The tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida has riveted the attention of the entire nation. Martin, a Miami Gardens teenager, was shot dead by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Many believe race played a role in the shooting. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.
Media reports portrayed Zimmerman as an overzealous busybody. Trayvon was seen as the victim of racial profiling, a black teen in a hoodie who accidentally wandered into the cross hairs of a frustrated cop wannabe.
Zimmerman had called police to report a young man who he claimed looked drugged and suspicious. Media portrayal of Zimmerman’s subsequent actions pointed to a misguided vigilante who hunted down and killed an innocent youngster.
The occurrence has taken on disturbing overtones. The unfortunate youth has become a symbol of racial unrest. He has been called a “martyr for the cause.” It is, of course, possible that Trayvon’s race was a factor in this tragedy. But not every act of violence perpetrated against blacks is necessarily racially motivated, just as not every act of violence against Jews is necessarily fueled by anti-Semitism.
A lynch mob mentality has emerged. The “new” Black Panther party has offered a reward of $10,000 for a citizen’s arrest of Zimmerman. The Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have done whatever they can to fan the flames. Sharpton sees the event as an indication of “open season on us.” Jackson points to an undercurrent of anger in the black community caused by police, banks, insurance companies and “people in striped suits.” President Obama added an emotional component when he said that if he had a son ”he would look like Trayvon.”
We Jews have long been victims of unfounded accusations. But this phenomenon is not unique to the Jewish world. Recall the charges made by Tawana Brawley, the allegations against Atlanta Olympic Park security guard Richard Jewell, and the attempted framing of the Duke Lacrosse Team.
I certainly am not an advocate for George Zimmerman. I am an advocate of not rushing to judgment.
About the Author: Shelley Benveniste is South Florida editor of The Jewish Press.
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