NOTE: I started this post Tuesday night.
Today I observed headlines about Trayvon Martin’s school disciplinary record, his mother’s desire to trademark a phrase using his name and a photo of someone first reported on social media sites (inaccurately) as Martin flashing an obscene gesture at the camera.
Martin’s cause celebre in the wake of his Feb. 26 shooting death has illuminated a scary reality in our 21st century world. No, it’s not that racism lives and breathes in America. Everyone who is honest with themselves knows this.
It’s that our need, as a society, for spectacle and our desire to try cases in the court of public opinion, often with limited facts available, has surpassed our willingness to allow cases to play out in the court of law. And more disturbing, Martin’s death has shown just how easy it is to manipulate public sentiment, particularly with the rise of social media.
For instance, news of Martin’s school suspensions has as little to do with the events of Feb. 26 as the widely circulated picture of his shooter George Zimmerman in what appears to be an orange jail jumpsuit. Don’t get me started about the photo of someone other than Martin raising his middle fingers at the camera. Even if the picture depicted Martin, would that make a difference?
Martin’s case is far from the first to push the limits of media saturation and it won’t be the last. What is unique about his death and the outrage that followed is it appears to provide an examination of race in America in 140 characters or less. That is how this case differs from, say, the Casey Anthony murder trial that received obscene amounts of media coverage a few short months ago.
Bear with me ….