August 2, 2013
We as a nation can learn a lot from the Trayvon Martin case. The people of this nation think that this publicly televised murder trial is solely about race and the repercussions of racism. They think that this case is only about the plight of the minorities and the advantages of the majority. And though prejudices and race fueled this whole incident, this case is really about perspective.
One man’s perspective started this media circus. George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin when he saw the kid walking in his fairly affluent neighborhood dressed in a hoodie. He did not see a 17 year old kid walking from the store to his home. He did not see a person who had the right to walk on a public street without being harassed. Instead, Zimmerman saw a black man who looked suspicious and did not belong in that neighborhood. At first, Zimmerman did the right thing by calling the police for backup. But then, he ignored the advice of the 911 operator who told him not to pursue the “suspect”, and followed Martin. Zimmerman wanted to be a law enforcement officer, had applied for a position, but failed the test. He saw himself as hero that needed to protect the neighborhood. From his own viewpoint, Zimmerman was upholding the law by stopping a criminal from breaking it. Zimmerman’s perspective of himself put him in a volatile situation.
And, Trayvon Martin’s self image further exacerbated the situation. If Zimmerman’s retelling of the story is true, then Martin waited for him to get close and then jumped out and attacked him. Trayvon did not just see an overzealous man trying to do his job. He saw a racist security guard following him and nearly beat him to death by Zimmerman’s account. The observation of his more recent pictures prove that Trayvon may have thought himself to be a thug. In an internet search for pictures of the now deceased young man, one would find both the pictures that are portrayed in the news of a young innocent Trayvon Martin and pictures of an older child who had picked up some bad habits. Trayvon posted pictures of himself smoking, holding a gun, sporting a gold grill in his mouth, and flipping off the camera. And, if the blood and bruises on Zimmerman were caused by Martin, then Zimmerman had good cause to defend himself, even with deadly force.
However, this leads to one of the biggest, most misleading parts of perception in this matter, the portrayal of both Martin and Zimmerman in the media. Martin was shown to the world with doe eyes and a hoodie in a picture that was four years old, and Zimmerman was portrayed as a cold-blooded killer who murdered a child. But, at the time of this incident, Trayvon Martin was a 17 year old kid and had grown to be 6’2″. He was a boy in a man’s body and had a reputation of fighting amongst his peers. Though George Zimmerman did shoot and kill Trayvon Martin, he probably did not approach him with the intent to kill him. He was a nosy security guard who started an altercation that quickly rolled out of control.
The public perception of this case led Martin’s attorneys to try Zimmerman for a case that they could not win. The evidence that the prosecutors acquired should have merited a manslaughter charge, therefore Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder charge that he received. And once again, racial biases influenced perception. The majority sided with Zimmerman. Minorities empathized with Martin. Some people were so apalled by the way that the media handled this case that they donated money to Zimmerman to help with his legal fees. He shot a kid and made $2,000,000 because of it. An all-White jury found him “not guilty”, and Black people began rioting in the streets.
The Trayvon Martin case is a tragedy, but it is also a vehicle of change. It showed how a stereotype can be wildly inflammatory, it showed how two people’s perceptions of themselves led them down a horrible path in this specific situation and altered their lives, it shows how public perception can be manipulated, and it shows how misconception can lead to bad choices. The Trayvon Martin case allows us to look at our own prejudices and gives us all an opportunity to reflect on what perceptions are driving our decisions.