It Could Have Been Obama

Does anyone really want to live in an America where a young black man can’t even pound some creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement without fear of being shot? We do, to be frank, but being of such a pale hue that some angry young black man or another might mistake us for a creepy-ass cracker we are grateful for any deterrent effect that the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman on charges of murdering Trayvon Martin might have. The President of the United States is apparently among the many who would prefer different rules for our cross-racial social interactions, on the other hand, and on Friday he declared in an impromptu appearance before the press that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
One might take this to mean that it could have been Barack Obama pounding that creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement, but we are hopefully willing to give him the benefit the doubt. It seems well within the realm of possibility that Obama’s only knowledge of the case has been gleaned from the more Obama-friendly media and is thus unaware of the eyewitness testimony and physical evidence that proved Martin was pounding Zimmerman’s head against the pavement at the time he was shot, or that Martin had described Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker” during a cell phone conversation shortly before the attack, or that Martin was a self-proclaimed “thug,” or that Zimmerman had once been a loyal Obama supporter. It is a sad state of affairs when the best one can hope for that the president simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but here we are.
There has been much speculation that the president is talking about the case in order to divert attention from a variety of other issues, including an Internal Revenue Service scandal that can now be traced to a presidential appointee, the continuing train wreck that is Obamacare, or the part-time economy it has spawned, or the bankruptcy of Detroit, or any of the several deteriorating situations abroad, or even the extraordinary number of young black men dying violent deaths in his old hometown, but once again we’re willing concede the possibility that Obama truly believes that Martin’s right to pound a creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement is of greater importance. Or perhaps he believes that his preferred solutions to all those other problems will be more easily imposed upon a country divided by race, and that frank talk about the racial aspects of such problems as the Detroit bankruptcy and all those murders in Chicago will lead conclusions he does not prefer. The theory that it’s all a diversion is more comforting, but not at all satisfying.

— Bud Norman

Another Day in Post-Racial America

The post-racial America that was promised with the election of President Barack Obama feels as racial as ever. The case of George Zimmerman, currently on trial in Florida on a charge of second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin, is an especially glaring example.
By now the facts are widely known. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community that had recently suffered a rash of burglaries and home invasions, shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin with a licensed handgun during a struggle that followed Zimmerman observing the unfamiliar teenager’s suspicious behavior and calling police to report it. Although Zimmerman has always admitted firing the fatal shot to Martin’s chest, he has contended from the outset that he acted in self-defense after being attacked and while fearing for his life. Eyewitness testimony introduced by the prosecution has described Martin on top of Zimmerman “raining down punches” during a struggle, which is corroborated by injuries found on Zimmerman immediately after the incident, and no evidence or testimony introduced during the trial contradicts the defendant’s story. During a rambling and illogical closing statement the prosecution nonetheless asserted that “Martin did nothing wrong,” and spent the rest of the lengthy oration conceding the legality of Zimmerman’s actions prior to the shooting but making appeals to the jury’s emotions.
The case would have never been brought to trial, as the investigating police officers recommended, if not for the fact that Martin is black and Zimmerman has a white-sounding name and enough white lineage that The New York Times and other news outlets were forced to create the previously unknown racial category of “white Hispanic” to describe him. These facts, which should be entirely irrelevant to the legal disposition of the matter, led to widespread protests and much media hysteria following the original police decision not to bring charges, and it was all based without a shrewd of evidence on the racist assumption that the “white” shooter had killed Martin because of a racial animus and that institutional racism was responsible for his freedom. It was the same sort of racial politics that had been at play in Tawana Brawley’s false charges of rape and kidnapping, the discredited charges of rape against the Duke University lacrosse team, a Mississippi teenager’s suicide that activists insisted was a lynching, and countless other real-life cases as well as the plot of Tom Wolfe’s masterpiece novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”
The protestors insisted that Martin was a peaceable lad who had been targeted merely because of his skin color and a “hoodie” sweatshirt that is apparently a uniform of the hip-hop sub-culture, the media usually chose to run pictures of Martin as an angelic-looking 12-year-old, and much emotion was invested in the narrative. NBC News aired a story with a tape of Zimmerman’s call to the police that was edited to make him sound racist, a “Million Hoodie March” drew participants around the country, countless people took to social media outlets to promise riots and the murder of Zimmerman in the case of an acquittal, and the President of the United States weighed in with the comment that “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Subsequent revelations that it was all a simplistic lie did little to cool the emotions. Friends of various ethnicities testified to the press about Zimmerman’s cordial and even close relationships with black people, while stories surfaced of Martin’s drug use and penchant for street fights. Sending “tweets” under the handle of “No_Limit_Nigga,” Martin joshed with a cousin about punching a bus driver, and more recent photographs — including one self-portrait of Trayvon defiantly blowing marijuana smoke at the camera — are probably not what the president had in mind he claimed a family resemblance.
None of which is necessarily relevant to the case, either, and a trial is supposed to focus the jury’s and the public’s attention on what is pertinent. Race issues proved inescapable in the media’s coverage, however, with all the predictable guilt-mongering appearing in countless commentaries. A witness who described being on the telephone with Martin until shortly before his death was inconsistent, curt, unable to read a letter she had signed because “I don’t read cursive,” insisted that Martin’s description of Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker” was not intended as a racial slur, and was clearly hostile to the court throughout her testimony, and because she was black several pundits propounded that anyone who noticed these things must be a racist. Other writers groused that the prosecution wasn’t emphasizing Zimmerman’s racial motives for the killing, as if he had any evidence to do so. The “tweets” threatening riots and revenge killings continued, although the president has lately been silent. A good story about a racist white man killing a young black choir boy has proved too appealing for mere facts to get in its way.
More frightening, though, is that so many people who will accept the facts as they have been shown in the courtroom and still feel justified in rioting or murder if Zimmerman is acquitted. A sizeable sub-culture of black youth, supported by a multi-billion dollar rap music industry and countless academicians and journalistic grandees, which Martin clearly claimed membership in, believes that any form of disrespect must be punished with severe violence. When Martin correctly perceived that Zimmerman had suspected him of potential misbehavior, the rules of the sub-culture dictate that he administer a beating on the “creepy-ass cracker” and Zimmerman therefore had no right defend himself with lethal force. Race might or might not have played some part in Zimmerman’s suspicions, and it might or might not have been reasonable if it if had, but the rules of the sub-culture insist on a presumption of racist motivation.
The consequences of an American court endorsing such rules would be catastrophic, of course, not matter how much it might satisfy the sub-culture’s sense of retributive justice. A conviction of Zimmerman should worry anyone who feels entitled to defend himself by any means possible if they find themselves in the all-too-possible position of being beneath a strapping young man and having his head slammed against the pavement, even in the all-too-possible case that it’s a strapping young black man, although we don’t worry that the people who feel this way will riot in the case of a conviction.

