Sympathy and Trayvon Martin

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Here's a story about a shooting out of Southwest, Georgia and why Trayvon Martin became #TrayvonMartin:

Norman Neesmith was sleeping in his home on a rural farm road here in onion country when a noise woke him up. He grabbed the .22-caliber pistol he kept next to his bed and went to investigate. He found two young brothers who had been secretly invited to party with an 18-year-old relative he had raised like a daughter and her younger friend. The young people were paired up in separate bedrooms. There was marijuana and sex. 

Over the course of the next confusing minutes on a January morning in 2011, there would be a struggle. The young men would make a terrified run for the door. Mr. Neesmith, who is 62 and white, fired four shots. One of them hit Justin Patterson, who was 22 and black. 

The bullet pierced his side, and he died in Mr. Neesmith's yard. His younger brother, Sha'von, then 18, ran through the onion fields in the dark, frantically trying to call his mother.

And hark a vagrant:
"These stories happen all the time," Mr. Coates said. "It's heartbreaking and tragic, but there's not much news coverage unless the circumstances are truly, truly unusual." 

"Stories like the south Georgia killing don't have the same particulars," he said. "One of the great tragedies is that people get shot under questionable circumstances in this country all the time."

Among those things, in the case of Trayvon Martin, was the victims age and the lack of arrests. Had Martin been, say 22, this would have gone differently. I'd go further--I've seen SYG cases where the known facts are actually more egregious than the known facts of the Martin case:
The incident took place on Jan. 25, when Roteta and another youth were behind Garcia's apartment at 201 SW 18th Ct. According to police, Roteta was stealing Garcia's truck radio. Garcia, alerted by a roommate, grabbed a large knife and ran downstairs. 

He chased Roteta, then stabbed him in a confrontation that lasted less than a minute, according to court documents. The stabbing was caught on video. 

Roteta was carrying a bag filled with three stolen radios, but no weapon other than a pocketknife, which was unopened in his pocket and which police said he never brandished. 

 After initially denying involvement in the man's death, Garcia admitted to homicide detectives that he attacked Roteta even though "he actually never saw a weapon." 

Garcia claimed Roteta made a move that he interpreted as a move to stab him -- so he struck first.  

Garcia was found innocent. As far as I am concerned our morals shouldn't simply be invoked for the most sympathetic. But this is not how humans work. Martin was a minor. He was a nice looking young man. He was engaged in no crime. And he is dead. He gets a level of sympathy that Roteta does not. This has always been true. Rosa Parks wasn't the first person to refuse to move from Montgomery bus seat...

When 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested in March, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, E.D. Nixon thought he had found the perfect person, but the teenager turned out to be pregnant. Nixon later explained, "I had to be sure that I had somebody I could win with." Parks, however, was a good candidate because of her employment and marital status, along with her good standing in the community.

...but she was the most sympathetic.

The fact is that cases with an alleged "racial element" are dispiritingly common. (It is not even clear that Neesmith wouldn't have shot someone white.) Questionable shootings--racial element regardless--are vastly more common. What really made Trayvon Martin's death go nuclear was the sympathy factor and  the deep-seated sense that the police had not done their jobs

Speaking personally, my initial interest was really on the Stand Your Ground defense, and still is is. It is not clear to me--even now--that Zimmerman actually violated Florida's law.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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