The Trayvon Martin Case

Trayvon-Martin.jpgThrough this past week, my Atlantic colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates has done a number of excellent and disturbing items on the killing of Trayvon Martin (right) in Sanford, Florida. You can see a search-page list of all of them here. And here is a NYT wrapup of the essence of the case.

It very often happens that, informally and without discussing it, the Atlantic's regular contributors divide up the topics we cover. Jeffrey Goldberg and I talk about the TSA more than most other people do -- but the non-TSA aviation topics I pretty much have to myself, whereas he is much more likely to write about, say, Hamas. If there is a jobs report out, Derek Thompson and Clive Crook are more likely to write about it than I am. Ta-Nehisi Coates says more about the Civil War and video games than the rest of us. If it's boiled frogs, or beer, you know where to come. Etc.

So since I have no special standing to talk about police activity, crime stories, or anything involving Florida, this is a subject I would normally leave alone. The Atlantic's site as a whole, especially The Wire, operates with the ambition of covering the entire range of breaking news, but none of us individually can, or tries.

Here's why I think it is worth making an exception and talking about something outside "my" realm. The Trayvon Martin case involves the shooting of a young black man by a young white man, and the failure of the white-run Southern police department to take any action against the killer. The more evidence comes out, the less defensible and more bigoted the police department's attitude seems. Ta-Nehisi Coates has done a very effective job of following this case -- but since he is the only black "Voice" on the Atlantic's site, and since many (though not all) of the leading writers about the case elsewhere also have been black, leaving it to him could give the impression that we think of this as a "black" story. My feeling is the same as when I wrote about the Troy Davis execution last fall: this case is obviously about race, and is important on those grounds. Race relations are after all the original and ongoing tension in U.S. history. But it is also about self-government, rule of law, equality before the law, accountability of power, and every other value that we contend is integral to the American ideal -- and also to "the America idea," exploration of which was the founding idea of the Atlantic Monthly back in 1857.

So I will follow what Ta-Nehisi Coates and others write about this case and encourage you to do the same. I do so without expectation of adding anything myself, but with gratitude for those who are advancing the broadest American interests by directing attention to it.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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