“We are all Trayvon Martin,” read signs displayed at protests. Let’s take some time, like the jury in the George Zimmerman case, and by a careful examination of the evidence, determine if we really want to be like Trayvon Martin, or more to the point, if we would truly like our children to follow his example.
We tend to enlarge people in death beyond their stature in life. Faults and foibles are, if not exactly forgotten, swept under the rug in favor of remembering and lauding the good in them. For the most part, this is a benign, harmless practice. As Thomas Jefferson said, it does not pick anyone’s pocket or break their leg.
Combine it with politics, and particularly racial politics, however, it surely does the former and is likely to do the latter.
The verdict in the George Zimmerman trial had scarcely stopped echoing in the courtroom when Scheme Team lawyer Benjamin Crump compared Trayvon Martin to civil rights icons Emmitt Till and Medgar Evers:
Trayvon Martin will forever remain in the annals of history, next to Medgar Evers and Emmett Till as symbols for the fight for equal justice for all.
Crump was not alone. Elijah Anderson at The Denver Post wrote:
Martin, 17, became symbols of the unique challenges that have faced young black men in America.
At the Huffington Post, Keith A. Beauchamp wrote:
57 years after the murder of Emmett Louis Till, who would have thought that we would find ourselves once again confronted with the never healing sore of Injustice?
Just like many, I found out about the Trayvon Martin tragedy online after a good friend sent me an email, expressing his disappointment about how the case was being handled. As I learned more, I found myself struggling trying to hold back the transgenerational pain that exists in the depths of my soul.
At the Chicago NBC affiliate, Ronald Harris carried the same torch:
Chicago’s Emmett Till and his horrific murder by white men in the south in 1955 galvanized our nation. Now some see the shooting death of a Florida teen by a neighborhood watchman another turning point in American history.
This could possibly become the torchlight of young people ramping it up a bit to engage in activism that can bring about change,” said Ronald Harris, who heads the African American Male Resource Center at Chicago State University.
These are far from the only examples of those determined to elevate Trayvon Martin to the status of a civil rights icon.
Who were Till and Evers? Fourteen year-old Till was killed on August, 28, 1955 in Money, Mississippi after speaking with a white cashier. Her husband and half-brother kidnapped and brutally murdered him and were acquitted at trial, though they later admitted to kidnapping and killing Till. His death was in part, motivation to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The iconic 1987 documentary Eyes On The Prize, began with the story of Till.
US Army WWII veteran and NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was killed on June 12, 1963 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi by Byron De La Beckwith. Evers was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetary. De La Beckwith was prosecuted, but the all white jury deadlocked. Thirty years later, with new evidence, a jury convicted him and he died in prison in 2001 at the age of 80. Evers’ death inspired music, television programs and the 1996 movie Ghosts of Mississippi.
Till and Evers were legitimate, rather than manufactured, victims of racism. Till was truly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Evers died not only working for a living selling insurance, but working for the betterment of America. Till’s notoriety came as a result of his age, the particularly brutal manner of his murder, and the times. Evers served his nation honorably in war and in peace and died as a legitimate symbol of the equality he sought for all.
And then we have Trayvon Martin. Before I begin, let me remind all that race cards are not accepted at this Internet ATM. That Martin’s parents and friends wish to remember him for his good qualities is not only understandable and unremarkable, it should offend no one. That others should manipulate the memory of Martin to political, financial and racial ends is utterly wrong and reprehensible. Such manipulation soils and belittles the memory and legacy of Emmitt Till and Medgar Evers, and particularly Evers whose accomplishments as a man and American are unquestionable and worthy of praise and remembrance.
Let’s consider what the jury was never able to learn about Trayvon Martin, and what the media–with virtually no exceptions–refused to tell the American public. Teenagers are inexperienced and immature, impulsive and prone to act on their emotions rather than anticipating consequences. In these tendencies, Martin was much like all teenagers, but in many ways, he was very much unlike almost all teenagers.
Trayvon Martin did not live in a two-parent home. In fact, on the night he died, he was visiting not his father’s home, but his father who was living in the home of his current girlfriend. All available evidence suggests that Martin was often bounced between his father and mother and was sent to his father because his mother was having difficulty controlling him.
In fact, he was in Sanford due to a 10-day school suspension. While the defense was able to get his school records, they have not been generally released. However, we do know that this was not Martin’s first suspension from school. We also know that he had been caught vandalizing school property, and had been caught with a baggie containing marijuana residue. In addition, he was caught with jewelry taken in a burglary near his school, as well as a burglary tool. It does not take my more than three decades of police and education experience to surmise that Martin’s grades must have been poor indeed. Concerns other than academic achievement were his priority.
The Conservative Treehouse has done a great deal of the reporting that the media have studiously avoided. Through FOIA requests, they discovered that the chief of police of the Miami schools implemented a policy that “benefitted” Trayvon Martin, perhaps benefited him to death. Because black male students were committing so many crimes at school, the school district decided to change those statistics, not by doing anything to prevent or stop those crimes, but by reclassifying the crimes and not reporting them to police. In Martin’s case, possession of stolen property was magically transformed into “found property,” and the case was not referred to the police.
Relatively few students are ever suspended from school for any reason. Fewer still are suspended for 10 days. In virtually every school district, a ten-day suspension is the last step, the last disciplinary resort before full expulsion. In order to be suspended for ten days, multiple lesser disciplinary measures, including multiple shorter suspensions, are virtually always required. The only exceptions would be for offenses so serious that an immediate jump in the disciplinary ladder to a 10 day suspension is required.
