HLN Contributor Jason Johnson reacts to the verdict in the trial of Michael Dunn for the killing of Jordan Davis and the attempted murder of three other passengers.
HLN Contributor Jason Johnson discusses the trial of Michael Dunn for the shooting death of Jordan Davis, the jury selection and the role of stand your ground in the defense.
One of the worst things that can ever happen to you in life is to meet a celebrity. Yes, there are those rare stories of friends meeting some celebrity who is very nice, or the urban legend about the charming superstar who pays for everyone’s dinner, but for the most part, the less you know the better. Celebrity works because we don’t know them personally, and don’t know anyone like them so their antics from the big screen to the small screen to drag racing in South Beach are just stories.
Celebrities are fun to talk about until the next distraction pops up. For many Americans, George Zimmerman IS a celebrity, which explains why he’s not only planning to do a pay-per-view boxing match with rapper DMX, but why this won’t be his last foray into public debasement.
I spent a great deal of time in and around the Zimmerman trial. I traveled to Sanford, Florida, met with Trayvon Martin’s parents, their attorney Benjamin Crump, met Zimmerman’s PR team and one of his criminal justice professors. I watched and covered about 90% of that trial from jury selection to the not-so-surprising-to-anyone-that-watched final verdict.
In other words, I got closer to Zimmerman than most other people ever have or would want to be. But most Americans never got that close to this trial. They watched highlights on the evening news and talked about it on social media, and that’s exactly what celebrity boxing promoter Brandon Feldman is banking on.
It’s been a little less than a year since the high-profile trial, and while Zimmerman’s name is uttered with disgust and hatred by many segments of the population, for a lot of Americans he’s “That guy who did that thing to that kid in Florida.” He’s blurred into Mike Tyson or Casey Anthony territory, his train-wreck, post-trial life and any desperate grabs for public attention are just accepted: It’s celebrity boxing now, but soon it’ll be a clothing line and next year a sex tape.
Most Americans have never dealt with a gun-toting neighborhood watch captain. Most Americans have never been racially profiled, harassed by store security, or attacked by a police officer or someone who thinks they are.
More importantly, most Americans have never lost a son, a younger brother, a classmate or a teammate to gun violence. To these people, Zimmerman is just a gun-toting Paul Blart from the “Mall Cop” movie who went too far and is using his celebrity to cash in on 15 minutes of fame.
Those future celebrity boxing viewers who don’t make a distinction between a man who killed a kid, and Mike Tyson or Justin Bieber are very lucky indeed. Lucky to have lived the kind of detached perfect lives where no one they know has ever been murdered, lost a child, sexually assaulted or hurt by a drunken driver. That’s what Feldman, the promoter, is banking on, that anyone can be a celebrity as long as there’s enough distance between them and the public.
Anyone with an ounce of decency and empathy knows full well that Zimmerman, DMX and celebrity boxing are at their core, cashing in on the shooting of a 17-year-old.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in America who don’t have decency and empathy. They will watch anything and anyone do anything so long as it is on television. And the fact that Zimmerman killed Martin makes him no different that Danny Bonaduce, Dustin Diamond or any other celebrity desperately trying to stay relevant.
The viewers of the celebrity boxing match can feel that way because they’ve never met a Zimmerman or anyone like him, and if they’re lucky, they never will.
This article originally appeared at Headline News.
HLN Contributor and Hiram College Professor Jason Johnson discusses President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address, and the Republican Response from Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Do you know what a “Skutnik” is? For most Americans, a “Skutnik” sounds like some type of woodland creature that lives beneath your home, or a Russian punk rock band.
But for a small number of people, “Skutnik” is an odd nickname that can proudly be embraced on one night of the year: the night of the president’s State of the Union address.
The name “Skutnik” comes from Lenny Skutnik, a government employee who became front page news in 1982 for an incredible act of heroism.
On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge in Washington, D.C., and fell into the freezing cold Potomac River. As rescue crews rushed to the scene to save the few survivors, one woman, Priscilla Tirado, was too weak to grab on to the ladder lowered from a rescue helicopter. Skutnik, in full site of shocked onlookers, stripped off his clothes, dove into the freezing river and rescued Tirado by bringing her back to shore.
President Ronald Reagan was so impressed by this act of heroism that he invited Skutnik and his wife to sit with the first lady at the State of the Union address a few weeks later. Thus, “Skutniks” — regular men and women who represent the best of ordinary America — were born.
Over the years, “Skutniks” have come to represent different themes or policies that presidents want to highlight during their State of the Union addresses. In 2000, for example, President Bill Clinton pointed out Tom Mauser, the father of a Columbine High School shooting victim to highlight the need for gun control. In 2003, President George W. Bush thanked Hermis Moutardier and Christina Jones, two airline attendants who foiled the infamous “Shoe Bomber” as he attempted to blow up American Airlines flight 63 on a trip from Paris to Miami. Bush then discussed the need for America to stay focused on the war on terror.
This year, President Barack Obama has a pretty long list of Skutniks to talk about during his speech:
- Jason Collins, 35, of Los Angeles, the first active NBA player to come out as gay
- Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman, life-saving hero and survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing
- Gary Bird, fire chief of the tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma
- Joey Hudy of Anthem, Arizona, who started earlier this month as Intel’s youngest intern and impressed Obama at the 2012 White House Science Fair with his “extreme marshmallow cannon“
- Kathy Hollowell-Makle, D.C. Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year
Leaked news reports already indicate that Obama will talk to the nation about income inequality in his speech on Tuesday, but from what his “Skutniks” suggest, he’ll make key points about gay rights, educating young people and the continuing war on terror.
On a night where all the focus is on which party claps for which policy, who looks bored and who acts foolish, it’s nice to know that there is always time to focus on ordinary Americans who are doing great things. Even if they have to have a funny nickname for a day.
This article originally appeared on Headline News.