John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Final Observations on Trayvon

Posted on April 5, 2012




Here are some random final observations about the Trayvon Martin Affair:


  • This issue has as much to do about class as it does about race.  When President Obama said that Martin could have looked like his son (if he had a son), he was saying that Trayvon Martin was not just black like me, he was also from the middle class, like me.  The battle over who Trayvon really was is a battle over where he is in society’s pecking order.

  • The deeper implication (not saying that I agree with this) is that as a member of the Middle Class, the killing of Trayvon Martin was a great injustice, worthy of national attention.  If he was just another punk kid from the Hood (wearing a hoodie), then well, this story doesn’t merit national attention.   The Martin family and their Defense attorney were very careful in their strategy of portraying him as a member of the middle class, because they understood that such a portrayal would elicit the most sympathy.  Allies of George Zimmerman, on the other hand, tried to diminish his reputation as a “good kid” because they understand that if Martin is seen as part of the black underclass, the story lack’s national resonance.

  • That Trayvon has been seen as a typical middle class kid by the media explains why influential African-Americans have taken this so personally.   For them, Trayvon could be their kid (as the President put it).  And for the growing black middle class, this moment has special resonance.  With the election of President Obama, there was a common perception that we had turned the corner on our nation’s racial past.  But, the truth is more complicated than that.

  • They take this personal because they are sick and tired of all black people being tarnished by the criminal brush.  One friend of mine wrote about how frustrating it is for her that her kids are seen as criminals merely for being black.  She is from an Upper-Middle class black family, and my guess is that the crime rate for Upper-Middle class black families is probably the same rate for Upper-Middle class white families (maybe even lower).  Other friends of mine have written about how their fathers would give them a talk as they grew older how to act around the police, a lecture.  Why do kids from successful families who happen to be black have to so much more careful around the cops than white kids?  It is a good question.

  • I still contend that Al Sharpton has not been helpful in this discussion, and that his fiery speeches have needlessly polarized the country.  But I have to admit, without Sharpton, we wouldn’t be talking about this case right now, because having your own talk show on MSNBC gives you a platform that attracts attention.  Which leads to another observation:  Black journalists now have the ability to shape stories in ways that never would have happened ten years ago, let alone 40 years ago.   They have tremendous power and tremendous sway in the news room.  With that power comes great responsibility.  Brian William’s show “Rock Center” had a fascinating segment last week showing all of NBC’s journalists and their opinions of the Trayvon Martin affair.  Tamron Hall, Lester Holt, Ron Allen and others talked about how they were deeply affected by the unfolding drama.  I appreciate their passion for the news and for this story, but all too often, they have lost even a hint of objectivity.  They are actively advocating for the arrest of the George Zimmerman.  Of course, they aren’t the only ones.  Even Joe Scarbrough (the supposed conservative on MSNBC) has lost his objectivity in this case.  The problem, of course, is that we don’t know all of the facts.  ABC released a grainy video of Zimmerman, and just about every black journalist on the news immediately held it up as proof that the alleged assailant was lying about getting gashed in the head.  Further analysis, though, showed that there was plenty of proof on the video that he suffered a head wound (and of course, there was that police report).

  • Which leads me to the police.  Mr. Sharpton and the rest of the crowd keeps condemning the cops for not arresting Zimmerman, when clearly it wasn’t a police decision.  The cops have no great reason to cover up for Zimmerman.  He wasn’t one of them.  In fact, they found Zimmerman to be a complete pain in the ass.  And if you look at that video, it was pretty clear that they were ready to book him, as he had his hands handcuffed behind his back.   The State’s Attorney didn’t feel like there was enough evidence to convict and that it is why George Zimmerman is still a free man.  The cops haven’t covered anything up and in fact, the lead investigator recommended that he be thrown in prison.  All of this activism directed against the Sanford Police Department seems a bit misguided to me.

  • No matter what the facts are, this story itself has had a fascinating life.  It started slowly (remember this happened more than month ago).  It started picking up steam on the Internet, and then on cable, and then in the mainstream media.  First, politicians weren’t anywhere near it (after all, it was local crime story and those happen all of the time), and then you couldn’t get the politicians away from it.   The story has been carried out chiefly by the world of social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.  The Daily Caller has led the charge for the pro-Zimmerman factions.  MSNBC and the Huffington Post made Trayvon their poster-child for abuse.    There have been allegations of tampering of Martin’s Twitter handle and with each allegation there has also been revelations of the real Trayvon (some of which aren’t so nice).    Add in a couple of protests, a speech by a Congressman in a hoodie, and the daily rantings of Al Sharpton, and you have the makings of a great story.

  • Talking about social media, let me say that it has been revealing how easily some folks throw around the racist tag on Twitter.  You broadcast some facts, you throw out some well-known crime statistics, you ask a question like “whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty,” and pretty soon you are being called a racist.  If people continue to throw that charge around too lightly, though, it loses its sting.

  • Until George Zimmerman gets thrown in jail, this story will not go away, no matter how much some of us might hope it does.  Pew did a poll that showed that African Americans were far more interested in this story that white Americans.  I would venture to say that many of the produces up in New York also find this story to be irresistable, which of course means that it will continue to dominate headlines until the next big story comes down the pike.