pot-smoking teen. Zimmerman, whose mother is Peruvian, is “white Hispanic,” an absurdity akin to calling Obama “white African-American.” Poisoning public opinion further, NBC doctored Zimmerman’s 911 call, portraying him as racist.
Upset by the verdict, the “Justice for Trayvon” mob insists that the Justice Department charge Zimmerman with civil-rights violations even though an FBI investigation confirmed there’s no evidence that Zimmerman was driven by racial animus. If there is an investigation, Dershowitz believes “it ought to be of (Special) Prosecutor (Angela) Corey, … who violated Zimmerman’s civil rights” and whose “conduct bordered on criminal.”
Rather than uphold her duty to safeguard the rights of all citizens — even the accused — Corey sidestepped the customary grand jury investigation, filing a false affidavit that excluded exculpatory evidence to obtain a second-degree “depraved mind” murder charge. After she hindered defense lawyers’ access to evidence, a whistle-blower exposed her misconduct, resulting in the whistle-blower’s firing.
To the “Justice for Trayvon” mob, these injustices appear not to matter. More interested in vengeance, their prescriptions would hurt — not cure — what ails African-Americans. By advocating unequal application of the law and selective civil rights, today’s activists resemble their predecessors’ opponents, not the courageous leaders whose moral claims touched America’s conscience.
In 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for protesting Connor’s unjust tactics. Writing from his Birmingham cell, King spoke for all Americans, regardless of hyphenated ethnicity:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
King’s moral and unifying voice prompted President Kennedy to declare, “Race has no place in American life or law,” a principle from which we mustn’t retreat.
Think Again — wouldn’t that be the best way to deliver “Justice for Trayvon”?
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. Her column runs every other Thursday. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.