Weekend Reads: Trayvon Martin Edition

Geraldo Rivera made a truly catastrophic appearance on Fox & Friends last week, when the man famous for finding bupkis in Al Capone’s vault felt the need to weigh in on the most tempestuous news story of the moment. When asked about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Rivera launched into a tirade denouncing the malevolent force that caused Martin’s death. He wasn’t referring to the actual shooter, George Zimmerman, who gunned down the unarmed black youth, but instead blamed hooded sweatshirts for Martin’s passing.

Rivera made the rather case that Trayvon was a “gangsta wannabe,” pointing out that “everyone that ever stuck up a convenience store” was wearing a hoodie. Even though Rivera subsequently apologized (if you want to call it that) for his call for young black men to accede to racial profiling, his stupefying comments became a key talking point for conservative pundits, Zimmerman’s staunchest defenders. You don’t wear a hoodie, the reasoning goes, unless you want to be considered a “gangsta.” Certainly there aren’t any troubling implications to that line of reasoning.

It seems that the central rationale of the now-infamous hoodie argument is the idea that, if the public understands Martin as having “asked for it,” rather than having been the victim of an attack from a prejudiced quasi-vigilante, the affair will not raise any troubling questions about gun ownership, concealed firearms, and the sort of “self-protection” so cherished by gun enthusiasts. Those who are primarily motivated by a desire for unhindered gun ownership must, in particular, find a way to show that the events of February 26 do not throw into question Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, which essentially gives civilians the right to deadly force against anyone they can prove they felt threatened by. For gun enthusiasts, Zimmerman must have been defending himself, an idea that becomes a lot easier to accept if we start from the proposition that Martin was a dangerous character.

As one might expect, drugs have played a central role in portrayals of Trayvon Martin as a thug. The accusations regarding Martin’s familiarity with drugs stem from a report, leaked from an unknown source, that, at the time of his shooting, Martin was on a ten day suspension from school for having been in possession of an empty sandwich bag containing trace amounts of marijuana. The very discussion of Martin’s suspension has incensed his mother, Sybrina Fulton, who powerfully declared that Zimmerman’s defenders “killed my son and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” While one might be tempted to characterize Ms. Fulton in engaging in a bit of emotion driven, though understandable, hyperbole, she seems not to be exaggerating in the slightest. The introduction of Trayvon’s drug-related suspension has played into a concerted effort at character assassination that plays up both insidious racial stereotypes and continued anxieties pertaining to the ongoing flailing War on Drugs. 

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