The Continued Politicization of the Trayvon Martin Case

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The cover of Tuesday's New York Post is dedicated to the Trayvon Martin story, but there's a twist: It's not about Martin (or his alleged shooter, George Zimmerman) at all, but about the tragedy being "hijacked by 'race hustlers.'" 

This is by no means the first time the Post has run an article about the story, but as we noted Monday, this story has expanded to include George Zimmerman defenders and witness accounts (who these witnesses are, exactly, is not known) that seem to support Zimmerman, as well as tidbits that seemingly impugn Martin, like that he was once suspended for having a baggie that had contained pot.

This story in the Post is not quite the same as those, but it does represent a further stage in the media coverage of this story that, though possibly less tragic, is really no less inflammatory. Which is one reason it's getting the front page -- the story has national attention, and the race angle is bound to sell papers. Plus, we have some major New York characters figuring in at this point, including Al Sharpton and Mayor Bloomberg, who is using the shooting to criticize lax gun laws that allow for concealed weaponry. The story on the cover of the Post is this: Former NAACP leader Reverend C.L. Bryant has said that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whom he called "race hustlers," are exploiting the Martin case to "racially divide the country" -- and they're using Trayvon, "this child," "as the bait to inflame racial passions." (The photo on the cover of the Post, however, is of New York State Senators Kevin Parker, Bill Perkins, and Eric Adams, who wore hoodies with their suits on Monday in tribute to Trayvon.)

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On Monday, Jackson and Sharpton held a protest attended by thousands in Sanford, Florida, the town where Martin was shot. If tensions are high throughout the nation about this case, they are higher in Sanford. The Post's Frank Rosario, Erik Kriss, and David Seifman write that Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplet "called his city 'a tinderbox' set to explode amid the racial tensions." Bryant's criticism of Sharpton and Jackson is about race as well: That in focusing on this particular case, and this one example of "white men killing black young men," we're ignoring black on black crime, which is the true epidemic, says Bryant, “The greatest danger to the lives of young black men are young black men.”

While this may be true, it's also somewhat akin to blaming a vegetarian for using a leather handbag. Which is to say, as individuals, we should all stand up for what we believe in, and not, in standing up for one thing, be necessarily expected to take on whole-cloth other related issues or else be called hypocrites. To claim that outrage is not real or is wrong because it's not a broader outrage about every issue is a political tactic in itself. In fact, Bryant, a conservative, is not sparing this opportunity to blast Obama for saying "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." 

One thing is for sure. Anyone with a political interest (and even those without) already has strong feelings invested in this case, and is going to express and use those feelings, if politically motivated, to further his or her cause. (Rush Limbaugh has weighed in too, of course.) Frankly, it's a little too late at this point to point fingers at anyone "using Trayvon," because we all are—including Bryant—in terms of what this shooting means to us, in terms of what we see as the factors that led to the tragedy, in terms of what we hope to achieve from all of the awfulness. If the Trayvon Martin case calls attention to not only a tragedy in one neighborhood in Florida but also helps us address and begin to resolve greater racial and social issues across the nation, that's a good thing. Though not something a 17-year-old should have had to die for. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.