Notes From a Country Tearing Itself Apart: The Trayvon Martin Tipping Point

Originally published on

This country is boiling itself alive from the inside out. History will find the Trayvon Martin case to be the smoke that finally proved the existence of a long ignored blood-borne fire.

At the center of it all, a 17-year-old boy is dead.

The story goes that Martin was visiting relatives when he went out to the local convenience store for snacks. It was then that a volunteer neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, noticed Martin and called police. He reported to police that the boy looked suspicious and began to pursue him. After that, there are conflicting reports.

Some say Martin started the fight; others say it was Zimmerman who instigated. The only three things that are known for certain: Zimmerman was the only one armed, Martin is now dead, and because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows individuals to use force in self-defense, there have been no arrests.

By all accounts, Trayvon Martin was a normal American kid. He went to school, he liked sports, and he had a girlfriend. The national response to his shooting death however, has been anything but normal.

Nothing about this case, or the subsequent reaction, makes sense. Insanity billows from either side of whichever argument there is. Many protesting the injustice sound like blood-lusting maniacs, while those making counterarguments sound like unempathetic bigots. Few people, if any, sound remotely sensible.

People are blaming the victim, some are calling for mob justice, celebrities are putting hits out; police departments are being revealed as openly corrupt and could care less, while news organizations distort what little facts we have to better buttress their narratives; and all of this craziness is vomited forth, from the mouths of normally sensible people, citizens, public officials and politicians, in all non-ironic, concrete-faced seriousness.

How did we get here? What does all this mean?

This is the perfect storm, a long time coming. We have been heading down this road for quite a while now; the boil had been slow, but over the past four years it has built from a slow simmer to a bubbling affair of ignorance, fear, mistrust and paranoia.

Welcome to the post-racial America of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The Obama Effect

When Barack Obama was elected as the first black president of the United States, I remember warning two of my colleagues that the country would not be able to reconcile its differences so soon after a campaign filled with such vitriol. Racism, sexism and xenophobia had become the new “in-style” for the fashionable political junkie.

There was no gray area anymore, the country had been separated into stark contrasts and I didn’t see an end to the conflict anytime soon.

In 2008, the suggestion that the country would be ripped apart at its core was laughable, and the thought of violence spilling into the streets was a bit hyperbolic. But this was before the Tea Party Movement, before the Koran burnings, and before murdering an unarmed boy became an arguable crime.

When Obama was elected, two very important things happened: Many whites felt that minorities, specifically blacks, had “made it” and that racism was officially over; conversely minorities felt pressed to prove that racial disparity and discrimination still existed.

It can’t be expressed enough how tired many whites get with this whole “race thing.” To them, it had been settled long ago when the Civil Rights Act was signed, some go back even further and say racial tension should’ve ended with slavery’s dissolution. To them, the fact that a black man was now president meant that blacks should finally stop complaining. Now everyone had an equal opportunity, right? So when the conservative media establishment told them that Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the rich equaled wealth distribution, well that was the final straw.

Those racist West Virginia voters that came out in droves to switch from democrat to republican when Obama ran for president didn’t just die. They simply went into hiding, and when he won and began to govern, they awoke to a frighteningly alien world where a black man was in charge and suddenly ordering them to do “their share.” Thus, the Tea Party was born.

On the other side of the coin, blacks, like never before, became intent on convincing the world that things had not changed much,Tavis & Cornell following Obama’s election. African-American media personality Tavis Smiley made it his personal mission to remind everyone that “we still had more work to do.” Many members of the old civil rights guard, who perhaps felt slighted by Obama’s quick ascension to the top, took up arms. If they weren’t going to be the generation that gave us that great moment of electoral equality, then they could at least keep fighting the good fight. And many times that meant pointing out random, inconsequential racial slights, blowing them up to mega-proportions and marching, marching, marching. (Think the Don Imus fiasco, and the attempt to kill and bury the n-word.)

Obama’s campaign and eventual presidency was the catalyst that shoved race back into the forefront of American psychology. There was no hiding it any longer; it was up there giving the State of the Union address. He single-handedly divided the country’s opinion down economic lines, cultural lines, political lines, and especially racial lines.

