Gallup released a poll yesterday, showing:
- African-Americans are nearly five times more likely to be convinced that gunman George Zimmerman is “definitely guilty” of a crime than non-blacks.
- 75% of African-Americans believe that racial bias led to Martin’s shooting, whereas less than half of non-blacks do, though a majority of the public believe that race was a factor in the tragedy.
- 73% of blacks, about twice the percentage of the rest of the population, believe that Zimmerman would have been arrested if the person he shot was white.
What we now have, clearly, is significant, dangerous, and festering racial distrust, not created solely by the Trayvon Martin incident but exacerbated by it. This can only harm race relations, law enforcement, and the nation generally, and yet it is beyond argument that this divide has been encouraged and nurtured. Obviously the potential already existed, and one would think that responsible figures in public life, the civil rights establishment, elected office and the media would take the responsible course and attempt to minimize the shooting’s potential for increasing racial divisiveness in America.
They did not. Once again, they ripped the scab right off racial healing, and did so recklessly, cruelly, ineptly, and in some cases, maliciously. They are still doing it, or passively allowing it to be done by others. This is wrong, and shockingly so. Rational and fair analysts and observers all along the ideological spectrum should be saying so, but they are not. Fairness and honesty should not partisan issues. Playing the politics of hate and divisiveness is a threat to the fabric of the United States of America and in this case, risks unraveling decades of progress in race relations and understanding. There can be no excuse for it, and yet the primary culprits reside among the most influential and prominent institutions in the country. Journalists. Congress. Civil rights organizations. Pundits. Educators. And the President of the United States.
It needs to be said up front that as a result of what seems to be concerted efforts by all of these, the majority of African-Americans hold fervent beliefs that are simply not justified by the facts as we know them, and are the product of bias, rumor, presumptions, and yes, bigotry. The initial narrative, created by Martin’s family and their supporters, was that 1) Zimmerman shot their son based on racial profiling and racism, and 2) that law enforcement officials did not arrest Zimmerman because the victim was black. No facts in the incident support those assumptions, other than the bare facts that Zimmerman is a non-black man and Martin was African-American, and that Martin is dead, shot by Zimmerman. The parents, and they cannot be blamed for this, believed that their son couldn’t possibly have done anything that would result in his death by gunshot, and thus his death had to be murder. The supposition that it was a murder based on racial hatred is the product of their own distrst and bias, however, and they were encouraged by others who for various reasons are empowered by racial discord.
I am not asserting that George Zimmerman wasn’t profiling Martin, only that there is no fair reason to assume, insist or beliefe that he was, unless one assumes that all non-black men profile young black men. That assumption is based on bigotry, not reason. I don’t know what was going through George Zimmerman’s head, but what we do know is that…
- Nothing in Zimmerman’s background suggests anti-black racism. He tutored African-American children, and odd activity for a racist.
- In his 911 call, Zimmerman expressed alarm based on how he saw Martin acting, not based on his race or clothing. He may have been motivated by race or attire, but the call doesn’t show that, although it was manipulated by many to indicate otherwise.
- Nothing but speculation indicates that Zimmerman shot Martin “in cold blood,” and nothing in his background or known character indicates that he could or would do such a thing.
- The exact sequence of events leading to Martin’s death and the conduct of both men is not certain.
- No witnesses have been cross-examined or tested with the kind of scrutiny and rigor necessary to establish their credibility. Neither, for that matter, has Zimmerman.
- The fact that charges have not been brought can and should be attributed to the current lack of sufficient evidence to sustain a successful prosecution, and nothing else. Assuming that the decision is race-based is, again, pure speculation.
- The investigation is ongoing.
Taking all that into consideration, there is no rational reason for anyone to be, in Gallup’s terms, convinced that Zimmerman is “definitely” or “probably” guilty of a crime, or that Zimmerman “would have been arrested” were it not for the races of the two parties involved. People have a right to irrational and unsupported opinions, but relying on unsupported opinions to threaten the lives of others, make wild accusations and mislead the public and public discourse, is irresponsible and ultimately despicable.