— Bud Norman

An Extraordinary Coincidence

Try as we might, we just can’t imagine how NBC might have accidentally edited the tape of George Zimmerman’s now famous 911 call on the night of the Trayvon Martin shooting into the version that it aired on the “Today Show” and other network programs.

In the actual call, which is widely available to anyone who wants to hear it, Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher that “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about.” The dispatcher then asks, “OK, and this guy — is he white, black or Hispanic?” Zimmerman then replies, “He looks black.”

The way that NBC’s viewers heard it, Zimmerman told the dispatcher that “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”

NBC has fired the unnamed producer responsible for the editing, but nonetheless insists that it was simply a honest mistake. That Zimmerman sounds far more racist in the edited version than in the actual call, network executives say, is just one of those unfortunate coincidences that will happen from time to time in the pursuit of the truth.

Maybe so, but it does seem a most extraordinary coincidence. Had the change occurred as a result of a simple slip of the finger on a machine or a glitch in the tape the call most likely would have wound up as “This guy looks like he’s up to black,” or “This guy looks like he’s raining,” or “It’s raining black,” or any of the many other incomprehensible possible outcomes. That it should accidentally result in the only possible elision that makes Zimmerman seem an unabashed racist, and fit so neatly into the version of the story that NBC and its affiliated networks have been presenting since the beginning of the controversy, does seem suspiciously convenient.

Readers of a certain age will recall the ridicule that was directed toward President Richard Nixon when he claimed that an 18-and-a-half minute gap in the Watergate tapes was caused by his secretary’s accidental switch of a button while transcribing the tape. The gap occurred just as a conversation between Nixon and his advisors was getting interesting, and some curious reporters found that the location of the tape machine and the typewriter being used for the transcription would have required some unusual contortions for the story to be true, so the incident did much to contribute to the public’s disbelief about Nixon’s honesty.

We doubt that NBC will be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny, however, nor that the network will endure the same public disdain that fell on Nixon. They’re not the Fox network, after all.

— Bud Norman

Seeking Justice, Not Revenge

All we know about the death of Trayvon Martin is what we read in the news, and much of what appears in the news often turns out to be wrong. The only pertinent facts known with any certainty are: That on Feb. 26 Martin was shot to death in Sanford, Fla., by a man named George Zimmerman; Martin was unarmed; Zimmerman was not arrested at the scene; and it was tragic.

These few facts clearly warrant an investigation by the proper local and state authorities, perhaps even federal law enforcement officials, and if the results of that investigation prove damning to Zimmerman he should answer to whatever charges are called for and face whatever punishment is proscribed by law. A lynch mob is not warranted, even by the additional facts that Martin was a young black man and Zimmerman is not.

Given the unhappy state of race relations in America, however, it was predictable that something akin to a lynch mob would develop. The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose incendiary rhetoric preceded the murderous pogrom in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section in 1991 and a fatal fire at a Harlem clothing store in 1995, has led rallies demanding an arrest and conviction. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has “tweeted” to his followers that “Soon and very soon, the law of retaliation may very well be applied,” adding that “You must get up and do it for yourself.” Taking the advice to heart, the New Black Panther Party has reportedly offered a $10,000 payment for the “capture” of Zimmerman. Anyone seeking to collect the reward can consult the “tweets” of filmmaker Spike Lee, who posted Zimmerman’s address and asked his followers to pass it along through the Internet. Several did, adding threats with explicitly racial language.

In each case the calls for revenge are couched as a demand for justice, but mobs and intimidation are never conducive to justice.

Justice can only be based on the truth, and at this point none of these men can possibly know all the relevant facts. The infamous Tawana Brawley hoax that Sharpton helped to perpetrate, the rush to convict the Duke University lacrosse team on rape charge that were later disproved, and countless other racially-charged controversies that turned out to be something very than what was originally reported should serve as caution against premature conclusions. Already stories are appearing the press that mention a witness who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, and physical evidence corroborating that the claim, as well as friends who vouch that Zimmerman had no animus toward any race and was on good terms with black family members. Even if true those stories don’t necessarily exonerate Zimmerman, but they could lead to a lesser charge than murder, and at this point it will take a courageous prosecutor to bring charges that fail to satisfy the growing mob.

Whatever happened in Sanford on Feb. 26, both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman deserve justice, the kind that comes from reason and the rule of law rather than the emotions of an angry mob. Let us hope that wiser leaders will seek to calm the situation rather than aggravate it.

— Bud Norman