"I only know what I read in the papers." Will Rogers was a master ironist, and when he made and repeated this assertion, he seemed to be saying several things. As a friend of the powerful and famous, he was frequently asked serious political questions, which this modest reply deflected. But also, by implication, anyone who relied on the press or-- as we would now say--the media for news really knew nothing. Only the people who write, edit, and publish the stories are in a position to know whether or not they are telling the truth, and even the press lords and their lackeys are remarkably indifferent to the facts.
People who only know what they read in the papers or see on television or learn by tweeting are, nonetheless, all too willing to make sweeping judgments. For weeks, nearly everyone in America knows that George Zimmerman, a paranoid white bigot who obsessively calls 911 to voice his suspicions, brutally murdered a harmless "little boy" named Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, whose claim to be a neighborhood watchman is suspect, was explicitly ordered by the police not to follow Martin. He persisted, and though the harmless child was armed only with a pack of skittles, Zimmerman attacked him and either shot him in cold blood or in the course of a struggle that he initiated.
At least one 911 call includes the sound of someone screaming in panic, and members of Trayvon's family claim that we are hearing the voice of a young man facing death.
The fact that Zimmerman was not arrested just goes to show how racist the Florida cops still are, and, since Zimmerman pursued the unarmed boy against police orders and accosted him, he cannot claim protection under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" statute. "He should have called 911 instead of going after Trayvon."
That is pretty much the story put out by Big Media, but in the mouth of the Revs Jackson and Sharpton and Farrakhan, the shooting of Trayvon Martin is metaphor for black/white relations in America. When Farrakhan came to Rockford to stir up anger and violence over a case in which police shot a fugitive, he declared that it is open season on black men in America.
Even the President of the United States could not resist sticking his oar in:
“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” Mr. Obama said. “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.
“Obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Mr. Obama said, his face grim. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”
“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Mr. Obama said, pausing for a moment. “I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
If we unpack his flabby rhetoric, Mr. Obama is saying, first, that he knows the facts of the case enough to know that a brutal murder has been committed and that, second, his sympathies are engaged because the victim is black.
When on our Friday radio show Paul Youngblood and I tried to raise questions about the official media account of the case, caller after caller angrily demanded why we were defending a murderer. When we pointed out that nearly everything the callers were saying was incorrect, their response was to say, "You guys are sick."
The New Black Panthers say they are so convinced of the facts in the case that they are offering a $10,000 bounty for the "capture" of George Zimmerman.
Some white nationalists, it goes without saying, are happy the young man was shot. His skin color by itself is proof of guilt. How such people are any different from the Sharptons and Farrakhans, I simply do not know. They are, however, proof that skin color is not everything.
Let us start with a few basic facts in the case.
1. George Zimmerman is a member of his neighborhood watch association and regularly patrols the streets. For this reason he has frequently called 911 to report burglaries and suspicious persons. The mere fact that his group does not belong to this or that consortium of neighborhood associations. The neighborhood has, in fact, been plagued by burglaries, and the neighborhood association advised people to call the police first and then George Zimmerman:
"If you've been the victim of a crime within the community, after calling the police, please contact our captain, George Zimmerman ... so we can be aware and help address the issue with other residents," the newsletter said. It added that the neighborhood watch group was looking for more participants at its monthly meetings."
That is what he did on February 26. When the 911 dispatcher learned that George was following the suspect, he advised him": "We don't need you to do that." In other words, it was a suggestion and it did not come from the police. If you listen to other calls made that night, you hear similar advice being given people who witnessed the fatal struggle. "We don't need you to go outside," advised one dispatcher. Obviously, the intent is to protect the person being spoken to--and to absolve 911 from any responsibility for what might happen.
2. Zimmerman is not a white bigot, but a half-Hispanic. His father says they have black relatives by marriage. George is praised by a neighbor, Samantha Leigh Hamilton, who told the local television news that "she once left her garage door up and Zimmerman noticed it while out walking his dog. He notified another neighbor, who let Hamilton know.
