Monday, March 26, 2012

Groupthink and Unfashionable Facts

The current atmosphere surrounding the shooting of a Florida teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer is one of frightening groupthink and near hysterical self-serving bloodlust.

If you haven’t seen it plastered all over the news, on Feb. 26, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed self defense and the police did not charge him with any crime. News of this incident has sparked a nationwide outcry among black racial activists and their political allies. The Department of Justice has begun investigating the case and the chief of police of the town of Sanford, Florida has temporarily stepped down.

The narrative that popular sentiment promotes is that this is a case of racial profiling turning murderous. That a white (though later identified as a mixed-race Hispanic) man thought a black teenager was a criminal simply because he was black and murdered him after provoking an altercation.

Even assuming the worst of the case, that the shooter harbors racial prejudice and was acting completely irresponsibly when he followed Trayvon Martin, there is still not enough evidence to charge him with murder. Furthermore, there is yet to be convincing evidence that the authorities erred in the decision not to charge him with a crime in the first place.

“Hey, we’ve had a lot of break-ins in my neighborhood and there’s a real suspicious guy…” So begins George Zimmerman’s 911 call to police. Even if you believe that the call contains a muttered racial slur on the part of Zimmerman, the call is not a racist rant but a call from a concern citizen who sees activity he finds suspicious and then grows frustrated when the suspicious person moves to avoid detection.

Zimmerman describes Martin’s behavior before he’s fully aware of Martin’s race. During the call, he tells the 911 operator that the suspect is possibly under the influence of drugs and is holding something in his waistband. He reports that the subject is now staring at him and then confirms that the suspect is black.

It is true that Trayvon Martin did not have a gun and that Zimmerman followed him and was suspicious of him. It’s also true that Zimmerman, and not Martin, has a criminal record including a charge of assaulting an officer and at least one complaint of domestic violence.

But one critical aspect of the case is often overlooked and is essential to determining whether the shooter acted lawfully. That is: it has been reported that Zimmerman was on the ground screaming for help and being punched by Martin when the shooting occurred. So far nothing has shaken that assertion. It’s backed up by witnesses and appears to be corroborated by later 911 tapes of people who called after hearing the two men fighting outside.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for the keyboard commandos publishing Zimmerman’s home address and calling for his blood. But if Zimmerman was being beaten by Martin and was screaming for help, as witnesses appear to confirm, then there’s no case against Zimmerman at all, no matter what kind of jerk he might be.

Zimmerman was indeed advised not to pursue Martin by the police and it appears he ignored this advice since the two met up later. Zimmerman complains on his 911 call about Martin possibly getting away. It is after this remark that the alleged racial slur occurs. For some reason, this has been seized upon as reason to declare the shooting unlawful, but the point, while it certainly is a damaging display of poor character is true, wouldn’t change facts if he was indeed on the defensive when he shot Martin. At least one report indicates that after exchanging words, Zimmerman was heading back to his vehicle and was struck from behind.

But as is often the case, the mainstream media falls in line relatively quickly and sticks to a predictable narrative. In doing so, many facts get tossed quickly out the window. In the Sanford, Florida shooting, the media is in the mode of portraying Martin as nothing but an innocent victim and Zimmerman as a villainous, racist ogre. But the shooting has to be judged by the evidence of the shooting itself. The calls for Zimmerman’s arrest fly in the face of the basic facts of the case.

And sadly, so far, the Trayvon Martin case is just that: racial hysteria that is inflated into front-page news by an echo-chamber media too scared to look at facts and tell the hard truth.

1 comment:

Helen Griffin said...

AND--most of the media photo's of treyvon are of him as a sweet faced 12 year old--not the 6 foot 2 inch teen he is. (several inches taller than zimmerman, not several inches shorter)

Treyvon might not have been guilty of anything more than trespassing, but the coverage of the story has been biased and incomplete. Thank for adding more fact (vs hype) to the story.