Trayvon Martin and the “Let’s Not Try This in the Media” Excuse
Today is the one year anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Despite all of the other subjects I regularly opine about, I have written very little about this case over the last year for both personal and professional reasons. One reason for this is because I felt that other writers or pundits had pefectly captured and expressed my sentiments. As a general principal I think it’s gauche to write about a tragedy just because it’s a trending subject unless you have something unique to contribute to the discourse. I read a lot of columns about Trayvon in the weeks after his death that seemed more about catching social commentary coattails than discussing the death of an innocent young man. Likely the most important reason I wrote very little about Trayvon Martin over the last year is because his murder strikes me as a cut and dry case. If you arm yourself and then proceed to pursue and confront a stranger who was minding his own business and that stranger ends up dead, you end up going to jail. It’s pretty simple. Despite the basic facts of this case over the last year I have noticed a particularly distasteful meme that has continued to linger amongst mostly conservative commentators about the Trayvon Martin case. The “Let’s not try this in the media” meme. And it’s time for that meme to be exposed for the lie that it is.
This meme takes many forms and has been uttered consistently by many conservative and liberatrian pundits since Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman. Here are the most reliable ones:
On the surface this appears to be a poised, rational way to discuss an event that only two people, Trayvon and George Zimmerman, were involved in. We DON’T know exactly what happned that night. We DO have a legal system that will investigate, try and hand down a judgement on this case. However, conservative commentators are simply stating the obvious in order to avoid or dismiss the real questions and challenges associated with discussing this very important case.
Those who are in the opinion media, like myself, are charged with offering informed opinions on all sorts of subjects that we may have no immediate expertise or intimate knowledge of. “What would you advise the Obama campaign to do after the Denver Debate?”; “Should Lance Armstrong admit that he was doping?”; “Will Chris Christie’s weight be a problem in his political future?” These are all normal questions that no pundit has an issue commenting on. I’ve yet to year anyone, on any network say “Well Lance Armstrong hasn’t been formally charged yet so let’s not try him in the media.” Yet somehow when it comes to Trayvon Martin many conservatives have suddenly become highly constrained in what they feel free to discuss. I’m not the only one to notice this, to paraprhase LZ Granderson from a series of debates about the Trayvon case with Will Cain on CNN
The “Let’s wait for all of the of facts” or “Let’s not try this in the media” “We weren’t there so I don’t know what to believe” meme exists as an obvious cop-out for conservative commentators. Many of them are afraid to give an opinion on this case because the facts are daming to George Zimmerman, but to acknowledge that Trayvon Martin was killed primarily because he was profiled by an over-eager Mall Cop looking to assert his authority goes against the very core principles that modern conservativism is propped up by. Namely, that racism exists but only has social, not economic or life and death consequences. That anyone has the right to own a gun regardless of their record of personal responsibility. Or that since black men are prone to violence and crime fear is always a justifiable default response. Expressing an opinion based on the facts at hand would require pundits to actually empathsize with an African American family, not in the abstract but in a visceral personal way. The violent deaths of African American children due to gun violence only matters to the Tea Party, or the Blaze, or Redstate, or Drudge Report, or Fox News, or the NRA when it can be used as a cudgel to hit Barack Obama with or as a segue into advocating less gun restrictions. Many of the consevative commentators that have spoken on Travyon Martin are men and women that have immense respect for in other areas of public discourse, but this shameful tip-toing needs to end. Dear conservative pundits, If you truly believe that George Zimmerman’s behavior was justified, discuss the facts known to the public and given an opinion, just like you would with any other subject. If you think he was wrong have the integrity to state that as well, even if it runs up against other beliefs that you hold dear. Nevertheless, clinging to the “We don’t know what happened” meme about Trayvon, and pretending that somehow commenting on this case is radically different from pontificating about Jerry Sandusky, O.J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Micheal Jackson, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, or Oscar Pistorius is not a sign of discretion or caution, but a questionable and cowardly abdication of the duties that go along with having a place in wider public discussion.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.