By Cody Hibbard–
A sensational story has swept across our nation in the past month. Turn on your television and it is next to impossible to avoid conversations about hoodies, hate crimes and voice analysis. On Feb. 26, 2012, an unarmed 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old man and the head of a community watch group. Despite the fact that the shooting occurred a month prior, media outlets pounced on the story and created a national whirlwind of speculation and outrage on the details of the shooting. Zimmerman claims he shot Martin in self-defense, while supporters of Martin feel Zimmerman killed him in cold blood, motivated by his racial attitude.
Depending on which news source I watch, two drastically different pictures are painted between Martin and Zimmerman. Each of these media outlets provides “facts” to prove and disprove the arguments presented from opposing sides regarding the circumstances of the shooting. Misleading information is presented as fact, creating a misinformed viewer base that reacts to inaccurate facts. For example, take the photos used to portray Martin and Zimmerman. In some cases, the photos used by the media are outdated, showing Martin as a 12 year old. Zimmerman’s photo typically is a mug shot photo from a misdemeanor arrest from years ago. The opposite side will show Zimmerman in a business suite and will portray Martin as a trouble maker. These portrayals are aimed to sway your opinion on the case and do not serve any purpose in explaining what happened the night of the shooting.
Even reliable and trustworthy news source, NBC, is guilty of providing us with misleading information. NBC released an apology for reporting edited audio tapes of the conversation between Zimmerman and the police dispatch. The edited conversation presented Zimmerman as a racist, but when the full conversation was released, it was apparent that critical pieces of the conversation were omitted. This is simply unacceptable from our news outlets. How can I make an informed decision based on misleading information? This small piece of information is critical to our understanding of the events and NBC failed to sustain its journalist integrity and duty they serve to the public. NBC’s blatant misrepresentation of Zimmerman’s conversation with the police dispatch only added fuel to the fire surrounding the racial issues associated with the case.
So I find myself asking, what are the facts? What do we definitely know of this tragic situation? Therein lies the problem; media coverage with a disregard for factual information. Personally, I cannot justify complete outrage, social strife and campus protests based on misleading information. After all, media sources have vested interests in viewership and cases such as the Trayvon Martin tragedy can translate into big ratings.
What I do know is that the death of Martin is a terrible tragedy. I too find myself caught up in a rage, only my anger has a direction, a focus and is faceless. It isn’t one single individual. If Zimmerman did commit a crime under Florida law or federal law he should be punished accordingly. The real problem is much bigger and is centered in bad policy, legislation practices and poor reporting from what is supposed to be reliable journalists.
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law enabled Zimmerman to shoot in self -defense if he felt threatened and without any attempt to avoid the situation. Police handcuffed Zimmerman and tried to charge him with manslaughter, but the system rejected these claims and cited insufficient evidence to support a case against Zimmerman. This is purely dreadful policy that several states practice today. Trained policed officers should be responsible for conducting and handling these circumstances and Zimmerman should have been responsible enough to understand that.
The media has taken advantage of the reactionary society we live in today. We simply do not know enough to form accurate opinions. When we jump to conclusions, mistakes are made. Police officers are trained to handle these circumstances. In this way, mistakes can be avoided. Sadly, a community watch group member took matters into his own hands and killed an unarmed 17 year old. Bad policy has shielded Zimmerman from any prosecution to date, and it will be up to the people to focus their energy into changing the policies and laws they disagree with. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is the perfect place to start.
Photo: Nathan Gardner/The Louisville Cardinal