The predictable quickly happened with Trayvon Martin. He was murdered again. No, not by rogue, self-appointed vigilante George Zimmerman, but by the non-stop avalanche of veiled and not so veiled hints, innuendoes, digs, and crass, snide, accusing comments, remarks, slander and outright lies about Martin's alleged bad background. Here's a few of the choice shots taken at Martin in the wake of the killing. He had gold teeth. There were alleged Facebook defiant shots of him giving gang signs and flipping off. He was much bigger (and more menacing) than the stock angelic pictures of him. He had "non violent behavioral issues in school" and he was suspended for ten days and his suspension may have been due to violence. He had tons of unexcused absences. He listened to rap and endlessly texted and talked on his cell phone.
Then the professional baiters and bashers took over. Fox Networks Gerald Rivera slurred that his Hoodie got him killed. TV and radio talker Glenn Beck branded him possibly a dangerous troublemaker. Just as predictably, President Obama's sensitive and thoughtful statement of concern about Martin stirred a fresh round of Martin (and Obama) bashing up to and including GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich. He accused the president of stirring up the racial pot by speaking out.
The savage assault on Martin had two aims. One is to deconstruct him as supposedly not the innocent choir boy the press depicts him. The even more devious and insidious aim is to exonerate Zimmerman for the murder. After all, if enough filth can be tossed at Martin to cast doubt and suspicion about his character and motives, then maybe Zimmerman had probable cause to kill.
The trashing of Martin as a closet thug is slanderous and silly stuff. The pantheon of stereotypes and negative typecasting it's anchored on is not. It's the shortest of short steps to think that if an innocent, Martin can be depicted as a caricature of the terrifying image that much of the public still harbors about young black males, then that image seem real, even more terrifying, and the consequences are just as deadly.
The hope was that Obama's election buried once and for all negative racial typecasting and the perennial threat racial stereotypes posed to the safety and well-being of black males. It did no such thing. Immediately after Obama's election teams of researchers from several major universities found that many of the old stereotypes about poverty and crime and blacks remained just as frozen in time. The study found that much of the public still perceived those most likely to commit crimes are poor, jobless and black. The study did more than affirm that race and poverty and crime were firmly rammed together in the public mind. It also showed that once the stereotype is planted, it's virtually impossible to root out. That's hardly new either.
In 2003 Penn State University researchers conducted a landmark study on the tie between crime and public perceptions of who is most likely to commit crime. The study found that many whites are likely to associate pictures of blacks with violent crime. This was no surprise given the relentless media depictions of young blacks as dysfunctional, dope peddling, gang bangers and drive by shooters. The Penn State study found that even when blacks didn't commit a specific crime; whites still misidentified the perpetrator as an African-American.
Five years later university researchers wanted to see if that stereotype still held sway, even as white voters were near unanimous that race made difference in whether they would or did vote for Obama. Researchers still found public attitudes on crime and race unchanged. The majority of whites still overwhelmingly fingered blacks as the most likely to commit crimes, even when they didn't commit them.
The bulging numbers of blacks in America's jails and prisons seem to reinforce the wrong-headed perception that crime and violence in America invariably comes with a young, black male face such as Martin's. It doesn't much matter how prominent, wealthy, or celebrated the black is. The overkill frenzy feeding on the criminal or borderline criminal antics of a litany of black NFL and NBA stars, that run afoul of the law or are poorly behaved, and of course, everyone's favorite stomping boy, the rappers and hip hop artists, further implant the negative image of black males, like Martin.
To have the gall to even mention Martin's alleged Facebook pictures, Hoodie attire, or school tardiness is laughable and totally irrelevant to the fact that he was murdered in cold blood and the self-admitted shooter is walking free. But decency and fair play are the tragic casualties of racial stereotypes. Martin is endearing proof of that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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