To the country, he was either an excuse to forget racism, or a reason to keep fighting it. No, the gray area was gone. We are now a country of extremes. It would be the Trayvon Martin shooting that would make that clear.

Vigilantism As First Resort

On March 28, award-winning filmmaker and otherwise sensible human being, Spike Lee, apologized for retweeting an address that he thought was George Zimmerman’s. The Internet had driven itself into a DIY frenzy at the news that Zimmerman had not only avoided arrest, but that there were no plans for his detainment by Sanford police. The idea was to publish Zimmerman’s address and force him out of hiding.

The address however, turned out to be that of an elderly Florida couple. The harassment that followed forced them to flee their home. But this begs the question, what if it had been Zimmerman’s address? Was vigilantism really the best way to bring justice to vigilantism?

Did Spike Lee really, indirectly, just put a hit out on George Zimmerman? The answer of course is yes. The next question, of course is, What the Hell?

There is delirium afoot. Insanity is now snaking through our minds, looking for passageways for common sense to fall upon and constrict closed. And whether you believe black paranoia is warranted or not, you have to agree that when greivances are not taken seriously, the outcome can be scary. Because Spike Lee isn’t alone in his sudden onset of madness; no, not by a long shot.

The New Black Panther Party, for example, has put a $10,000 bounty, to have Zimmerman arrested and bought to the police. On March 20, a Washington Post Columnist Courtland Milloy asked why black fathers weren’t “taking up arms” in the wake of the Martin case.

He noted how during the 1960s, groups like the Deacons for Defense and Justice used their Second Amendment Rights to arm themselves against police brutality and misconduct. Milloy went on to ask why fathers weren’t taking similar stances today, possibly becoming the first media personality to call for the forming of a self-deputized, vigilante lynch mob.

Although he admits that Martin’s father is heading the charge, fighting for justice in the wake of his son’s death, Milloy’s reference to the Deacons feels odd in comparison. Martin’s father is doing the right thing by taking his fight to the airwaves, publicly criticizing and addressing the local police, and surrounding himself with as many high profile civil rights lawyers as possible. What more should be done?

On March 21, there was the Million Hoodie March in New York, there have been rallies, petitions have circulated online like viruses, but for many the old methods are not enough.

No, it appears now, more than ever, there rumbles an urgency to act in anger. Sure, there have been instances in the past such as the Los Angeles riots following the Rodney King verdict. But that was perpetrated by regular people, tired of feeling powerless against an often racially insensitive and dismissive society. But post-Trayvon, it’s now our celebrities, our journalists, and our social and political leaders who are stoking the fires. Rarely before has there been such a unified cry, not just for justice, but for violent retribution.

Dangers of Dismissive Apathy

Many believe the racial tension of the case hinges on Martin’s shooting, but that’s only half of the story. The other half deals with the apparent lackadaisical attitude displayed by the Sanford Police Department’s blundered investigation.

It is this listless approach to racially sensitive issues that acts as kindling to many of these wildfires; and it is perfectly indicative of a greater society that would sooner sweep such issues under a rug than openly admit they still exist.

From top to bottom, the investigation has been called “incompetent.” Walt Zalisko, the former Chief of Police in Oak Hill, Fla., during an interview on NewsNation with Tamron Hall, noted how it was the family’s attorney, not the police, who went through Trayvon’s phone to find the last call he’d made to his girlfriend before the shooting. Not only did the police not investigate this important clue at the time of the shooting, but when they did find out, they failed to follow up on it.

Zalisko also found it strange that the police didn’t charge Zimmerman right away, which is what central Florida has had a history of doing. For whatever reason, this case was treated differently, and the effects have been devastating to a black community that already distrusts the police. There are charges of police cover ups and misconduct driven by racial profiling.

Cable News CoverageBut rather than blame the department’s missteps on all-out racism, I believe the Sanford PD’s motivation has always been pure and unadulterated apathy.

They simply didn’t care.

