Friday, March 23, 2012

"News on The Run" Editorial...The Trayvon Martin Tragedy

One story  in the news has had me doing a lot of thinking about our society, and its values, as well as the way our news sources report the news to us.  Is there any doubt that in today's news world that the story is told in such a way as to shape public opinion, rather than to simply give us news?  Take the Republican Presidential Primary that seems to be running on forever...the tenure of the reporting has changed; news pundits trying to convince both the public, and every remaining candidate in the race that Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and even Rick Santorum should drop out of the race, convince us and the candidates that 50 percent of the remaining voters in America HAVE NO REAL SAY in who the Republican candidate for president is going to be.  That is disturbing, but merely sets the stage for the news story I am expressing an opinion on.

The story that has been getting a lot of attention, a story the news media has managed somewhat successfully in getting Americans upset about is Florida teen Trayvon Martin being fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer on Feb. 26, 2012, as he returned from a trip to a local 7-Eleven.  

Quite frankly, the tone and tenure of the reporting on this story has been ONE SIDED, and I believe charged wrongfully with a great deal of racial undertones.  It is unfortunate that Trayvon Martin lost his life, but do not believe here that the neighborhood watch volunteer was racially motivated when he pulled the trigger, believe this case is no more racially motivated than people opposing illegal immigration are racially motivated in their beliefs that America should be a nation of laws, and that the 20 million illegal aliens in America (a great deal of them of Latin heritage) should be deported.  Both situations require a leap that just is not there as much as some want it there to push their own or collective group political agenda.

There have been many pundits fanning the racial angle in this sad case with red herring arguments such as, "He probably would not have ended up dead if he had been a white teenager wearing a hoodie."  Says who?  

Can we be honest here for a moment?  How many of us see any one of any color in a hoodie after dark and wonder to ourselves if they are up to no good? I have been guilty of it, have felt that moment when my senses and radar go up.  It is not a racial thing, but more related to our perceptions of anyone out after dark wearing a hoodie, that perception shaped by both media, and statistical would be interesting to know how many suspects in crimes against people and property were wearing hoodies, how many eye witnesses have told police, "He/she was x tall, looked like they weighed maybe x pounds, they were wearing dark jeans and a hoodie.  Any one remember the Uni Bomber, and Gang Rap has done no favors to the image of those wearing hoodies either, has if anything heightened our belief/perception that those wearing hoodies after dark are perhaps social malcontents out looking for trouble, are up to no good, are doing their best to HIDE THEIR IDENTITY.  In fact, would not be surprised if the Department of Homeland Security who tells us to report all suspicious looking people and activity has the hoodie on their own list of things to watch out for when they are out in the field looking for BAD PEOPLE.

Not saying here that all people wearing hoodies are criminals, but am questioning all those that claim a white teen in a hoodie after dark is viewed differently than a black teen in a hoodie.  When I was much younger, I fit the image of a "dirty hippie" to a tee, if you will,  I dressed the part perfectly, and the image I portrayed so long ago left me open for hindsight, I invited it, and I got it.  Cannot tell you how often I was stopped by the fuzz (our name for police officers back then), cannot tell you how many times my car or van was searched, though nothing was ever found.   I was a dirty long haired, pot smoking commie malcontent, I had to be up too no good, had to be smoking pot, or tripping on LSD.   

For those wondering, yes I resented it at the time, felt singled out, even (dare I say it) felt as if I was being stereotyped, pigeonholed as a "dirty hippie" and thereby, by default considered a malcontent, a troublemaker up to no good.  If I went to a concert or a bar, chances were if a group of us left together and got in separate cars, I was the one stopped for a sobriety test, I was the one that sat in the police car while the cops ripped the carpet out of my vehicle looking for drugs under the guise they had reasonable suspicion...what reasonable suspicion...I was wearing bell bottom jeans with patches sewed on the rips, had on a Grateful Dead T-Shirt, and beads braided into the hair that went halfway down my back...they could not use the dirty excuse, as I bathed regularly, was a CLEAN HIPPIE.

People want to make the death of Trayvon Martin a racial is not.  It might be a perception issue, and we can have the argument of "is it fair" but said argument will not change the facts on the ground.  Fact is, people have a bad perception of people in dark clothes and hoodies walking around after dark, and to some degree with good reason.  

But a lot of people and law enforcement also have a bad perception of almost anyone in the environmental movement, almost any one that shows up at a protest or is part of a movement (Think Occupy Wall Street).  Like it or not, perception is a part of every day life, and we all at one point or another deserving so or not are going to find ourselves lumped in with people we don't necessarily want to be dumped in with, and we are going to get extra scrutiny because of that reality.  Trust me, as an environmental activist, I know this to be true.

Trayvon Martin's death is  tragic, a perfect example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and yes wearing the wrong clothes, clothes that captured the kind of attention he probably did not want to gather. What would be a greater tragedy is to let his untimely death serve no purpose.   This is not a racial issue, but think it does give everyone a chance to look at certain things and perhaps learn some valuable lessons.  Perhaps people need to not be so frightened by people wearing hoodies, or at least be a bit more careful before they decide a person in a hoodie after dark is up to know good.  However, perhaps there are lessons those wearing hoodies, those shaping the image of the hoodie can take away from this.

There is an old adage, "Clothes make the man."  Before you put on that hoodie, ask yourself what kind of an image it is that you will be it the image you want people to see?  If you want people to see you as a gangsta, then don't be surprised when they see you as that.  If they see you as a gansta, if you want people to see you as a gansta, aren't you yourself asking to be looked at a bit suspiciously?  Right or wrong, peoples perceptions of who I was as a young man did not change in a positive way until I actually did cut my hair and go out to look for a fact, once I cleaned up my act, changed how it was I presented myself to others, finding a job was actually a pretty easy task to accomplish...was that fair, should I have had to make those compromises, should I have had to succumb to those societal norms too get to where I wanted to a perfect world no, but we do not live in a perfect world.

If you dress like a hippie, the world is going to see you as one, if you participate in a protest the world is going to see you as a protester (and the police will know WHO YOU ARE), and if you want to run around with baggie pants, underwear hanging out with a hoodie concealing your face, chances are the world is going to see you as a malcontent, as a person out for no good.  

Is that a perfect world no it is not, but again we do not live in a perfect world, and like it or not, we ALL (white, black, brown or purple) have to accept some personal responsibility for our own actions, and for the style of clothes and presentation we choose in defining who we are.  If you do not want to be seen as a troublemaker, don't dress like one, and if you are a rapper pushing a particular image so you can cash in on your clothing line, maybe you have a certain responsibility as well as a role model.  Even as parents, maybe we too have a certain responsibility to our children when it comes to the clothes they wear when they go outside.  Like it or not, we are going to be judged, people are going to form perceptions of who we are and what we are up too based on the clothes we put on our back, so maybe the best lesson we can all take away from this is too be more aware of the image we are putting out to the world, maybe we need to look more closely at the clothes we wear, and ask ourselves, "Is that really WHO I AM, and is that really WHO I WANT OTHERS TO SEE ME AS?"

*Note-not justifying the shooting, nor taking the side of the Neighborhood Watch Volunteer.  Instead just suggesting that A) This tragic incident was not racially motivated, and B) that fair or not, maybe we all need to take some personal responsibility for the image we portray of ourselves.