On February 26, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman near his home in Sanford, Florida. The 17-year-old, unarmed Martin was returning home after visiting a convenience store. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer claimed that he shot Martin in self-defense.
After Florida’s special prosecutor Angela Corey met with Martin’s parents she stated, “We did not promise them anything. In fact, we specifically talked about if criminal charges do not come out of this, what can we help you do to make sure your son’s death is not in vain?” On Wednesday (Apr. 12), Corey announced that she was charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder in Martin’s killing.
One of the shocking facts that began to push this story beyond local interest was the report that Martin was found carrying only a bag of candy and iced tea. At that moment, public outrage went from local protests to national interest. However, along with the audio of the 911 call made by Zimmerman, the public has only been exposed to a small sampling of the facts.
I carry no bias one way or the other. My only thought up to this point has been that the killing of an unarmed teen by a neighborhood watch citizen who was told not to approach Martin by a 911 dispatcher is appalling and demands investigation by the necessary authorities.
The reality is… there’s a lot we don’t know.
From an ethical standpoint, what concerns me is how much the media has played up this case. From the beginning, the public has been bombarded with all manner of speculation and opinion from legal experts, media and political pundits on both sides. In the last 45 days, they have fostered a considerable amount of prejudice for and against both George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, (depending on which cable channel or political side you watch or listen to).
Saddest of all is that due to the blatant politicization, the case has become less about Trayvon Martin and more about individual agendas.
The reality is… there’s a lot the media and the experts don’t know.
I too have doubts about Zimmerman’s motive and actions. However, doubt is not the same as prejudice, and this case is front-loaded with so much prejudice that objectivity has been lost in a sea of speculation, rumor and innuendo.
Unfortunately, that has not stopped Reverend Al Sharpton from loudly banging the drum of racial outrage that Zimmerman – characterized as “white Hispanic” by The New York Times – was not arrested shortly after the shooting. As Washington Postcolumnist Erik Wemple opines, “He’s only a ‘white Hispanic’ because they need the word ‘white’ to further the story line, which is, White, probably racist vigilante shoots an unarmed black kid.”
NBC’s Today show aired an edited version of George Zimmerman’s original 911 call after he spots what he believes is a suspicious Martin. The Associated Press reported that “The recording viewers heard was trimmed to suggest that Zimmerman volunteered to police, with no prompting, that Martin was black: ‘This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.’
“But the portion of the tape that was deleted had the 911 dispatcher asking Zimmerman if the person who had raised his suspicion was ‘black, white or Hispanic,’ to which Zimmerman responded, ‘He looks black.’ ”
It appears that one individual, perhaps more, at a major television network edited the tape to fit a preconceived notion that Zimmerman was racially profiling Martin. NBC officials wrote it off as “an error made in the production process that we deeply regret.” One or more individuals have been fired.
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas and Democratic strategist Bob Beckel seized upon the racial aspect in a USA Todaycolumn.
Beckel: “Did Zimmerman shoot Martin because Martin was black, wore a hooded sweatshirt and was walking through a gated neighborhood?”
Thomas: “Are you suggesting this was racial profiling?”
Beckel: “I certainly am.”
The reality is… none of these people know all the facts.
Then we have Illinois Representative Bobby Rush who went on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and, during an impassioned speech demanding an investigation into the teen’s death, removed his coat, pulled up a “hoodie,” and donned a pair of sunglasses to reinforce his point that we should not discriminate based on a choice of clothing.
The reality is, Class? He doesn’t know all of the facts.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department “will take appropriate action in the killing of Trayvon Martin if it finds evidence that a federal criminal civil rights crime has been committed.”
The key point Holder makes: “…if it finds evidence…”
As Zimmerman voluntarily surrendered to authorities, special prosecutor Angela Corey gave us the moment of rational clarity we all needed when she announced “We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition. We prosecute based on the facts of any given case as well as the laws of the state of Florida…. There is a reason why cases are tried in the court of law and not in the court of the public, and not by the media…”
While it’s important to acknowledge that a young, unarmed teen was tragically killed, in a search for the truth the ethical value of fairness compels all of us to remain open-minded and objective in looking at all the facts absent opinion, speculation, rumor and innuendo.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”