Yet the effort to convince African-Americans (and the rest of the public, most of which who are not as predisposed to assume racism without substantive evidence) continues:
- Jessie Jackson, who seeds racial tensions because he makes his living from them, told a radio audience that African-Americans should wear hoodies to vote in November. There is no evidence whatsoever that Martin’s hoodie played any role in his death; by emphasizing the hoodie, activists like Jackson are spreading a rumor at best, a lie at worst. This is done to perpetuate the idea that Martin was profiled. Here is the segment of the 911 call where Zimmerman mentions the hoodie:
911 dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?
Zimmerman: Yeah, a dark hoodie like a gray hoodie. He wore jeans or sweat pants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now … he’s just staring.
Zimmerman gives no special significance to the hoodie; he also mentions that he is wearing pants. What evidence is there that Zimmerman placed special significance on the hoodie? None. Yet Rep. Bobbie Rush appeared in the House in a hoodie, to protest racial profiling. The Miami Heat appeared on the basketball court wearing hoodies “in support of Trayvon.” Since NBA players do not habitually dress up in whatever the last slain youth happened to be wearing, what did the hoodie signify? That Martin had been profiled; that Zimmerman was racially profiling the youth, and killed him as a consequence. How does Zimmerman become guilty of racial profiling based on what Martin was wearing, and that alone? He becomes guilty because a lot of people want him to be guilty, and are sending out dishonest messages to make certain that is how he is seen.
- The Congressional Black Caucus submitted a resolution to Congress that said in part: “Let Trayvon’s death not be for naught. Let us honor his life by righting this wrong, and seeing that justice is served for Trayvon and his family. George Zimmerman must be prosecuted for his admitted shooting of Trayvon Martin and the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law must be repealed.” This is unethical from start to finish. Congress has no business telling states what laws they should pass, or lobbying for changes in state laws. It is unlikely that the Florida’s Stand Your Ground law applies to what occurred between Zimmerman and Martin, so the CBC’s resolution perpetuates misinformation. For members of Congress to offer a resolution that states that a private citizen be prosecuted for anything is meddling in the justice system; here it is meddling in a local justice system, which is worse, and essentially declaring that citizen who hasn’t been charged is guilty of a crime before he has had a fair trial. No wonder African-Americans believe George Zimmerman “definitely” committed a crime—African-American members or Congress are telling them so. This is beyond outrageous; I would have to search a thesaurus to find a word sufficiently negative to characterize it. The “crime” being suggested is some variety of murder; the CBC knows that the New Black Panthers, among others, have placed a bounty on Zimmerman’s head, the CBC members have no special knowledge of the facts in the case, and yet they are proposing an official statement in the United States Congress that pre-judges the case! Given the historical craziness in those hallowed halls, there must have been something in the institution’s shadowy past this irresponsible, but I can’t think of it.
- Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who represents Martin’s district, said Congress should pass the resolution because his death “speaks to the reality that racial profiling still exists in America.” There is no evidence of racial profiling in this case! There are only assumptions and suppositions, based only on the skin color of Zimmerman and Martin. Presuming that all whites profile all blacks is bigotry itself.
- In Miami, an African-American attorney/teacher is using his ethics class to make sure his students see the Zimmerman-Martin case as an example of racism. From the Miami Herald: “…When their teacher, Clinton Mitchell, shows a photo of Trayvon in a hoodie and asks ‘Suspicious or not?,’ the debate exposes raw emotion. ‘For me personally, it’s not ethical to judge somebody on just what they wear,” said Daniel Tippenhauer, 17. ‘It’s crazy how he was judged just on his skin tone and a hoodie. It shouldn’t be that way.’ And who says it was “that way,” Mr. Mitchell? You? Zimmerman doesn’t say that the hoodie was why he was suspicious of Martin. The 911 call doesn’t indicate that. Geraldo Rivera speculated that this was true, and Geraldo is about as reliable as the air schedule at the Newark airport. You are teaching your students that Trayvon was “judged just on his skin tone and a hoodie” in the complete absence of facts supporting that contention. That is unethical, bad teaching, rotten conduct for a lawyer during a pending criminal matter, and irresponsible citizenship. I don’t want the blog to be all Trayvon, all the time, so I resisted the urge to devote a separate post to Mitchell’s unethical ethics class, but for the record: Clinton Mitchell is an Ethics Dunce, and a particularly vile one, in my view,
Then, of course, we have the news media, which misrepresented the case from the beginning, and continues to attempt to try it themselves before it ever gets to trial. Any prosecutor who botched a trial this badly would be fired and disbarred:
- NBC cut the middle out of the 911 call to make it sound like Zimmerman was a racist, and the altered recording and its transcript was widely cited as proof of profiling. . Yesterday, the network fired an unnamed veteran producer for the “mistake.” It has yet to offer a credible explanation for how the “mistake—which conveniently supported the narrative being pushed by, among others, MSNBC’s pundit Al Sharpton.
