July 16, 2013

The Sympathy Gap

The tragedy of the Trayvon Martin case does have a primary source: the presence or absence of sympathy for someone that is in some way different from us. After listening to Anderson Cooper's interview of an anonymous juror from the case, I am convinced that her sympathies lay primarily with Zimmerman. What I mean specifically is that she felt she knew who Zimmerman was, what motivated him, what his values were -- and that she felt a sense of kinship with him. That five white women and one Hispanic woman felt more sympathy for a half-white, half-Hispanic man than for a black boy is sadly unsurprising to me. 

Imagine for a second that your son, who just turned seventeen, is on his way back to your girlfriend's apartment from a 7-11 run so you all can watch a football game together. It's about 7PM, it's dark and rainy, so he's pulled the hood on his sweatshirt over his head. While your son is talking to a friend on his cell phone, he notices that a man is following him. 

Now, let's start over. Imagine that your twenty-eight-year-old brother is out doing his bit to keep his family safe by pulling neighborhood watch duty. He sees a young man with a hooded sweatshirt walking along the street in his neighborhood. He calls 911 to report a suspicious character in his neighborhood. The operator tells him that he doesn't need to follow the suspicious guy anymore. But he decides to do so anyway because he's frustrated that guys like that always get away. 

Now, let's start over again. You are a disinterested by-stander faced with a situation where two men have had some sort of an altercation. One was armed and the other was not. The armed man is alive and in reasonably good condition: a few cuts and bruises, a broken nose, but walking, talking, and in no need of hospitalization. The unarmed man is dead with a bullet through his heart.

In what logical universe could these three perspectives lead to the armed twenty-eight year old man's killing of the unarmed seventeen-year-old man be declared justified? The only solution I can come up with is an unwarranted sympathy for the shooter and a total lack of sympathy for the victim.

I generally don't see racism everywhere and skeptically scrutinize situations where it's alleged. But in the case of Trayvon Martin's death, I think racism is not just present, it's almost the whole story.