IT COULD HAVE BEEN MY SON, President Barack Obama said Friday, commenting on the terrible death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old boy from Florida who on Feb. 26 was carrying only iced tea and a bag of Skittles when he was shot dead by a man on a neighborhood watch who claims he acted in self-defense.
The reaction to the killing finally is causing a stir in the United States, with outrage building by the day over the fact that police in Florida have not pursued charges against the triggerman, George Zimmerman, 28. Thousands rallied Thursday in New York. Rallies were also held Saturday across the country. The parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, have started a petition drive on the social action platform change.org with the plea “please uphold justice,” asking the Florida state’s attorney to investigate the shooting. There were nearly 2 million signatures on the petition as of Sunday. And, more than 600,000 tweets have been posted on Twitter, according to NBC News, including from many celebrities.
How is the rest of the world responding to this case? Critically, it seems. Al Jazeera, for one, ran an editorial under the heading “Trayvon Martin: The myth of U.S. post-racialism: The shooting of a young black man demonstrates how institutional and structural racism is still robust in U.S.”
The Guardian, a British newspaper, ran “The shot heard round the world: Revulsion at the way Florida police waved him on is universal, but gunman George Zimmerman is still at large and armed.” And the BBC News website Friday was posting the Trayvon story as its lead article. The Daily Maverick, based in South Africa, called the case “Fear and loathing in American suburbs.” The newspaper’s columnist, Rebecca Davis commented: “ Police tested the body of Trayvon Martin for traces of drugs and alcohol. (They found none.) They were happy, however, to simply take Zimmerman’s word for it that the older man had no drugs or alcohol in his system.” And, she added, “police seemed more interested in the criminal background of Trayvon Martin, carrying out a full check on the dead boy, which failed to bring up a speck of dirt.”
Skittles and no drugs, no record. A squeaky-clean kid from Miami visiting his dad in Sanford, it appears, out on an innocent errand to buy Skittles and iced tea. Nothing more.
Here in America, as reported in The New York Times, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the case. Obama said on Friday, “I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happened.”
The Washington Post observed that
“The shooting stirs memories of the civil rights era.” People, the report said, “are joining the Trayvon Martin crusade by the hour now. It feels like an echo from another era — when there was racial injustice in the headlines, when federal troops were dispatched to comb Southern swamps to look for blacks who had vanished. It feels like the not-so-long-ago ’60s, back when getting federal authorities to move quickly was often difficult.”
The case, The Guardian commented, “is finally lifting the lid on the U.S.’s racist underbelly.” And it added:
“The Second World War had a civilizing influence on Buford Posey a white man raised in the Deep South during the Depression. When he was growing up in Mississippi, The Guardian said he commented, ” ‘I never knew it was against the law to kill a black man. I learned that when I went in the Army. I was 17 years old. When they told me I thought they were joking.’ 70 years later it’s clear not everybody got that memo.”
TheToronto Star, a newspaper based in a country with strict gun control laws, ran the headline: “Trayvon Martin shooting: How Florida’s gun law may have led to killing of unarmed teen.” It noted that “Florida is among 21 U.S. states with a Stand Your Ground Law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.”
Good point. Would Trayvon be alive if one man on his own neighborhood patrol hadn’t decided in a split second to end the life of a young, innocent person wearing a hoodie sweat shirt and holding Skittles?