" 'The only impression I have of George Zimmerman is a good one,'" Hamilton said Wednesday.
"Hamilton said another neighbor, a black woman, would regularly inform Zimmerman when she was out of town so that he could keep an eye on her place. Hamilton said that when she moved into the middle-class, racially mixed community of about 250 identical townhouses, the black neighbor told her, "Hey, if you need anything, you picked a really good area, since George is part of our neighborhood watch."
Hamilton said there had been several break-ins in the past year, including one three doors away in which burglars took a TV and laptops.
"When I hear about him calling the police constantly, it kind of makes sense to me because we had so many break-ins recently," she said.
One of Zimmerman's friends, Joe Oliver, is a formed news anchorman. As a black man, he says, he never perceived any racism on Zimmerman's part. In fact, Zimmerman and his wife have "mentored" a black family whose members are very grateful for their help.
Much has been made of two criminal charges against Zimmerman. In one case, he touched a policeman who was arresting a friend; in the other, his girlfriend or wife made a domestic battery complaint that faded away into the mists of "he said/she said" marital squabbles. If, as is alleged, the woman in question is his current wife, it was obviously not very serious.
3. Trayvon Martin is 6'3" and a former football player. Nearly all the pictures being circulated show a smiling young kid, but they are several years out of date. More recent pictures show a sullen young man in a gangsta hoodie, definitely not good PR material. Family members described Trayvon as a good student; friends are more likely to use the word average. He had been suspended from school for 10 days, which is why he was staying with his father's girlfriend. According to the police in an Orlando Sentinel story, he was suspended for possession of an emptied marijuana baggie and a pipe.
If we can believe researchers who have gone over Facebook and Twitter accounts linked to Trayvon and his friends, he already had two tatoos, a gold tooth, and a reputation as someone to supply dope. His handle is interesting: @NO_LIMIT_NIGGA. For this and other possibly relevant details, see this unverified story. His friends, by the way, assume that he was giving George Zimmerman a beating when he was shot, and one refers to an alleged attack made by Trayvon on a busdriver.
All in all, the evidence of his social networking paints a picture of a budding thug. That by no means indicates any guilt on his part--we do not have a right to shoot young black males who have adopted a gangsta style--but it does begin to suggest a rather different possible scenario.
4. Let us look at the incident itself. When George calls the 911 number, he sounds calm and unaggressive though naturally concerned: "This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something." He added that the person had his hand in his waistband, was holding something in his other hand, and was walking around slowly in the rain looking at houses.
While he is giving directions for the police, George apparently thinks the guy has spotted him: "He's coming to check me out." He is probably correct, since Trayvon then heads into the backyard of a house.
What happens in the next minute or two is not entirely clear. George had left his SUV and was trying to discover the whereabouts of the suspicious person. He may have been following him or even accosted him, but we do not know. What Zimmerman told the police, though, is that as he was returning to his car, he was approached by the young man. Let me quote directly from the Orlando Sentinel:
"Zimmerman told them he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.
Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police. Trayvon then said, "Well, you do now" or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to the account he gave police.
Zimmerman fell to the ground and Trayvon got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, he told police.
Zimmerman began yelling for help.
Several witnesses heard those cries, and there has been a dispute about whether they came from Zimmerman or Trayvon.
Lawyers for Trayvon's family say it was Trayvon, but police say their evidence indicates it was Zimmerman.
One witness, who has since talked to local television news reporters, told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon on top, pounding him — and was unequivocal that it was Zimmerman who was crying for help.
Zimmerman then shot Trayvon once in the chest at very close range, according to authorities.
When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had bloody lacerations to the back of his head."
No witnesses have yet confirmed or disputed Zimmerman's account of the beginning of the encounter, but, as you have read, one witness has confirmed his description of being beaten by Trayvon. Another detail it would be good to clear up is whether Zimmerman drew his gun and shot or the gun went off in the course of the struggle, as the interview with Joe Oliver seems to indicate.
Much More to Come