Opportunity, Victim Blaming and the Murder of Trayvon Martin
Digest Columnist Imani Jackson is an award-winning journalist and mass communication graduate of Grambling State University. Currently a freelance writer, she served as editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite newspaper for two and a half years. Follow her @faithspeaks on Twitter.
Trayvon Martin did not commit suicide. George Zimmerman, a self-appointed community equilibrium enforcer, currently shielded from arrest by Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground Law, shot and killed him.
Since Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed pedestrian, lost his life to no fault of his, it is woefully unacceptable to identify with or espouse statements contrary to the facts.
That is largely why author, attorney and journalist Geraldo Rivera’s recent victim blaming spiel is so harmful.
“I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way,” Rivera said on Fox & Friends.
He followed up that statement and others, similar in nature, on Twitter.
“His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman,” Rivera tweeted.
One must wonder if these assertions came from a true desire to protect parents of “dark skinned” people like Rivera said or to revive his brand.
The name “Geraldo” trended instantly after his remarks went viral. Rivera continued to explain a connection that he made between hooded sweatshirts, gangsterism and death.
Other than being irresponsible, ill timed and insensitive, Rivera’s statements are not appropriate for Martin’s situation for more nuanced reasons than there are those who perpetuate Rivera’s line of thought.
It was raining on February 26. Anyone familiar with heat in the South, much less Florida’s muggy, humid precipitation, understands that a shield from the elements can make a walk more comfortable.
Then there are issues of freedom. What about the human right to walk around defenseless, and arrive to and from one’s destination regardless of an individual’s attire?
None of this played a role in Rivera’s logic. Apparently Martin was not racially aware enough. Because he was a black teen he should have so identified with the marginalization of his existence that he avoided protecting himself from rainfall because people might misperceive him as menacing.
Then there was The Blaze, radio personality Glenn Beck’s publication, which made unsubstantiated allusions to Martin being a criminal. Rather than accept that Martin’s death was hate based, some engage in all manners of subterfuge and victim blaming. It is all too familiar narrative, one that is not about just Rivera, Beck or the right.
Faulting the transgressed instead of the transgressor is all too prevalent in seemingly modern societies. This kind of thinking is a transfer of guilt. Whether Martin’s death is attributed to him, or women are told not to wear anything provocative because they might be raped, emphasis is placed on everyone but the aggressors—rapists, murderers.
Additionally, Zimmerman, whose background has been reported as white and also as Hispanic, does not warrant a get out of jail free card for killing a black boy because Zimmerman may or may not be brown.
Tragedies of this magnitude illuminate society’s aspiring saviors and its scourge. They prove the fallibility of people and systems. But, they are also teachable moments for people to identify with those who exist as the “other.”
When President Barack Obama said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin” at a press conference on Friday people everywhere were reminded that hate can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. Even the president, with all his exposure to power and privilege, knows the risks associated with being a person of color confronted with ignorance.
The public, too, knows the facts and wants justice, as a petition initiated by Martin’s family and hosted on change.org boasted nearly 2 million signatures at press time. Thousands in New York City wore hooded sweatshirts in solidarity at the Million Hoodie March Wednesday. Pastors boomed from pulpits last Sunday clothed in the same. People all over continue to post pictures all over social media wearing hooded sweatshirts asking if they look suspicious and reminding people of Trayvon Martin.
While loss brings out the loonies, it is also a time to pursue justice. We must push Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to repeal Stand Your Ground, and pressure Sanford police to arrest Zimmerman. He must be convicted for his crime, and to show that we will not continue to lose innocent black men.
As for opportunists and alienators, remember the true criminals.