By Susan Kemp
I’ll be honest. I hadn’t really thought long and hard about my stance on the Trayvon Martin case until earlier this week.
It’s almost as if this very commitment toward following the news is what spurred my inability to connect with the case. I remember following the Victoria Lindsay trial in 2008, a case where a group of Florida cheerleaders invited a classmate over, only to beat her up.
The media took two primary angles in the Lindsay trial: the fact that the assault was recorded (which started spin-off commentaries on the dangers of social media, the victim’s mom saying that “MySpace is the devil”).
And then, of course, there was the hype of a potential life sentence for the eight teenage girls. As it turns out: the video was never actually uploaded on MySpace or YouTube and the only girl sentenced to jail time received a whopping 15 days.
I think these high-profile cases make me feel emotionally duped, lied to and manipulated. It happens again and again. A year-and-a-half after Tyler Clementi committed suicide, we’re finally understanding a bit more about what happened, largely thanks to a 14-page feature in the New Yorker. Even in a case that seemed open and shut, there are things I know I judged too quickly, like how co-defendant Molly Wei, as it turns out, really was only minimally involvement.
It’s a bit of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” principle. I can no longer expect early media responses to be honest. Initial accounts in the Martin case, including the police report, noted bruises and blood on Zimmerman’s face, which support his testimony that he acted in self-defense. But a video released by ABC the same day shows Zimmerman taken into custody with what appears to be no bruises, and definitely without the broken nose his lawyer claimed.
And to be honest, back in February, that’s where my brain stopped. For me, it was another instance of, “What do we really know for sure?”
I’m not sure if what I feel in response to the immediate media frenzy of these high-profile cases is apathy or something else. What it is, as close as I can explain it, is an aversion to becoming emotionally invested, only to realize I bit hard onto some half-truth. And this kind of hype is toxic. It makes people hate. It even makes people kill.
I read an article yesterday about a 15-year-old from Illinois who attacked a white man in the park, then told police he acted in response to what happened to Martin. And it hasn’t been the only violent reaction.
But let’s not derail. It probably seems by now that my point lies here: don’t be fast to react. Withhold judgment.
That’s not my point at all. My point is that I was wrong.
I was wrong to not think about the implications for this long.
And it wasn’t even the Twitter frenzy after Zimmerman’s release from prison on $150,000 bail that made me rethink this, but something a little more local: the way the Tybee Orange Crush fiasco last weekend suddenly became about race.
If you missed the now famous viral video, Orange Crush is an event that 20 years ago was directly affiliated with Savannah State, but has continued unofficially ever since. The beach was left in total disarray, and somehow the comments on videos and blogs went from enviro-friendly dismay to invoking what Obama’s kids would do and exactly who started slavery in America. And these are just the non-explicit comments in response to an article by the Savannah Morning News. Unmonitored sources got much more vulgar.
And the point is not that I, or anyone else who viewed the racial backlash, was surprised. I hate that I’m not surprised. The point is that if young adults can get racially profiled because of a beach party, how naïve are we to think this discrimination doesn’t bleed into larger social issues? It’s almost silly to propose otherwise.
It’s because we’re a multicultural city that we should care that it took 45 days for Zimmerman to be formally charged. It’s because a law in Florida has the potential for some scary implications that it’s important this case goes to trial. It’s because we live in a country where teenagers have to feel self-conscious about appearing threatening, that we absolutely need to have this discussion.
The thing about “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is that his tales were all lies. The parallel falls apart there, because racism is still a disturbing reality.
We can’t let our exposure to racism make us blasé.
Double Take is a weekly column re-evaluating issues that affect college-aged students.Contact Susan Kemp.