The web responses to the shooting of Trayvon down in Florida display a huge outpouring of negativity from all conceivable points of view. It’s as if, lo and behold! we’re not so post-racial after all.
Reconstructing events like this is hard enough even after a timely and thorough investigation. In this case, of course, the little investigation that has occurred has been neither timely nor thorough.
The event was an interaction between two people in the dark, with no well placed witnesses. Only one person survived to tell the story. That makes after-the-fact understanding very difficult. The available witness testimony calls to mind the story of a group of blind men describing an elephant. (The blind man who touched the tail said that the elephant was a long, thin animal, like a snake.)
Witness testimony at the best of times is totally subjective, and must always be taken with a grain of salt. The motives of witnesses must always be questioned. People will claim to have seen or heard the damndest, unlikeliest things. Perception and memory can be quite unreliable.
Useful physical evidence has been lost, because the police, bafflingly, chose not to preserve it. It’s safe to say that this whole thing was poorly handled by the local police. The police interviews were amateurish and credulous at best; at worst they were exculpatory and biased.
There is, however, some evidence to sift through. Discounting the manufactured bullshit, it seems to me that in a state where reality had more of a foothold this shooter would be toast.
Web articles about this shooting, and their associated comments, have been all over the place. Things have been said about the kid that are frankly inflammatory and probably libelous. (He was dealing drugs; he attacked his shooter.) Many otherwise reasonable seeming people place complete faith in the shooter’s version of reality, and in every paid, contrived, spin-meistering utterance of his lawyer. The shooter was complying with police requests to break away and had discontinued the surveillance; he was returning to his car; the kid started following him; the kid attacked him; the kid broke his nose with a first punch; the kid knocked him down and jumped on him; the kid was banging his head on the sidewalk; the shooter feared for his life. Suddenly, Americans are disposed to believe what a lawyer says. (As opposed to ordinary reality, as summarized in the joke: how do you tell if a lawyer is lying? His lips move.)
But that’s not the worst of it. A big slice of the comments assume that the kid was up to no good in the first place, or worse, based upon the simple facts that he was Black, a teenager, and out after dark. He wore a hoodie! Somehow, he deserved his fate. Blacks are naturally violent; look at the statistics! Blacks are always the aggressors; Black men are rapists and muggers; the shooter was just trying to protect his neighborhood from . . . wait for it! . . . those people.
And, even worse, a considerable slice of the comments come from Black Americans who are ready to announce that they knew it all along, White people are all racists, there is no hope, they all hate us, they’re killing our kids and no one cares, we can’t live together, we knew it all along. Veneer broken, in extremis veritas, I could cry bitter tears (but I get it, and I’d probably feel the same if the race moccasin was on the other foot).
So this shooting not only got a kid killed, from all indications a nice kid, but it has also set us all back a bit on our shared task of getting along.
It’s got me doing the old so-woe-is-a-me-bop, and yes, my sympathies are with the poor dead kid.