There is substantial evidence of Martin’s drug use, much of it in his own words in his social media communications. Martin often wrote about his love of “blunts,” cheap cigars hollowed out and filled with marijuana. Photos of them even appeared in his communications. He often wrote about his appreciation for “Purple Lean” or “Drank,” a drug concoction made of sugary candy, a sweet drink, and Robitussin cough syrup. On the night he died, he had levels of THC—marijuana–in his blood sufficient to render him legally intoxicated in multiple states. Of course, any amount of marijuana in the blood was illegal in Florida.
There is also evidence that Martin tried to purchase blunts at the 7-11, and that he engaged three young men who happened to arrive at the store while he was there to buy some for him. Remember that it took Martin some 45 minutes to cover a distance he could have covered in a fraction of that time before being seen by Zimmerman. In addition, when he died, he was carrying two of the three ingredients of Purple Lean: Skittles and watermelon juice cocktail. This may have been a coincidence, but it’s a relevant coincidence.
Martin’s social media name–“Slimm@No Limit Nigga”–is also, taken with his on-line persona, suggestive of a young man trying to live the thug lifestyle with all of its negative and destructive connotations. Many of his communications were clearly disrespectful to women, photos displayed him wearing false gold teeth and displaying obscene gestures. There were photos of marijuana plants and probably the stolen jewelry he was caught with. There was even the photo of a hand holding a semiautomatic pistol. In fact, several of Martin’s communications revealed his attempts to obtain handguns–illegal for him due to his age–and even his father was apparently involved in that pursuit.
Martin also had an interest in fighting, which was clearly expressed in his communications. He wrote about engaging in a fight and learning the lessons he specifically applied in his attack on Zimmerman, and in another expressed his interest in punching people in the nose and making them bleed, which is precisely what he did to Zimmerman. Itonically, even his friends seemed to be trying to calm him down and call out his more outrageous comments and attitudes.
All of this provides, as prosecutor John Guy claimed of George Zimmerman, A window into the soul of Trayvon Martin. Considering only Martin’s multiple school suspensions, Martin was outside the mainstream of acceptable, legal behavior for teenagers. One might argue that at least some of the kids suspended from school are not necessarily criminals, and that their suspensions don’t necessarily reflect anti-social behavior elsewhere in their lives. Some might argue that bragging and foolish comments on social media aren’t unusual for teenage boys. To a limited extent they may be correct.
However, it has been my experience that by the time a teenager receives a 10 day suspension, drug use, crime and other problems are already deeply embedded in their character and behavior patterns and trouble at school are merely symptoms of a teenager on a steep downward path to jail or worse. This very much appears to have been the case with Trayvon Martin, who, in the year before his death, displayed all of these warning signs.
In many ways, Trayvon Martin was a tragedy looking for a place to happen. Many have claimed to have no idea why Martin attacked Zimmerman or why he didn’t simply go home in the ample time he had after losing Zimmerman in the rain and dark. There are a number of obvious possibilities suggested by Martin’s behavior and habits.
Those living the thug life style are characterized by taking immediate and raging offense at the most insignificant slight, real or imagined. Being observed by a “creepy-ass cracker” (please keep in mind that Rachel Jeantel’s credibility in making this assertion is shaky at best) would surely be more than sufficient provocation that would inevitably lead to violence, by a young man who had recently written about punching people in the nose and making them bleed.
Martin didn’t run from Zimmerman out of fear, but perhaps for a more obvious reason: he knew he had been smoking pot, and may have been carrying some. Seeing Zimmerman on the phone, he needed to get out of sight and throw away his stash. He kept his lighter, which was found in his clothing (he had no cigarettes).
In a recent interview, Jeantel claimed that Martin thought Zimmerman a police officer or security guard (interesting that she did not make this claim in court). If this is so, it makes his actions in laying in wait and attacking Zimmerman even more reckless and dangerous. Was he truly willing to ambush a police officer or security guard, or, discovering that Zimmerman wasn’t either of those things, did Martin see a green light for assault?
Granted, this is conjecture, but I’m not prosecuting Martin and have no need to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. Are these possibilities–there are surely more–truly improbable given the known facts?
Even putting aside the verdict, there can be no doubt that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman. Stunning him and knocking him to the ground, he pressed the attack, ruthlessly beating him for 45 seconds. It was this that directly led to his death, a death the result of lawful self-defense.
Ah, but Zimmerman was a racist! Not according to the FBI, which conducted an exhaustive investigation into that aspect of his character, finding just the opposite.
I have no need or desire to soil the memory of Trayvon Martin, but when many seek to elevate him to civil rights sainthood, his qualifications for that exalted moral station are legitimately a matter of public interest. Clearly, this case does not qualify as an example of racial discrimination. Morally and legally, it was a case of lawful self-defense, proved by the fullest exertions of the criminal justice system. Clearly, Trayvon Martin does not qualify as an example of exemplary character, purity and innocence. He was a young man on a self-destructive, dangerous path, a path that harmed him and others, and ultimately led him to his death.
What parent would want their son to emulate Trayvon Martin’s example? President Obama proclaimed that if he had a son, he’d look like Martin. Would Mr. Obama care to claim Martin’s attitudes and behavior as well?
To see the contrast with what Trayvon Martin was, and what he–and any young man–might be, consider this report of a 15 year-old boy, who with a friend, took the law into his own hands and was responsible for freeing a five year-old kidnap victim. Like George Zimmerman, he knew the police were involved, but he observed and acted, and saved a life. That’s a young man worthy of the praise of the NAACP or any group.
Trying to elevate this case and this unfortunate and tragic young man to the level of those genuinely deserving of praise and cultural remembrance does no one honor and exposes the base political and financial motivations of those that seek to manipulate history.
Regardless of whatever good qualities he might have possessed, the story of Trayvon Martin is properly remembered as a cautionary tale, an example of how not to live and what teenagers should not do.