Suspicious indeed: The case of Trayvon Martin

2 April 2012

Written by: Erdem Koc

Brace yourself.

A new criminal mastermind has emerged, the likes of which not seen since Dr. No and Bernie Madoff, set to tear at the very fabric of the world as we know it.

The culprit?  The hooded sweatshirt.

The hooded sweatshirt, or ‘hoodie’ for short, has turned from a lounge-worthy alternative to proper attire into the reason why unarmed children are killed.

Well, that is if Fox News pundit, Geraldo Rivera, is to be believed.

‘I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,’ said Rivera while appearing on Fox and Friends on Friday.

‘I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.’

Rivera was discussing the tragic shooting of 17-year-old Florida boy, Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead on February 26 as he was walking back to his father’s gated-community home.

Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, followed Martin before shooting him, justifying his actions by saying that he thought that Martin was ‘suspicious’.

The very fact that some segments of the media have tried to base the conversation surrounding Martin’s killing around his choice of clothing, is nothing less than preposterous.

That’s the most irritating wrinkles of the Martin story, supposedly educated, media-trained professional actually entertained the notion that he wouldn’t have been shot if not for the ‘hoodie’.

The focus on the ‘hoodie’ takes away from the real issues that culminated in the killing of a 17-year-old boy.

The first issue is the time-honored question surrounding gun control in the U.S.

When contrasted with our own laws in Australia, the very fact that Zimmerman – a neighborhood watch member – could carry a gun and be justified in using it is unimaginable.

Zimmerman is not a police officer, and presumably he has had minimal – if any – training on how to handle a firearm.

Yet, he is in the position to ‘patrol’ the streets in case trouble arises.

But the real issue goes much deeper than that.

Zimmerman, a 28-year-old, justified his fatal attack on the 17-year-old Martin as self-defence.  The local police did not arrest Zimmerman, saying they had no evidence to dispute his claim that he had acted in self-defence.

Questions are now being asked about whether Zimmerman would have immediately  deemed Martin as ‘suspicious’ if he was a white youth in a hoodie.

Or whether Zimmerman already predisposed to thinking of Martin in a certain way because of his appearance.

Trayvon Martin is an African-American youth, and like it or not, there is still a certain attitude in American culture towards African-American youths, particularly males.

The issue of race in the Martin shooting hasn’t been lost on prominent American figures.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat tweeted a picture in support of Martin, along with the hashtags: #WeAreTrayvonMartin, #Hoodies, #Stereotyped, #WeWantJustice.

In addition to James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat: fellow NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, rap mogul Diddy and actor Jamie Foxx are just a few of the other celebrities to support Martin.

Rep Bobby Rush, a Chicago Democrat, was escorted off the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives after he removed his suit jacket to reveal a hoodie.

Barack Obama spoke out on this issue, labeled the incident ‘a tragedy.’

‘I think that every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,’ said Obama.

‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.’

Without doubt, American culture has come along way in regards to racism, but the fact that certain amounts of racism exist is unquestionable.

But here’s the worst part.  There’s a strong chance you’re part of the problem on this.  Without being too self-indulgent, if I were to be completely honest, I’m part of the problem on this.

In no way would I have shot Trayvon Martin in this instance, but if I was walking towards Martin alone in the same circumstance, I probably would’ve crossed the street and walked on the other footpath.

Does that make me a bad person? Maybe, but it’s a product of our society.

Most of us grew up surrounded by this racism, overt or apparent, and bombarded by images from certain areas of the media.

It’s the reason why Martin was initially tabled as a John Doe by police, why it took the better part of a month to gain worldwide attention, and why people have tried to tarnish Martin by suggesting that he was in a gang or a drug dealer.

It’s not nice, but the sooner we accept it, the closer we’ll be to making sure that there are no more Trayvon Martins in the future.

Liam Quinn is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.  He is currently on exchange at Michigan State University. You can follow him on Twitter: @liamquinn23