[Update at end of post]
Imagine this scenario: a young man takes a short cut through a gated housing complex. He is observed by a lone neighbourhood watchman, who tracks him despite the emergency operator telling that this is not a good idea. Soon after, a concerned resident also calls the emergency operator and screams can be heard in the background. There is a gunshot. And then there is silence.
That, more or less, is the background to the Trayvon Martin case. But it was what happened next – or, rather, what did not happen – that has provoked anger among Florida’s African-American community. Because the body of Martin, who was unarmed, was left in the examiner’s office for three whole days before his parents were contacted. And George Zimmerman, who pulled the trigger, remains at large.
Worse, Zimmerman, who has claimed self defence despite clearly pursuing Martin, has not even been arrested. And news of the case might not have travelled far from Sanford had it not been for hosts at cable news network MSNBC, led by Al Sharpton, who now has a regular weekday slot there. Sharpton has locked on to the Trayvon Martin killing and confirmed “I intend to stay on it”.
He has been supported by Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell, who has passed severely adverse comment on the behaviour of the Sanford police, telling that there is “Evidence of a police cover-up”. Moreover, O’Donnell has drawn attention to what sounds like a racial slur uttered by Zimmerman before the shooting, which would be confirmation of hateful intent.
The year may be 2012, and there is an African-American President in the White House, but this event, the killing of an unarmed black teenager in a suburb in the South of the USA, together with the police’s disinterested attitude towards the deceased and their failure to arrest the man who pulled the trigger, awakens memories of an age that many might have thought had passed.
Al Sharpton’s description of the attitude many African-Americans face bears repetition: “It is an unbelievable burden, and hard to articulate, that you’re born automatically a suspect, and you have to operate and behave in a way that does not exacerbate or incite someone’s paranoia. We have come so far in this country that we can put a black man in the White House, but we can’t walk a black child down the neighborhood street to get a bag of Skittles”.
Because that is all that Trayvon Martin had to defend himself against a self appointed vigilante with a 9mm pistol – a bag of Skittles. Oh, and a can of ice tea.
[UPDATE 23 March 0945 hours: the Trayvon Martin case has reached the Daily Mail, where Lindsay Johns has penned an article titled "Wake up America! Justice must be done for Trayvon Martin". He covers the ground well, especially the controversial Florida "Stand your ground" law which enabled the killer to claim self-defence, especially as there were no witnesses at the scene.
What is less pleasant about this piece is the tone in some of the comments. But it is heartening to see the Mail using its undoubted influence to bring this case to a wider audience]