Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
A public rushed to judgement the moment the 911 recording was released. But as details of the actual events leaked out, it appeared the outcry wasn't ever really about what happened between these two men in the first place. It was about the power of the symbols "white" versus "black". Loaded words. Words so loaded they're making some people do really rash things.
In the April 9th issue of Time Magazine, Joe Klein mentions that most African-Americans are shot by other African Americans. But that little factoid hasn't gotten much attention.
One week earlier, Time Magazine ran a commentary on Trayvon Martin's death by Touré entitled, "How to Stay Alive While Being Black." The article ran a photo of a much-younger smiling Trayvon with a caption stating he had gone out to buy Skittles when the shooting occurred. This is the same photo that much of the country saw in all initial stories about the shooting.
And here's the seven-year-old photo that ran everywhere of George Zimmerman, taken when he was booked on an assault-on-an-officer charge that was eventually dropped.
In a police video made public after the shooting, George Zimmerman is a much slimmer man today. He's also only five-foot nine-inches tall.
Matt Sedensky of the Associated Press quotes Betsi Grabe, a professor at Indiana University-Bloomington. She's an authority on how news images affect public opinion. "At the center of most stories we tell in our society, cross-culturally and across the centuries, is the struggle between good versus evil." She believes the media initially rushed to judgement and the photos that ran with the stories were a reflection of which character was perceived as victim and which one the aggressor.
Recent photos have been released of both men, showing a smiling Zimmerman in a jacket and tie and Martin with gold teeth and wearing a white sleeveless undershirt commonly referred to as a wifebeater. Not surprisingly, when those photos run, the slant of the stories portray Zimmerman as the victim.
Communities across the nation are rallying on behalf of Trayvon Martin. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, NAACP, and many others are demonstrating for the right of young black men to walk the streets without getting shot. Which is becoming increasingly more difficult in states like Florida with "Stand Your Ground" laws, which basically protect people who shoot others in self-defense anywhere they are allowed to be.
People across the country like Cleveland, Ohio, City Councilman Zack Reeds and Florida State Representative Alan Williams, donned hoodies to show their solidarity with Trayvon. They believe a person shouldn't be profiled just because of the clothes he's wearing. Famous people, like President Obama, have weighed in, saying that if he had a son he'd probably look like Trayvon. Filmmaker Spike Lee Tweeted what he thought was Zimmerman's address so that people could find him directly and do what to him, I shudder to think, but it wasn't his address. It was the address of an older couple that had no relation to the shooter. They had to flee their home for their own safety. Then Roseanne Barr did exactly the same thing. To the same elderly couple.
This crazy media circus isn't about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. It never was. It's about our role and the role of people like us in the world. It's about Us vs. Them. It's about symbols, perceptions, and posturing. It's politics. It's great drama.
And so, to you, the wordsmith, as you labor to create your characters, situations, and worlds. Your work is so much more than just words. It will be viewed by people who infuse it with their life experiences. Your characters' dialogue, physical descriptions, and actions could have the power to provoke primal responses in your reader. And if it's real-life, it probably should. Heady stuff.
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Kim Van Sickler