Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tragedy Politicized

Recently, news outlets worldwide have been reporting the story of Trayvon Martin's tragic death. Martin, a 17 year old boy in Florida, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, the leader of a local neighborhood watch group.

According to reports, Zimmerman was driving around his gated community when spotting what he described as a suspicious person. He proceeded to call 911 and explain he would continue following the unidentified person despite being told it was not necessary. When police arrived, Martin was dead of a gunshot wound.

Martin was walking home from a convenient store with a bag of skittles and an iced tea when he was killed.

Florida law allows citizens to "stand their ground" if confronted by an assailant that means to do harm to them or another person, even authorizing deadly force. Because of this, the Sanford Police have yet to make no arrest, which touched off a flurry of protests from angry citizens. Zimmerman has yet to be charged, but a special state prosecutor has been appointed to investigate.

The whole scenario is sad and provokes serious questions about racial stereotypes, fairness, justice and types of protection citizens should have when faced with conflict.

Despite the important questions looming, society has done a disservice to both Trayvon Martin and nation. Politicians, the media, athletes and other talking heads have done so much to politicize Martin's death, that we are diminishing the personal tragedy.

President Barack Obama took time to weigh in on the subject, which felt more like a political statement than anything else. He remarked, “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin ... If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

What exactly is that supposed to mean? I understand the President probably felt obligated to comment on the incident, but are Trayvon Martin's family and friends really going to be comforted by that statement? That your son would look like him? And of course we expect justice to be done, that is what is expected of our government. The statement felt so forced, as if the president were in full re-election mode.

Martin's death has also spilled over into an unlikely arena -- professional sports. Professional basketball players from the Miami Heat organized a team photograph with heads bowed, and hoods covering their heads (Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt when killed). The photo was 'tweeted' by LeBron James and other players, who used the hashtag, "WeAreTrayvonMartin".

Other high profile NBA players, such as Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, wrote messages on their shoes proclaiming "I am Trayvon Martin".

Miami Heat tribute photograph
I have to disagree with their message in one regard. None of us is Trayvon Martin.

The message from pro athletes is the worst kind of 'slacktivism'. You write message on your shoes or take a picture, and demand justice. Then what? Will you continue this trend? And what if no arrests are made? What will you do then?

Even more insulting is the fact that these tragedies have stricken our nation for a long time now. Who mourns with the thousands parents of whose children didn't come home last year? Are you even attempting to sympathize, or is this about making yourself appear to be socially aware?

Any quick assessment of this situation shows it is not difficult to surmise that race was probably a factor in Martin's death. Martin was black, and wore a hooded sweatshirt while walking through a gated community. Racial stereotypes about black youths are believed to have been part of George Zimmerman's rationale to use his gun in killing Martin. Zimmerman is Hispanic.

The fact that Martin was black has attracted the attention of Al Sharpton, long time civil rights advocate and political commentator. However, Sharpton appears to be doing more damage than good. He was quoted as saying,
"We [African-Americans] are tired of going to jail for nothing and others going home for something." Would Sharpton be involved in clamoring for justice if the roles were reversed? What if a black man shot a Hispanic boy?

This shouldn't be about a black teenager -- it's about a teenager. Period. Any child, regardless of race, should be safe walking down the street.

Strangely, I think most of the public is missing the actual tragic part of this sad story. While politicians, athletes and activists attempt to see the bigger picture, they miss the simple truth that a 17 year old boy is dead.

Trayvon Martin was a son and a friend. If he was anything like most children his age, he probably liked sports and video games. He probably had dreams of becoming something big. His greatest concern might have been who to ask to prom. And we are left with the fact that this child probably spent his last few moments on this earth alone and afraid. His parents are somehow left to cope with what most of us consider unthinkable.

Put away the 'big picture' for just a moment. Ignore the news or celebrity tweets. And consider the personal. Society has lost perspective on life.

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