August 28, 2013

THROWDOWN THURSDAY: Taking Advantage of Tragedy

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After George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, it did not take long for numerous commentators to spin the story into a racial issue.  This should come as no surprise.  In an electronic age where information can travel across the globe in seconds, the first to editorialize an event can provide the lens through which the public also views it.  For those who wish to shape the national discourse, getting there first is more important than getting it right.  The truth often gets lost in the cacophony.

What does come as a surprise, however, is the reckless disregard for the truth displayed by those looking to use the death of a teenager as a soapbox for expounding their racial views.  Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado wrote that the case was “all about race” and that anyone who disagrees is “a liar or an idiot, or possibly both.” One commentator on MSNBC, whose parent company is being sued for editing 9-1-1 tapes to make it seem as if George Zimmerman had used the n-word, went so far as to say that the defense sought to portray George Zimmerman as a defender of “white womanhood.”  Seemingly in line with this mode of thinking, Professor Peniel E. Joseph of Tufts University compared the slaying of Trayvon Martin with that of Emmett Till, who was the victim of a racially motivated murder in the Jim Crow South for interacting with a white woman.

So how are the actions of George Zimmerman, a Hispanic resident of a multi-ethnic gated community and a registered member of a political party led by the first African-American President, related to the issue of white-on-black racism?

Do not bother looking to the facts for an answer. There is not one shred of concrete evidence thus far discovered — not one — that supports the notion that Zimmerman’s decision-making that night was motivated by race. Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who lead the shooting investigation, told the FBI: “Zimmerman’s actions were not based on Martin’s skin color” as part of a federal investigation that did not turn up any evidence of racial animus on the part of George Zimmerman.  Those who wish to inject race into this case are so quick to analogize the killing precisely because they know that a close examination of what actually happened does not support their theory.

For those who seem to always see issues through the prism of race, however, facts are mere obstacles to be distorted as necessary in order to reach a predetermined conclusion: America is a fundamentally racist society whose institutions perpetuate white supremacy. For proponents of this worldview, an analysis of almost any interaction between members of different races must occur through the framework of the oppressive nature of American society. For them, the killing of a black person by a non-black person must be racial, and thus deserving of more attention than the cases of the 54 people, mostly black men, who were shot dead in Chicago while the Zimmerman trial was ongoing, whose names most of us will never know.

Of course, some facts are easier to distort than others.  To support his conclusion that this case was “all about race,” Professor Campos had to describe Zimmerman — the child of a white father and Hispanic mother — as “more or less white.”  I guess that makes Barack Obama just another “more or less white” President of the United States.

For others, smaller distortions are not enough. After the jury’s verdict was made public, Jesse Jackson raised the possibility of boycotting Florida as an “apartheid state” for having a “stand your ground” law. Not only are such laws not unique to Florida, but “stand your ground” was not even the basis of the jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman. To compare this case with the evils of apartheid demeans those who put their safety and livelihoods on the line to fight actual apartheid. A man who grew up in a South that was segregated by law, Jesse Jackson must know that the analogy is fallacious.

No decent human being could possibly conclude that the death of Trayvon Martin was anything less than a horrendous tragedy. George Zimmerman is certainly no hero, having ignored the 9-1-1 dispatcher’s request that he not follow Trayvon Martin. Some feel that despite the jury’s verdict, justice was not done. Still, it would be an injustice to everyone involved in the case to turn this shooting into something it never was and is not now — proof that racism is alive and well in 21st century America.

Julius Kairey is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at jkairey@cornellsun.com. Always Right appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Julius Kairey