HOLD OFF ON THE SKITTLES, FOR NOW
My fellow political junkiesallow me to briefly stray from usual fare of R's vs. D's and delve a bit into a subject I've been knee deep in lately. A couple of weeks ago I was sent to Florida to, as the boss put it, "dig up something new" on the Trayvon Martin case - a daunting assignment since it's a story much of the media world had already thoroughly exposedor so we thought.
While we were successful in finding some undiscovered nuggets in the investigation, what I really determined after surveying the neighborhood at day and night, reading countless background reports and talking with neighbors is that.we got it WRONG!
Yes, egg-on-our-faces wrong. We the media. We the general public. We the newsmakers on Capitol Hill.
How? We assumed. Then we took those assumptions, mixed them in a bowl full of emotions, prejudices, bigotry and election-year politics and got what we have now: a pressure cooker ready to constantly boil over.
Let's start with the associations.
Case in point:
Friday, Malcolm X Elementary School in Washington DC decided to hold essentially a Trayvon Martin day. Students received bags of Skittles. Parents were encouraged to gulp down cold cans of Arizona Iced Tea. I'm not being glib. This is true. Really.
The school is technically calling it the "Let's Save Our Children" seminar to "allow this travesty to become a teachable moment in our community. This seminar will also act as a vehicle to establish partnerships between all community stakeholders."
It seems countless people instantly picked sideswhich are fine. We do it with sports/politics/reality TV.
But carrying 'We Are Trayvon' signs and donning hoodies or donating piles of money to the GZ Defense Fund were a bit presumptuous on most peoples' behalves. None of us knows what really happened that nightyet passionate arguing could break out in any office space or cul-de-sac if you voiced favor for the 'team' opposite your co-worker or neighbor.
The photos of the two were subject to completely different interpretation based on which ones hit your 'inbox' (or which ones the news chose to publish). The backgrounds of the two were challenged or dismissed based on one's own life experience. (Mind you, both had differences with the law over the years) The evidence was unknown yet we all seemed positive we could determine wound severity from some grainy surveillance video.
It was like a really bad game of Clue and none of us were going to win.Supposedly there was no doubt Trayvon Martin was the one yelling for help 14 times in 38 seconds. Then came the discovery papers last week and we learned neighbors say it was Zimmerman crying for help and that even Trayvon's father after listening to 6 different audio tapes, admitted it was not his son shouting for assistance.
Supposedly Zimmerman's injuries were superficial. Then we learn he suffered (although not requiring immediate hospitalization) a broken nose and serious cuts to the back of his head.
Supposedly officers gave Zimmerman a pass because he was 'white' and a neighborhood watch captain. Then we discover at least one officer felt Zimmerman should be charged with manslaughter and a special prosecutor with a highly-impressive record chose to charge him with the greater crime of 2nd degree murder.
Now, despite those accounts, reporters and supporters alike refuse to admit anything's been clarified though some would really just rather not admit they got it wrong.
That's the point. We don't know.
We don't know!
Yet we are almost all guilty of spreading half-truths and stirring the pot, even if unintentionally.
Finally, there's Washington. You show me a polarizing controversy and I'll show you a beltway full of politicos ready to take up verbal arms.
And of course, it also doesn't help race relations when the President of the United States says if he had a son he would "look like Trayvon." He added another ingredient to this culinary disaster.
Further, plenty of people in-the-know have told me we'd be naïve to think DC didn't have a heavy hand in the FBI's choice to open a civil rights investigation to determine if what George Zimmerman did was a hate crime. IE, the orders came from up high.
So what does this all boil down to? That's just it. Nobody knows. None of us were there in the dark, on that poorly-lit corner, in the rain, observing the struggle and none of us know if George Zimmerman profiled and pursued a young, black strangeror if Trayvon Martin jumped and battered a concerned resident.
The trial isn't likely to start until the spring of next year. There are mounds of evidence to be sorted through and multiple hearings to hold. That's a long time for unnecessary prognosticating and dividing. Until then, perhaps it's best for journalists to just share only what's responsible, citizens to think twice before choosing a side & for politicians to focus on budgets, infrastructure, energyanything other than the unfortunate death of a young man and the impending, life-changing trial of another.