Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Strange Case of Trayvon Martin

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Racial-Relations Regression

The Trayvon Martin tragedy, by the time the entire process is played out, will reflect poorly on lots of people and groups, who in mob-like fashion have weighed in before all the facts in the case are fully aired. We have reached the nadir when the civil-rights community decries the release of further pertinent information about Mr. Martin as gratuitously defaming the deceased — with the implicit understanding that incomplete and leaked information so far has been welcomed if it reflected poorly on the alleged perpetrator.

The narrative of the shooting unfortunately changes every 24 hours, which suggests the media saw a preliminary narrative it liked and then adorned it in a manner to ensure sensationalism and polarization. Now as the collective fit subsides, the vigilante becomes a neighborhood watch designee; the German-named, white racist shooter is found to be half-Hispanic with plenty of friends of all races; Trayvon Martin is not, as his widely-circulated photo suggests, a pre-teen with an unblemished school record, but a 6 foot, 2 inch 17-year old who was currently on school suspension, with some evidence of possible past drug possession and assorted disciplinary problems.

The anguished cry for help from a gunned-down victim may turn out to be the assailant’s own call, as he was pounded to the pavement. No one can quite figure out whether Mr. Zimmerman actually chased Mr. Martin; or if so, how he caught someone younger and in apparent better shape; or whether both or neither ever ran at all; or who said what or hit the other first. The supposedly racist police may well have collated eyewitness accounts, reviewed the injuries of Mr. Zimmerman, reexamined Florida law, and had cause not to charge the shooter.

The point in all of these changing narratives is that not only do we not have all the facts, but we are certain that the “facts” we currently have will be different within 24 hours, which is why it was wise to turn the matter over to state authorities for complete review of the original decisions.

The media cannot explain why in this particular case some outlets have adopted the new rubric “white Hispanic” — what is the reasoning behind that, and why all of a sudden now? Nor can it explain why it continues to run photos that give readers the impression that Mr. Martin was a pre-teen middle schooler, when a recent photo is accessible.

The president cannot explain by which criteria he chooses to weigh in on controversial local issues, since to do so by definition makes them “teachable moments” and thus prompts the question: why this case (e.g., or a Gates or Fluke incident), and not others? Fairly or not, by now the president, through his past selective editorializing, has lost a great deal of credibility as a national healer.

While it is natural that African-American activists need answers as to why the armed assailant Mr. Zimmerman was not charged in the shooting, they also cannot explain why their attention is not in commensurate fashion focused on the far greater number of young black males gunned down, many just last week in Chicago, by other black males. Nor can they explain to the non-African-American community why the far greater instances of black-on-white violent crime supports any such notion of a supposed war on young black males.

The net result of the demagoguery will be more racial polarization, as African-Americans believe that young black males are unfairly stereotyped by society and treated less fairly by police, while non-African-Americans will only be further convinced that the African-American leadership is not concerned with the vastly inordinate rates of black violent crime, given the small percentage of the African-American community within the general population, much less the much higher rates of black-on-white crime — and as both sides argue either for more money to be invested in social programs, or that too much has already been spent in counter-productive fashion.

So far all that is clear is that there is a growing anger among African-Americans about a failure to immediately arrest the shooter that in turn is provoking an even greater backlash against the antics of Al Sharpton, the creepy bounty offered by the New Black Panther Party, and others who inflame for their own careerist advantage, and no one — not the president, not the media, not the civil rights leadership, not the politicians — seems willing or able to call for a time-out until all the facts are reviewed and released. We have collectively regressed to the days of Rodney King and the L.A. riots and the O. J. Simpson trial — or to something far worse. Hope and change came and went.

Tom Wolfe, Where Are You?

The Trayvon Martin tragedy keeps becoming more Orwellian and the facts of what actually happened that sad evening even more remote.

In this unhinged culture of instantaneous imagery and obsessions with race, we can distort reality quite easily: In one scenario, a young, almost baby-faced Trayvon Martin’s photo (that so struck President Obama) is juxtaposed with George Zimmerman’s mug shot, where he looks sinister, sullen, and quite white, and in jail orange. Supporters of the idea that Martin was murdered prefer this imagery of Martin as pre-teen and Zimmerman as a jailbird.

Or, alternatively, one can choose to print a different pair of photos: a more recent picture of a mature Trayvon Martin in hoodie paralleled with George Zimmerman, with neatly trimmed beard and mustache, smiling in suit and tie, and appearing in some sense more identifiably Latino. Supporters of the idea that Zimmerman acted in self-defense prefer photos of either a Martin hooded or with gold-plated teeth and tattoos, with Zimmerman appearing as an upbeat businessman of some sort.

After demonizing Zimmerman for a week as an unhinged white racist wannabe vigilante, Sharpton, Jackson, et al., are upset that the tables are turning and Martin is emerging not quite as a model pre-teen, Skittle-eating student with a slight truancy problem, but as a 6 foot 2 inch teen with troubled Twitter allusions to criminal activity, an obscene n-word Twitter ID, and suspensions entailing possible drug use and theft. Either such past information is irrelevant for both parties or it is useful in trying to reconstruct their behaviors on the night of the shooting — but either way it should be equitably applied to both.

Finally, how absolutely insane American has become: The mainstream media both wishes to portray Martin as the innocent-looking pre-teen of his old photo even as the rarer appearing, politically-incorrect hoodie picture resonates far more with Martin’s supporters; had Zimmerman just used his mother’s maiden name, much of the current outrage would have dissipated; the country beats itself up over whether Zimmerman may have used a racial epithet — even as Twitter messages are released of Martin self-identifying himself with the n-word; Martin’s mother is worried about publicity warping the name of her deceased son even as she seeks proprietary merchandising rights to it; Al Sharpton by day agitates and demagogues and, by evening, reports on Al Sharpton agitating and demagoguing for MSNBC — and on and on and on.

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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