- CNN first announced that forensic experts had determined that Zimmerman had called Trayvon a “fucking coon” on the 911 tape. Now the network says it may have been wrong, and that he probably said “cold” or maybe “punks.” But as always, the initial mistake had had far more impact than the correction.
- ABC repeatedly broadcast an overhead video of Zimmerman at the police station, and said the video “called into question” his account of having his head hit violently against the street by Martin, since no wounds were visible. Much later, another photo showed wounds.
Undaunted, CNN was at it again this morning. It showed, every hour, an unidentified, voice-disguised witness who disputed Zimmerman’s story, saying she thought it was Martin, not Zimmerman, who screamed for help, and that they fought on the grass, not the asphalt. Presenting such dubious testimony as evidence of anything is terrible journalism, and in this case is intentionally misleading, again in the service of promoting racial distrust. Who was this woman? Does she have any relationship to Martin, his family, Zimmerman, or his family? How far was she from the incident? Has she heard either Zimmerman or Martin scream before? Was she wearing a “Justice for Trayvon” hoodie? There is no probative value to this interview, yet it was declared “stunning” by CNN. Stunningly irresponsible, I would say.
It must also be said that President Obama, the man who promised to unite the country, also did his part to encourage racial distrust with his ill-considered comments about how the victim looked like him, or the son he never had. That the President of the United States would even discuss the matter presupposed that the incident had a racial element other than the raw fact that the two individuals involved were of different races. Again, that was and is unsupported by the facts as we currently know them. Obama did his part to make this incident into an ethics train wreck that is ripping through racial trust. Like the media, the CBC, the media, Rep. Rush, Rep. Waters, the Miami Heat, the New Black Panthers, Spike Lee and many more, he is accountable for those Gallup numbers, and if an angry Trayvon mourner takes shot at George Zimmerman in an act of vigilante justice (perhaps because he wasn’t up to date on the media retractions of fake evidence showing Zimmerman to be a virulent racist), he, like the rest, is accountable for that, too.
Again, to be clear, George Zimmerman’s conduct began the chain of events that led to an innocent young man’s death. The question that has yet to be resolved is whether the collision of bad judgment and bad luck initiated by him added up to a crime under Florida law. For it is not illegal to..
- Be excessively suspicious
- Be unnecessarily afraid
- To follow someone you think is suspicious (though there is now a question whether Zimmerman followed Martin very far before stopping)
- To call 911 prematurely
- To do any of this regarding some one who happens to be a different race
- To do any of this regarding someone who happens to be wearing a hoodie, or, for that matter, a kilt
- To do any of this while carrying a legally licensed gun
- To defend yourself if attacked.
There are things that Zimmerman might have done that would make him guilty of a crime, but the simple fact that he shot Martin does not, by itself prove any of them. Yet a vast majority of African-Americans believe it does, and this is not because of any mass cognitive deficit, but because they have been incompetently, irresponsibly, recklessly, and unethically led to do so…and are still being so.
In an editorial about Marion Barry’s latest disgrace, a racist rant against Asians in D.C., the Washington Post ended with this sentiment:
“In our view, stirring up racial hatred should never get a pass.”
I desperately agree. But so many in so many high places are accountable for stirring up racial hatred in the Trayvon Martin shooting that it appears now that a pass for them is likely, especially since one of their member is the President of the United States.
And the ethics train wreck rumbles on.
Note: Bruce Clark has an excellent overview related to this post here.