by Liam White on Friday, April 20th, 2012
Hanging in the RedLine Gallery in Denver is a portrait, designed by art student Andy Bell, entitled, “Fear Itself.” The image depicts the face of George Zimmerman, a man charged with second degree murder as a result of his killing of 17-year old Trayvon Martin last month in what he claims was an act of self-defense. When Martin was killed, the teenager carried just two things: an Arizona ice tea and a bag of Skittles. Bell chose to use 12,000 skittles as his medium for the portrait to emphasize the country’s divide about a case that has left many offended, frightened, or both.
The facts about what occurred remain sketchy. What we know is that on February 26th, in Sanford, Florida, Zimmerman shot and killed Martin. Zimmerman claims he was attacked, yet several witnesses report that they heard a young boy crying for help. In fact, the whole situation could have been avoided had Zimmerman not intentionally followed Martin, whom he described to the police in a 911 call placed before the shooting as a “suspicious person.”
Zimmerman made this claim knowing just two concrete facts about the teenager he would soon kill: he was black and wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
Whether Zimmerman truly had reason to act in self-defense or not, the world has made him into the villain because of his assumption, based on appearances, that the boy he saw was a troublemaker, and his decision to lethally act on that assumption. After his call, the police told Zimmerman to back off and said that they would investigate any problem Martin may have caused. Yet Zimmerman continued to follow Martin.
What makes Zimmerman’s actions seem even more racist is that Trayvon Martin was not a big, intimidating figure. Despite perhaps standing a few inches taller than his killer, Martin weighed 20-30 pounds less than Zimmerman. The media has often juxtaposed Zimmerman’s brutish mug shot with a smiling, baby-faced Martin filling a slim body to make it very apparent that the killer’s prime reason to be suspicious of Martin was his race. In a country that remains very racially fragile, Zimmerman had already offended many when they simply heard the tape of his 911 call. The passage of events after that call that led to Trayvon Martin’s death make all the recent strides towards easing racial tension seem pointless.
Zimmerman’s plea that he is not guilty centers itself on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, currently in force in 21 states. In essence, the law says that if a person feels endangered in a public place, he or she may act with “deadly force” in self-defense. Zimmerman, with the approval of the Sanford Police Department, had previously given himself a role as head of the neighborhood watch, and he had a permit to carry a gun, despite some previous trouble with the law. Though he felt an obligation to protect his neighborhood, Zimmerman’s inability to intelligently determine who is a realistic threat, and his immediate escalation of the situation, are both sickening.
The anti-gun violence sign on the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park claims that 4024 children have died in gun related incidents since the 2010 congressional elections. One of those children was Trayvon Martin. His case is such a delicate topic for so many because its racial implications are so embarrassing for our country. In reality, Zimmerman is not alone. The majority of Americans are probably going to associate African Americans with violence more quickly than they link other races to negative occurrences. Unlike Zimmerman, however, they are able to move past that judgment, and realize the idiocy of deeply ingrained racial stereotypes that millions have worked to overcome.
Someday soon, you might drive by Tedeschi’s, and a black man, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, could walk out the door with a beverage and a bag of candies. With the Trayvon Martin case as a grim reminder, we can only hope that no one will prevent this man from getting home safely to enjoy his snack.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=3255