A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that the overwhelming majority of whites did not feel that Martin was “unjustly killed.” Of course, the overwhelming majority of blacks felt just the opposite. Hispanics were caught somewhere in the middle. A majority felt Martin was “unjustly killed.” But a significant minority did not. The odd wording of the response “unjustly killed,” leaves one to wonder if that meant he was justly killed, or simply that there were so many doubts and heavy clouds in the doubters minds about the shooting, that it was easier to give Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt. But that’s splitting hairs.
What is undisputed is that Martin committed no crime. Zimmerman provoked the confrontation. He was not a police officer and his status as a neighborhood watch captain is even in question so he had no official authority to use lethal force against Martin.The stand your ground law that shielded Zimmerman from prosecution for nearly two months badly needs to be tweaked, amended or scrapped. And worst of all, Zimmerman’s personal history is one of violence, intimidation, threats and harassment. This should have been far more than enough to nip any hint of a defense of Zimmerman’s action in the bud.
The first inkling that even Zimmerman could stir the racial divide in the Martin murder came with the endless postings on blogs, in chat rooms, and websites immediately after the Martin killing. The comments took shots at Martin’s character, motives, and physical demeanor. In many cases they explicitly took racial swipes at Martin, Martin family members, and civil rights leaders that called for Zimmerman’s prosecution, and even President Obama for calling the killing a “tragedy.”
Then there was the inevitable poll taken after the Martin murder finally exploded into public debate. It found that a majority of whites (especially Republicans) felt the case was getting way too much public attention and that it was time to move on. A majority of blacks said just the opposite.
Martin was not Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, or Michael Vick. He was a teen that was a victim of time, place, circumstances and Zimmerman. None of which he chose. But he shared one bedeviling quality with America’s black pariahs. He was a young black male.
President Obama was supposedly the supreme example to refute any charge that black males are still routinely stereotyped, negatively typecast, and reviled. But that has been time and again exposed as pure fantasy, naivety and wishful, even delusionary, thinking. If anything, Obama dredged back to the surface the galling fact that the old the racial myths have totally vanished. During and after the Presidential campaign, polls consistently showed that while Obama got a high likeability rating from a big majority of whites, many whites still clung tightly to the ancient negative, stereotypical fears of black males and strongly questioned their work ethnic and competence. Though Obama did soften the racial barrier when the final vote was in, he didn’t demolish it. The majority of whites still voted against him.
The Martin family found out that at the first touch of media taint that public sympathy and goodwill can erode faster than a Houdini disappearing act. The Martin family and civil rights leaders had to spend as much, if not more time, fending off attacks, charges, and innuendoes about Martin’s supposed unsavory character. This did more than feed the media rumor mill. It sowed even deeper doubts, or reinforced the racial antipathies, among many whites that perhaps Zimmerman, not Martin, was the real victim and deserved sympathy and support, or at the very least again the benefit of the doubt in the shooting.
The greatest disturbing questions raised in the Martin atrocity whenever the victim is black and the perpetrator of the violence is white or a non-black are: Why so many whites are willing to think the worst about the victim, question his or her character, even dig, dig, dig, to find any negative on the victim, and then spend endless time concocting rationales for the assailant? The question of why Zimmerman could be a sympathetic figure to many is even more puzzling given the horrific history of victimization of African-Americans by vigilantes in America.
The good thing is that a Florida prosecutor, many in the media, and a significant segment of the public were able to cut through the fog of slander, lies, misinformation, and racial stereotypes and see the case for what it was. A case of a teen that did no wrong, that lost his life for no defensible reason. But even in death the sad fact is that Martin still does not get a complete pass from the doubters. This comes with the turf when the racial divide inevitably rears its hideous head even for a Zimmerman.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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