© Josh Sager – June 2013
In February 2012, a 17 year old African American teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a self-styled “neighborhood watch captain” in Florida. George Zimmerman, the shooter, claimed self-defense and is now facing charges of murder. Due to the contentious racial aspects of this case (an unarmed black child was killed and police let the shooter walk away from the scene) and the controversies surrounding Zimmerman’s self-defense assertions, this case has become very well known.
From the furor surrounding the Martin shooting, one may assume that it was an isolated and unusual tragedy. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as the United States is in the middle of a gun-murder epidemic which particularly affects racial minority Americans.
Regardless of what anybody may say otherwise, the USA still is a country with issues surrounding race and this has led to a situation where black men are sometimes seen as a threat that must be “defended” against with lethal force.
In fact, Jordan Russell Davis—another 17 year old African American Floridian—was shot in another virtually identical “self-defense” case in November 2012. The perfect storm of easy access to weapons, legal excuses for murderers, and racially-justified motives for murder is very dangerous and something that poses a significant danger to many Americans—particularly young black males.
Anybody to follow the news knows a little about the Martin case and the events of that tragic night. This article is not going to focus on debating the facts of that night—that is for the courts and jury to look at now—but is going to describe how the underlying issue of “white privilege” has permeated every aspect of this tragedy. I am doing this because, in addition to being a terrible tragedy, the Trayvon Martin shooting, investigation and media response illustrate many model examples of different types of “white privilege” that many simply may not pick up on.
Before giving a more detailed explanation as to how the Trayvon Martin shooting illustrates white privilege, here is a concise definition of what constitutes “white privilege:”
- The granting of white individuals extraordinary rights, advantages or immunities which are not available to everybody in society.
- The unconscious bias that shelters white individuals from criticism or stigma that would accompany certain actions if the individual were not white.
- The protections from social or legal consequences which are available to whites that are not equally available to non-white citizens.
The Killing of Trayvon Martin
At its core, the Trayvon Martin shooting itself is a perfect example of how latent bias (in an optimistic light for Zimmerman) can have terrible results. This latent bias is the core of the problem of white privilege, as white individuals do not face the negative latent biases which follow African Americans.
Zimmerman’s profiling of Martin as a potentially criminal was what precipitated the conflict which led to the shooting. Even if one doesn’t believe that there is enough evidence to accuse Zimmerman of overt racism, it is entirely fair to argue that his latent bias is that black males are predisposed towards criminality. Before the Martin shooting, Zimmerman had made numerous calls to the police about “suspicious individuals” in his gated community—all of these individuals were African American males and none of them led to arrests of people committing crimes.
On the night of the shooting, Zimmerman made a decision to follow Martin with a loaded weapon because he saw him as being suspicious. As the only things that Zimmerman could possibly have known about Martin were what he observed at the convenience store—that he was black, young, male, wearing a hoodie, and out late at night in a predominately white neighborhood—this indicates that Zimmerman likely profiled him. It could be that any young man would have piqued Zimmerman’s suspicions, but his past history of suspecting innocent black males of committing crimes, simply for existing in his neighborhood, suggests that this profiling was racial rather than ageist.
White privilege includes the ability of white male teens to walk down the street, wearing whatever they choose, without being immediately judged as a threat. Unlike black or Hispanic children of the same age and economic class, white teenagers are not assumed to be dangerous and are much less likely to be stopped and harassed by police/wannabe vigilantes. This type of bias is pervasive and is the exact same type of bias which has led to millions of racial minority Americans being stopped for no reason during “stop and frisks” in New York city.
The Police’s Treatment of the Victim and Shooter
The police’s responses to the Zimmerman shooting illustrate several different types of white privilege. Put simply, the police responded to the shooting differently because the victim was a black male than they would have if he were white—never mind if it were a black man who shot a white teenage girl.
Imagine if the situation were reversed and this shooting happened in a poor, majority black/Hispanic neighborhood: an unarmed, young white teenager goes to the store to get skittles and an iced tea one day, only to be followed, harassed and shot by a black man because he thought that the kid was up to no good. I don’t think that anybody could reasonably claim that the police would have let the black shooter leave the scene with the weapon and evade prosecution for months, solely upon the claim that he was defending himself from the unarmed white kid—in fact, I looked and couldn’t find a single national case that resembles this one.
Assuming that the White Individual is Innocent and the Black is Guilty
The specific type of white privilege that I am pointing out in this case is the presumption of guilt which is attached to black males, and the presumption of innocence that is attached to whites.
