Trayvon Martin

03.29.12

Trayvon Martin’s Shooting Mirrors America’s Paranoia About Barack Obama

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin reflects the hysteria that has gripped large numbers of Americans since the election of our first black president.

When President Obama said, movingly and beautifully—and with great courage in this rancid political season—that Trayvon Martin could well have been his son, he hit the nail on the head more directly than he knew.  George Zimmerman’s response to Trayvon Martin was an allegory for the way at least half the country has been responding to Obama since he was elected to sit in the White House.

Just as Zimmerman suddenly became a crime-watch volunteer—after being charged with assaulting a cop, no less—countless people suddenly, upon the election of America’s first black president, began to worry about the country as if about a crime-ridden neighborhood.

As though patrolling local streets, they began to obsess over the Constitution. As if spotting broken locks or shattered windows, they believed they saw breaches of “freedom” everywhere. Because there had been numerous recent break-ins in the neighborhood, Zimmerman believed that following Martin was necessary. Because there had been tyrants before in world history, true patriots became convinced that scrutinizing Obama’s every move in the past and in the present was of the utmost urgency.

Zimmerman had called 911 46 times in the past eight years. No doubt each time he called, he thought he perceived a different threat. One black kid walking alone. Two black kids walking alone. A black kid holding something. A black kid looking around suspiciously.

How many 911-like alarms have been rung since Obama was elected? His friendship with Bill Ayers demonstrated that he had the heart of a terrorist. His association with Jeremiah Wright confirmed that he hated America. Hello, Operator. Send help, Obama is a socialist! He bailed out Detroit because he’s in bed with the unions. He’s also in cahoots with the banks and screwing the common man.  Plus, he’s turned on the American financial system and, yes, is screwing the common man. Help, police, his health-care plan is a plot to put all our civil liberties in the hands of a totalitarian government! He’s looking around at our institutions, at our individual freedoms, at our God-given right to be American...

We don’t think he was born in America. We’re going to follow him.

And that hoodie. True, it’s sometimes a fashion statement that means trouble. But on that night, it was raining. The hoodie wasn’t necessarily in the form of something meant to be menacing. It was the function of something meant to be protective. It was a way for Martin to shelter himself from bad weather. It had a physical justification that should have made Zimmerman check his automatic responses. Instead, it must have rattled Zimmerman because he couldn’t see Martin’s face. Unable to see his face, Zimmerman projected onto the teenager his worst fears.

Unable to get a clear sense of Obama’s past, great numbers of people projected onto him their worst fears of where he might have come from. His untypical life cast a concealing penumbra over him. In their eyes, he rose to power with an obscuring hoodie on and has been wearing it for over three years. His Kenyan father’s anti-imperialist anger must have deformed him. His radical relationships in Hyde Park must have shaped his consciousness. His time as a community organizer steeped in Trotskyist literature written by the likes of Saul Alinsky must have instilled in him a secret, sinister agenda.

Unable to see his face, Zimmerman projected onto the teenager his worst fears. Unable to get a clear sense of Obama’s past, great numbers of people projected onto him their worst fears of where he might have come from.

No matter what he does—rescuing the unemployed, insuring people with pre-existing conditions, getting us out of Iraq, ridding the world of bin Laden—the obscuring hoodie of his uncharacteristic life plunges his actions into a troubling darkness. No matter how familiar his face has become, half the country still cannot recognize him.

The deranged “Stand Your Ground Law” that has had the effect of legalizing murder in Florida got on the books before Obama’s election. But since Obama became president, paranoia and hysteria have fueled the opposition to him, and laws making it easier to carry concealed weapons have proliferated throughout the country. Make no mistake about it. Forged in paranoia and hysteria, Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin was no less than a surrogate assassination of our alarming black president.