I think that this is the prevailing sentiment for those, mostly conservative and white, outlets supporting Zimmerman. When the questions and concerns of racial profiling were bought up, it was as if you could hear the collective scraping of eyelids, as over a million people rolled their eyes. “Ugh, not race again?” You can almost hear them moan under their breaths, “Aren’t we over this, yet?” The Sanford police apparently thought so, and thought nothing of dismissing Zimmerman without charging him, patting him on the back, and sending him merrily on his way home.

Perhaps buoyed by their need to defend the Second Amendment friendly “Stand Your Ground” law, it was the conservative media that felt the need to go on the offensive for Zimmerman. FoxGeraldo Rivera News analyst Geraldo Rivera attempted to deflect blame from Zimmerman and placed it on the clothing Martin wore, specifically his hoodie.

The attacks against Trayvon didn’t end there. Martin’s parents blame the Sanford Police Department for leaking information about a suspension Trayvon had received from the Miami-Dade County school system. Trace amounts of marijuana had been found in a baggy inside of his book bag. Associated Press found that Trayvon did not have a juvenile offender record. Nonetheless, there was a real and unfortunate effort by some to paint Trayvon as a “thug” who had it coming.

Trayvon’s background quickly became an easy go-to rationalization for his killing. Soon the blame went from Trayvon to those covering the shooting, namely the black and liberal media. CNN’s Don Lemon felt compelled to go on air to respond to the wave of racist tweets he’d received for simply covering the incident.

He read one tweet that said, “Don Lemon, you are a racist. You are fixated on this one issue over and over. We want to hear the news, not your personal agenda. Go work for BET.”

A Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll released on April 6, found that the case splits the country down economic, age, and racial lines. For example, twice as many blacks and Hispanics as whites say race played a major role in the shooting death of Trayvon (73 to 36 percent). The Pew Research Center finds similar numbers, noting that blacks and democrats are much more likely to follow the story than whites or republicans. Also, Pew finds, whites and Republicans are much more likely to say there’s been too much coverage of the Trayvon case.

For them, this is just another example of how the liberal media and race-baiting social leaders are trying to interject race into a situation where it doesn’t belong.

What Does It All Mean?

So here we are. The world is watching as our country publicly rips itself apart like a wild dog, trying to tear free of a steel trap that’s anchored solidly to the ground. Where do we go from here?

There had been plans for the case to go before a grand jury on April 10, but that’s no loner guaranteed. Many experts now believe it may be impossible to get any type of conviction. The Federal government became involved when the shooting was thought to be a possible hate crime. But voice analysis of Zimmerman’s phone call may now refute that he said a racial epithet, which is what many Martin supporters thought they heard in the garbled 911 call.

Also impeding the case for a hate crime charge is the fact that the liberal-leaning news organization MSNBC was caught and later apologized for incorrectly editing the 911 call from Zimmerman. Initially, the news station aired the call with Zimmerman randomly proclaiming the race of the person he was following, leading listeners to believe Zimmerman’s motives were race based. MSNBC later admitted it had made a mistake, cutting a crucial part of the call. Apparently, the police dispatcher had asked Zimmerman Martin’s race. Zimmerman was only answering that question, aside from that he didn’t seem to bring up the young man’s race at all.

The shooting is becoming too big now. It’s everywhere and on everyone’s mind and tongues. There are a host of tribute videos, Mowhawk Gazthere’s even a tribute song called “Super Life” performed by Chaka Khan and featuring Eric Benet and Kelly Price, there are t-shirts, graffiti artwork, there’s a 4-minute film about the incident by artist Rob Roots, people are even getting pictures of Trayvon drawn into their hair.

There is no way we can sweep this one under the rug. This will not be like Sean Bell all over again.

And that should be scary. The community response to the aforementioned Sean Bell case was relatively localized, as was the response following the initial Rodney King verdict, the same goes for the Diallo shooting. It has been a long time since so many black people, from so many different cities, and from so many different walks of life have felt the same sense of anger and need for retribution.

If for some reason, Zimmerman is set free again, I fear the repercussions. We are all currently riding an insane amount of momentum and there is no turning back; the sides are chosen; the line is drawn in the sand; and there is no more gray area.

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