When the police arrived at the scene of the Martin shooting, they found a grown man standing over the body of an unarmed dead teenager, with a smoking gun. By the end of the night, that man was wandering unescorted through the police station, while the victim was in the morgue.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the police held Zimmerman for questioning but they did not do a drug test or gunshot residue test on him—as is standard procedure after a shooting (even if the shooter is a police officer). Due to the time elapsed after the shooting, it was made impossible to determine whether Zimmerman was intoxicated when he shot Martin. In contrast with this oversight, the police ran a criminal background check and drug test on Martin, the victim.
To further compound the tragedy of how Martin was treated, the police made no effort to contact the Martin family with his cell phone, nor did they answer the phone when his family called. The police left Martin in the morgue for three days before his family was notified of his murder.
If a black man had shot a white kid, does anybody think that the police would have acted this way in regard to the shooter and the victim? No, Zimmerman (if black) would have been arrested, drug tested, and background checked while Martin would have been identified through his phone and his family identified.
The Media’s Characterization of Trayvon Martin
White priveledge is not always expressed through overt bias and can often consist simply of people making assumptions based upon race. In the Trayvon Martin story’s media coverage, we see many examples of this type of passive bias that would not even enter the discussion if the victim were white. While discussing the Trayvon Martin shooting, the media has naturally looked into the backgrounds of the shooter and the victim. During these conversations, the media has made numerous unfortunate choices in reporting which perfectly illustrate white privilege.
Classifying Martin as a “Thug”
A white person is far less likely to be labeled a “thug” than a black person and suffer the stigma that accompanies the label. As with many other coded words (ex. “welfare queen”), the term thug is usually only applied to black people, thus creating an imbalance in how white and black people are seen by those unaware of this disparity.
Throughout the discussions of the Zimmerman trial in the media and the public, numerous individuals have classified Martin as a “thug” based upon little more than assertions and the occasional social media post. The use of the term “thug” to refer to Martin is racially charged and is completely unfair given the situation—Martin was the victim of a shooting and had no record of violence.
As far as I can tell, the assertion that Martin was a thug comes from the fact that he was a young black male who may have smoked pot and gotten suspended from school (for smoking pot). If the only requirement for the “thug” status is for a person to have gotten suspended for smoking pot then it has ceased to have any meaningful definition (under this requirement, half the kids in Orange County are “thugs”). When we take into account the ubiquitousness of the pot usage among youth, we are left with the unfortunate conclusion that “thug” is nothing more than a shorthand for white people to use when referring to young black males, regardless of their histories.
In addition to the pot usage, I have found several people who say that Trayvon was a “thug” for posting profane language in his social media and sharing a photo of a gun. Put plainly, this is ridiculous and EVERY kid uses bad language on their social media. And, as to the gun pictures, the idea that posting pictures of guns constitutes a thug is absurd, because it would make half the Republican Party “thugs.” In fact, if bad language and gun fetishism are requirements for “thug” status, then Republican-darling Ted Nugent is probably the largest thug around.
The idea that the black kid with the iced tea and skittles is a thug for getting suspended for smoking pot and posting foul language online, while the white man with a history of violence and a loaded gun is not, is indicative of a gigantic level of white privilege.
Martin’s and Zimmerman’s Histories
In the face of people discussing whether or not Martin’s history or personal characteristics made him be “asking for it” when he was shot, relatively few have looked at Zimmerman’s history with the same vigor. This is a manifestation of white privilege because it shows how white people are able to escape the stigma of bad things in their history while black people tend to have the bad things in their histories magnified.
While Martin was suspended for pot paraphernalia he had no run-ins with the law. In contrast with Martin’s clean record, Zimmerman was arrested for assaulting a police officer and had been accused of spousal battery by his ex. It is true that Zimmerman was never convicted of any crime (having a judge for a father certainly has benefits) but, given the discussions over Martin’s school record, it is entirely proper to look at Zimmerman’s brushes with the law.
The fact that the media focused upon Martin’s school history as a contributing factor to the shooting while they virtually ignored Zimmerman’s history of violence gives us a perfect example of this type of white privilege.
This article will be concluded in a post on July 10th, at 10AM.
From the available evidence I have seen the woman was justified and acted in self defense. How a prosecutor could seek a 20 year sentence is beyond understanding.
In the case of Zimmerman I would fully support a full acquittal – the available evidence I have seen overwhelmingly supports his claim of self defense.
And I don’t buy your thesis that the above is fully the result of white privilege, etc. Actually it demonstrates the racism of many black leaders and the media. They don’t give a damn about a black killing a black (or shooting at one in self defense). They only care if a white person is involved. If black leaders had raised as much ruckus in this woman’s defense as in trying to get Zimmerman murdered, then she would have probably be free by now.
