On Trayvon Martin, Geraldo Rivera, and Hoodies

For those of you who have been living under a rock that inexcusably has no wireless internet, here is the story of Trayvon Martin.

Martin was a 17 year old African American walking in Sanford, Florida, a suburb of Miami. He was coming home from the local store with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. George Zimmerman, a local neighborhood watchman and apparently a racist lunatic, confronted Martin and, after a short altercation, fired a warning shot. In a taped 911 call, the listener can hear Martin begging for his life, and yelling for help. Then a gunshot. Then, grotesquely, silence. (I would link you to the 911 call, but you can find it on your own, and honestly, it was so chilling, I don’t want to hear it again.)

Zimmerman was let out of prison without being charged which has understandably enraged the African American community, as well as the internet. By Florida’s absurdly vague “Stand Your Ground” laws, Zimmerman has thus far been able to avoid prosecution. Appropriately, this whole situation has blown sky high in the face of the Sanford Police Department, who have been labeled as incompetent and racist.

Oh, and by the way, as Geraldo Rivera pointed out in the video above, Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie. Rivera’s premise, and I’m quoting: “The hoodie is just as responsible for Trayvon’s death as Zimmerman.” So. There’s that.

Yeah, Geraldo, let’s focus on Trayvon’s attire. His shirt must have caused this. Sure, he was an innocent kid, whose life we now have to talk about in the past tense. And he was gunned down in cold blood by a man who acted as the aggressor, then claimed self-defense, a man who arguably can be heard to say “F***ing coons” on a 911 tape. Yes, this man is getting away with it.

But let’s focus on the attire.

Let’s ignore the fact that Zimmerman thought that Martin looked suspicious simply because he was black, that Zimmerman called 911 and was told “We don’t need you [to follow him]” but continued to follow him anyway, that Zimmerman’s attitude unfortunately reflects many Americans. Let’s ignore the fact that if Martin had been a white kid walking the street with his hood up, Zimmerman probably wouldn’t have given him a second look.

Let’s follow Rivera’s advice and talk about that hoodie.

Here’s my question to you, the reader: does this picture look like a kid who is likely to be carrying a gun?

If so, that’s ok. Well, not ok, but perhaps understandable. The hoodie is a popular fashion choice, but it started as an urban style. If you grew up paying any attention to the media, “urban” means “black” and “black” means “criminal”. If you watch TV, you have seen this face. This face is the drug dealer, the shooter, the teenage delinquent. This face is the “Wanted” part of the news on FOX.

Here’s the rather massive problem: this face isn’t actually a criminal, he’s just a 17 year old kid. Much more often, this face is a kid who walked to the store to buy some Skittles and an iced tea. He isn’t wielding a gun. He’s wielding a fruit-flavored candy and a cold beverage.

Oh, and that hoodie? He was wearing it because it was raining. Not because he was selling drugs, but because who likes getting their head wet in the rain?

Trayvon Martin. In a hoodie.

Rivera’s comments feel like a distraction. They feel like an opportunity for Americans, specifically white Americans, to say “Well, we certainly wouldn’t have shot the poor boy, but he DID look suspicious.” They are an opportunity for us to distance ourselves from the situation when in reality, we should dive in and examine ourselves. We should examine our motives, our prejudices. We should look for the roots of both, because if we are REALLY honest with ourselves, we know that we have them.

#WeAreTrayvonMartin has been a popular Twitter hashtag recently, as people posted pictures of themselves with their hoods pulled up. White America isn’t George Zimmerman. But until we take an uncomfortably close look at ourselves, we have some disturbing similarities, too many for us to ignore.

Tom Westerholm

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