Travyon Martin: A Year Later

[CN: violence, racism, discussion of an autopsy report]

I was planning on writing about Trayvon Martin on the anniversary of his murder, and it’s ended up being two different posts. As with most crimes, as time goes on and the media tells us of new stories we should be thinking about, victims and details fade from our minds. In some ways, it’s how we are able to function as humans: we move on. But some stories we should not forget, especially when the crime itself is a symptom of bigger problems our country is dealing with. Trayvon Martin is still very relevant. From gun control to race relations, his death reflects much of what we are still getting wrong. I watched Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s parents, on CNN last night. It was a moving interview:

We (want to) make sure that no other parents have to go through what we have gone through in the last year.

No parent should ever have to bury their child. And no one should ever have to lose a loved one due to gun violence. In preparing to write this, I also did a Google search and found some articles on the case. My search unfortunately led me to other stories on Trayvon. A few, more than I could stomach to keep looking at, were written to show him as a “thug.” Apparently a kid who has gotten into trouble deserves to be gunned down by these bigots. These bloggers shared pictures of Trayvon giving the finger, another with his shirt off (This was later proved not to actually be Trayvon, the first is still questionable. However the pictures are still up, no updates saying the blogs got it wrong.). As if to suppose that at seventeen, the fact he was physically fit was wrong, that it was threatening. Or that him giving the finger was proof he was in a gang. These assumptions aren’t just ridiculous, they are dangerous and causing black youth to be seen as a threat. Young black men specifically are finding themselves victim of the white man’s fear. I’ve had pictures taken of me giving the finger, I have pictures of plenty of friends doing so. Hell, Jennifer Lawrence was even snapped giving it after she won an Oscar. So, does that mean Jennifer Lawrence is a gangbanger? Give me a break.

It’s pointless to link to the various blogs that attempted to portray Trayvon Martin as nothing more than a criminal, as if that even justifies being murdered. They apparently don’t know how to fact-check, or to apologize when they’ve gotten it all wrong. However, because I like to do things right, I must link to the one I have found most offensive. A quick peek at their post for today tells you most of what you need to know. One year later, and they are still claiming “fraud” (Tell me, did activists organize Trayvon’s death so they could stir up a movement and monetize off of this?) and declare we are all sheep for believing the Photoshopped picture of Trayvon (Because when you make a photograph into a poster or shirt, you never use Photoshop and the prints are always identical to the photograph, right?). They must have, as Rush Limbaugh would say, had an orgasm over the opportunity to get away with posting the “N” word under a picture of President Obama. The racist tones of these blogs come through quite clearly. In a post from May 2012, The Last Refuge actually states that “teenage boys, especially those from within Trayvon’s cultural demographic, are not known for their temperance, much less ‘keep[ing] a wide safety margin.'” So since he was a black teenager, clearly we know he was angry, violent, and out of control. Because he was black.

These blogs also included screenshots of Trayvon’s supposed Facebook profile with further claims that he was a drug dealer. I was unable to verify the legitimacy of the the photos, let alone anything regarding drug dealing. Let’s suppose they are real though. From what I saw there, the point that he was a heavy drug user and dealer was far from proven. I have cousins and other family members that are in their mid to late teens. They all, at one time or another, have written something foolish, shared a picture they probably shouldn’t have, etc. My point? Kids do stupid things at times. We all have. The difference is when we were kids, only those in ear-shot heard or saw our poor choices. Some had consequences, but not every misstep we took had lasting repercussions. Today, every bad decision is recorded on social media and cellphones. I know my family members, I see their online presence and cringe at times. I see them in real life and they are good, decent kids, facing the same hard choices and struggles I did. Sometimes that includes a fight, drinking, or yes, even drugs. Very few get through adolescence without trying at least a cigarette. So telling me Trayvon maybe mentioned “lean” or any other drug-use on his Facebook really doesn’t shock me. And remember this too, kids are always wanting to appear cooler and more badass, social media makes this easy by way of status updates and pictures. Again, as Robert Mackey wrote, these bloggers simply “cherry-picked” what they chose to share from social media. And the bottom line is had Trayvon been white, we wouldn’t be having any of these discussions.

One somewhat helpful link I found in these blogs, was that of Trayvon Martin’s autopsy report. Reading the report myself proved a couple of things. For one, many of these bloggers were claiming Trayvon was found with various amounts of money; further evidence that he was a drug dealer, I guess. He had ten cents in his pocket. Ten cents. He was a kid. The medical examiner determined he was shot at a range of one to 18 inches away. I’m not here to list all the reasons why Zimmerman’s story doesn’t add up, or at the very least what he should have done, so I’ll just leave that tidbit there with no further comment. Reading the report was difficult, knowing this was someone’s son and in particular, getting to the part where his father identified him. No parent should ever have to go through that, and gun violence is ever-present in the news. How many other parents have had to identify their babies in the past twelve months since Trayvon’s parents had to?

The last chunk of information, the point that many of these bloggers were screaming at, was the amount of THC, or marijuana, found in Trayvon’s system. Sure, to someone hoping to scandalize it, any amount would be worthy of bold print. However, if they dug even a bit further in their accusation, they might have realized this, from Huffington Post:

Martin’s autopsy indicated that medical examiners found THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, when they tested Martin’s blood and urine. The amount described in the autopsy report is such a low level that it would have played no role in Martin’s behavior, said Larry Kobilinsky, a professor of forensic science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“This kind of level can be seen days after somebody smokes,” Kobilinsky said. “If it comes up in the case, I would be surprised. It wouldn’t benefit the defense, it wouldn’t benefit the prosecution, and if the defense tried to bring it up, the judge would keep it out.”

So the big “he was a drug user and dealer” point is further knocked down. Trayvon used drugs, at least at some point he did consume marijuana. Maybe he even used drugs most of the time. Maybe he purchased skittles and Arizona Watermelon to get high with some cough syrup that very night. Maybe he was stoned that night. Maybe he even sold drugs. But how does that make his death acceptable? These bloggers are trying to justify Trayvon’s murder. Let’s remember, he did not have a single weapon on him. Not a gun. Not a knife. Trayvon Martin was unarmed. He did not have any drugs on him. Not a joint. Not a dimebag. Not a fat wad of cash. This was not a drug deal gone wrong. This had not a damn thing to do with the fact that maybe Trayvon sold or used drugs. On that night, he was just a teenager, with some candy and a cold beverage, on his way home. None of this needed to happen. There is no justifiable explanation for his death. Trayvon Martin should still be alive today. He should have celebrated his 18th birthday this month. His parents should’ve had the opportunity to help him pick out a suit for his graduation and prom this June. Instead, they had to pick one out for his funeral.

If these bloggers felt this case was cut and dry, that he was shot for reasons of self-defense, there’d be no story. They wouldn’t have to tear down Trayvon Martin’s character. Plenty of black youths are gunned down every year, few make the national news. Even fewer ever become a household name. So what exactly are they afraid of? That there’s more to this case then first meets the eye? That this case, the emotions it has stirred, may change the status quo? That people won’t get away with killing someone because of the color of their skin anymore? That we might reflect on racism and racial profiling in the U.S.? That this country will reconsider their absurd stand your ground laws and demand change? I’ve found the two emotions which lead us to tear down another human being, especially a dead human being, are fear and anger. So you are mad. You are afraid. Of what exactly?