The Trayvon Martin Case

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/03/the-trayvon-martin-case/254685/