While I appreciate your opinion, I must disagree.
In the Zimmerman case, he pursued somebody with a gun for no lawful reason, then got into a fight and shot him–even under FL self-defense law, Zimmerman is guilty of a crime. That said, there is SOME leeway as to the actual sentence, as it is difficult to determine whether there was any requisite intent to commit murder or whether it is simply a case of voluntary manslaughter.
Personally, I think that the intent to kill was there before the altercation, as that is the only way that Zimmerman could have actually drawn and shot in the situation he describes (even going purely on his word of the events). I do MMA, thus have been mounted before, and the idea that Zimmerman was mounted, only for there to be a race for the gun is not credible. If Martin were on top and were reaching for the gun, how is it possible that Zimmerman had the time to take the gun out, take off the safety (I assume that he didn’t keep a loaded gun in his pants without the safety on) and line up a single perfect shot to the heart without Martin ever touching the gun or his hands? Did he suddenly develop super-speed or did Martin (who Zimmerman portrays as a much more skilled fighter) go narcoleptic? Please try this yourself with a friend and a toy gun, just to see how improbable the story is.
As to the actions of the black leaders, the majority were very rightfully angry that Zimmerman wasn’t arrested and that the investigation wasn’t even being done. Yes, black on black crime is a problem, but the police in those cases never simply let the shooter go–only when it is white on black crime does this possibility occur. Guess what, that is white privilege.
Thanks for reading,
As with most concealed carry guns GZ’s is double action. If you are not familiar with pistols, that means that the trigger physically cocks the hammer as you pull it. It makes for a very long and somewhat hard pull, comparable to a revolver, negating the need for a safety.
I am familiar with modern guns (I am actually a very good shot) and was not saying that he would need to cock the gun to fire. What I was referring to was his need to draw the gun, take off the safety and aim, after being beaten and pounded into concrete (Zimmerman’s story), and while being mounted–in his story, he would have been disoriented and at a severe disadvantage, yet Martin never managed to even touch the gun (there was no Martin DNA on it) or even deflect Zimmerman’s aim slightly (never mind the fact that Zimmerman claims to have pulled off a perfect heart-shot after being severely beaten and suffocated to the point of near unconsciousness).
Such pistols still have a safety and, if we believe Zimmerman, he was taken by surprise and would have no reason to be carrying his gun without the safety engaged. In fact, if he had been carrying the gun with the safety off, this could potentially indicate premeditation which would justify a first degree murder charge under the law.
Just saying. I never carry a DA with the safety on; It is not needed it pulls just like a revolver which has no safety. If it were SA, yes (Like a Glock).
That MAY be okay if you have a shoulder holster or hip rig, but that is a terrible idea if you are carrying the gun in your waistband or pocket. I would suggest that you stop doing this, because it can end with you shooting yourself in some really embarrassing and painful ways.
Pingback: White Privilege and the Trayvon Martin Shooting Part #2 | The Progressive Cynic
Pfft, more anti-white nonsense and race envy. “White privilege” has nothing to do with this self-defense case where a brown killed a black. Negroes are pathologically desperate to blame the white man for everything. Sick!
Why not call on amanda berry and Gina dejesus the ladies who were abducted by arial castro to comment on this issue because they have been through slavery, and they know what its like, what would it feel like if they wewre tostart being racially profiled by the relatives of Arial Castro or have their offspring under go racism in America
I like your article. Unfortunately, that’s just the way the world is my friend. When you hear the words “car jacking”, “armed robbery”, or “welfare”, images of black or brown people come to mind. If you hear the words “serial killer”, “mass murderer”, or “wire fraud”, images of white people come to mind. The human mind is programmable and the media is the programmer. If the news only reported on good people doing good things nobody would watch it, so they report on the shocking and terrible things people do. They don’t lie though, they would lose credibility. The only video footage of “the knock out game” they had to offer showed black people punching white people. If your neighbor told you that people who play the knock out game are coming to your neighborhood would you not be on the lookout for black people?
Zimmerman was taught that most burglaries are committed by black people. His neighborhood had a recent string of burglaries. He wanted to prevent another one. Did he profile Martin? Yes, but that’s just the way the world works. If I was Martin would I have gotten angry and smacked
Zimmerman around? Probably. But what concerns me is the little holes in the back of Zimmerman’s head. He doesn’t strike me as a cold hearted killer. I don’t think he would have killed Martin because he was getting beat up or had just gotten beat up. It seems to me the situation got desperate.
When you say brown do you mean Mexican? latino? If so you are refereing to Mr. zimmerman. He is Latino NOT white…
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