By Ted LaVaque
I am puzzled by President Obama’s message to the nation given in the press briefing room following the trial in which George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin. Despite the fact that multiple investigations were unable to find any evidence of racism in the incident (including local law enforcement, state prosecutor, FBI and the jury), Obama adroitly turned the incident between two males, one black and the other Hispanic, into a racial incident while claiming he “accepted” the jury’s findings.
The President then went on to explain that he wanted to talk about the “context,” and proceeded to ramble on about the African-American experience in the U.S, framing it by saying that he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago. Now, as I understand it, 35 years ago Obama was living in a low crime area with his white grandparents in Hawaii, and was a senior at Punahou School (described as one of the top private schools in the city). He did admit to using alcohol, marijuana and cocaine during his teen years, so he has that in common with Trayvon Martin, I guess.
He spent all of two years in public schools (kindergarten in Honolulu, 4th grade in Jakarta, Indonesia) and all of the rest of his education was in private schools (Punahou in Hawaii, Occidental College in L.A., Columbia University and Harvard Law School). At the time of the shooting incident, Trayvon Martin was visiting his father and father’s girlfriend while on a ten-day suspension from Krop Senior High School following the discovery of “drug residue” in his book bag. He had previously been suspended for having a burglary tool and women’s jewelry. The parallels between Obama and Martin are obvious, and one can easily see how Obama would conclude that he could have met the same fate as Martin 35 years earlier.
A true and honest discussion of the “context” would have included George Zimmerman’s experience as a Hispanic living in a high crime area. The crime activity was so significant that the community agreed to start a neighborhood watch program initiated by Zimmerman. There had been 8 burglaries in the previous 14 months, putting the community on edge. A resident described the mood as “afraid and scared.” One family was able to stay for only six months after two men broke into their home during the day with a woman and her youngster hiding in an upstairs room. Zimmerman and his wife were described as “sweet” in their attempt to help her after the incident. Since 2004, Zimmerman had called police 46 times. A spokesman for the Seminole County Sheriff’s office did not regard that as excessive, and in fact encouraged the community to call when they saw anything out of the ordinary.
Context is, indeed, important. On the evening of the shooting, that was the “context” in which Zimmerman called the non-emergency police number to report that he saw Martin “walking about” in the neighborhood on a rainy night and said he was “acting strange.” First Martin walked toward him, then ran away with Zimmerman attempting to follow. Police had been dispatched and Zimmerman was told he did not have to follow, to which he responded “OK.” At some point Martin angrily confronted Zimmerman, then knocked him to the ground with a sucker punch to the face, breaking his nose. He straddled Zimmerman and began pounding his head on the concrete sidewalk. When your head is being pounded on concrete, it is hard to tell when the next blow will be very serious. Zimmerman pulled his weapon and shot. The total time from Zimmerman’s call to the police until the shot was 7 minutes, including the 4 minutes that Zimmerman was on the police call, leaving 3 minutes for Martin’s assault and the shooting in self-defense.
Yes, Mr. President, context is important. Had Obama functioned as a President of the People, rather than an apologist for African Americans, he would have discussed the entire context. As it is, it seems he has painted a target on George Zimmerman. Obama’s rhetoric about being a “uniter,” both internationally and domestically, has been a miserable failure and has exacerbated the divisiveness. Thank you, Mr. President.
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