Full Disclosure: I started wearing hoodies in high school and they’ve been a staple part of my wardrobe since.
That’s not the only reason, of course, I was disturbed when Geraldo
Rivera suggested that Trayvon Martin’s attire was responsible for an armed neighborhood watch volunteer killing him.
Why is Geraldo even talking about the killing of Trayvon Martin? And why is a New York State Senator wearing a hoodie in the Senate chamber? (If he were cold, wouldn’t a Santorum style sweater vest be more appropriate?)
Putting on the hoodie is one way people have expressed their outrage with the killing of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old high school student in Sanford Florida, a month ago on February 26.
George Zimmerman, a zealous neighborhood watch volunteer who dreamed of becoming a police officer, saw the boy, judged him to be suspicious, called the police, ignored directions to leave him alone, assessed Martin as dangerous, and shot him to death. (Reports that Zimmerman says Martin hit him are just beginning to circulate.) Zimmerman claims self-defense, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which protects people who use force, even deadly force, when they are threatened.
There are a lot of stories here that will continue to unfold for a long time. The important one now is that there IS a national story. Martin’s death got little attention from the Sanford police, much less the national media, until activists were able to use social media to spread the story–emphasizing the George Zimmerman was not arrested, or even detained, by the police. Trayvon’s parents used change.org to circulate a petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. As I write, it bears well over two million signatures.
The petition, along with protests and the ensuing media coverage, kept the story alive, and preserved the possibility that something else might come out of the tragic shooting of a child. A month after the killing, there have been demonstrations across the United States, including virtually every large city in America. Activists used the tragedy as a piece of a much larger story about widespread social problems.
Parents of African American and Latino youth saw the killing as an instance of racism, recounting the detailed instructions they give their children in dealing with authorities, particularly police. “The rules,” one mother explained, mean knowing “who you are. You can’t do everything they do.”
Most of the stories emphasize the inherent dangers young black and Latino men face in dealing with police, who are armed and charged with facing dangerous situations. (As your friends about their stories of encounters with police.) But George Zimmerman wasn’t a police officer.
He was, however, armed. Another grievance is the easy availability of guns in the United States generally, and even moreso in Florida. Neighborhood watch patrols are normally equipped with flashlights and phones. George Zimmerman was carrying his own gun–legally. It’s doubtful that he would have pursued Martin without it. Certainly, he couldn’t have shot him. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the shooting demonstrates the need for gun control.
Zimmerman hasn’t, at this writing, been arrested, ostensibly protected by Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law. John F. Timoney, formerly Miami’s police chief, published a piece in the New York Times, explaining why he and other police chiefs opposed the law. Essentially, police officers can be trained and held accountable. There is supposed to be a formal investigation every time a police officer fires a weapon; why should there be less than this for someone who hasn’t been subject to training?
Activists are trying to bring meaning to a senseless tragedy. You know the story because they would not let it fade away. By itself, this is a victory of sorts. And it’s not enough.