Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/HO, Martin Family Photos)
As someone who covers conservatives full time, there is little left for them to do or say that can actually shock me. But in the last few days they have managed to do it by impugning the late Trayvon Martin with misleading and dishonest attacks on his character and justifications for his murder. They’ve also eagerly played to racist whites by perversely accusing African-American politicians of trying to capitalize on Martin’s tragic murder merely because they’ve expressed appropriate concern over it.
For those who don’t know, Martin, 17, was walking to his father’s house in Sanford, Florida, when a local busybody named George Zimmerman called the police to report his unfounded suspicions that Martin was up to no good. Even though the dispatcher told Zimmerman to leave the matter to the police, who were on their way, Zimmerman followed Martin, got into a confrontation with him and shot him. Liberals and civil rights advocates across the country have been outraged that Zimmerman is not being charged in Martin’s death because he claims he was acting in self-defense and Florida has a “stand your ground law,” promoted by national conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council, that allows one to commit murder in self-defense.
Even if you support a right to bear arms and to act in self-defense, the conduct of local law enforcement authorities has been obviously wrong. It would be different if Martin had approached Zimmerman, attempted to mug him and then been shot. But Zimmerman’s own account, bolstered by recorded phone calls, is that he followed Martin and started the encounter. Even if Martin physically harmed or threatened Zimmerman in response, the culpability would be Zimmerman’s in this case.
Most of the conservative media have not only sided with Zimmerman but smeared the dead boy. On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera suggested that Martin had invited trouble by wearing a hooded sweatshirt, as millions of law-abiding young Americans, myself included, regularly do. He later appeared on the O’Reilly Factor to defend himself from charges that he was blaming the victim. Bill O’Reilly commiserated with Geraldo that he was being unfairly maligned, just as O’Reilly had been when he said that a young woman who goes out and gets drunk invites whatever misfortune may subsequently befall her, including murder.