Trayvon Martin's Face

A reader sent this message after he read an item yesterday:

Looking at your note on this online and seeing Trayvon Martin's picture juxtaposed by Obama's picture on the Atlantic cover made me think - this kid could have grown up to be President.

I don't know anything about Trayvon Martin's real character or potential, and I am not meaning to romanticize him. On the other hand, he was only 17 -- who knows what he might have become? The truth is that virtually no one in the United States actually does "grow up to be president." But a similarly important truth in America is the ideal that almost anyone could  realize that dream. (And boy have we seen the "anyone" category broaden out in this latest primary season -- just a little joke.) As a conceptual and symbolic matter, Obama's election has forever opened a realm of possibilities for people who could "grow up to be president" -- and whose potential for such a future you can see in a photo like this.

In the same vein:
The effect of Trayvon Martin's photo at the top of your blog post was quite stunning, on me anyway. More powerfully than any of the very well written commentary I've read so far, it said to me simply: Who would find this person so threatening as to shoot him - apparently while *walking away*?  And who could find that shooting not to be worth a homicide investigation?
Let us stipulate that Trayvon Martin might have looked different that night than he did in this angelic photo. Still, the person in this picture is the same one who was shot -- and who, according the 911 tapes, was begging for mercy before the killer fired the fatal shots. If humanizing this tragic slaughter, by literally putting a smiling face on the victim, attracts attention to the racial and broader civic and legal issues it raises, then let it do so.

From a reader with a military background, on one of those broader issues:
I am following this story with interest, but less from a black vs. white story perspective than one of gun ownership out of control...
I've done a lot of weapons firing and have a sizeable collection of military firearms as well as a number of acquaintances who share my enthusiasm for firearms. I get tired of hearing periodically from one of my well-meaning but not well-informed shooting buddies about how the Obama administration is going to end gun ownership as we know it. I get more tired of hearing about the incidents where gun owners just plain act irresponsibly in exercising their so-called rights.
This story from Florida makes me sick. No one has the right to go around armed and taking the law into his own hands. I personally hope that the Department of Justice gets involved in this case since the accounts I've read so far seem to pretty clearly suggest that Trayvon Martin was deprived of his civil rights, and the authorities in Florida so far have made no effort to bring this matter to justice.   sincerely hope Mr. Martin's parents can find a competent attorney to bring a civil wrongful death suit against Mr. Zimmerman and the local police department.  Clowns like Zimmerman end up branding all firearm owners as out-of-control bullies who can shoot unarmed people with impunity.

For the record: in the page the first reader originally saw, the pictures of Obama and Trayvon Martin were farther apart on the screen, though both visible in the same glance. For clarity I've moved the Obama image down parallel to Martin's. 

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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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