In the aftermath of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are attempting to use the dead 17-year-old to do what they have spent so much of their adult lives doing: dividing America over racial lines. So are some Members of Congress. President Obama’s words have certainly been more subtle and less polarizing than some others. Still Obama, having waded once before into a local law enforcement issue he chose to interpret through a racial lens (the 2009 arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates by a Cambridge police officer), decided he’d speak out on the Martin tragedy – even before the facts are all in and even before an arrest has been made. That is courting trouble. Newt Gingrich fired back with typical restraint, calling the president’s comments “disgraceful.”
MSNBC (among other news outlets) has been obsessing on the story. Film director Spike Lee re-tweeted the wrong address of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin, with the result being that an elderly couple in their 70s were forced to flee their home after receiving death threats (Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, liberal but often responsible, takes apart Spike Lee here). And the New Black Panther party has put out a bounty on Zimmerman and called for his capture “dead or alive.”
We don’t know exactly what happened on the night of February 26. But we do know one thing for sure: Trayvon Martin did not deserve to be shot through the chest by a 9 mm handgun that killed him. Whether or not Zimmerman acted maliciously, recklessly, or mistakenly hasn’t been determined. How one views him depends on facts that are still unclear. But one life has been ended and the lives of many other people have been ruined.
We need to allow justice to be done – and justice might well mean the arrest and trial of Zimmerman. At the same time, a decent society would give the parents, family members and friends of those caught up in this nightmare the room to grieve. In days gone by, it would have been viewed as somewhat unseemly to take what ought to be private moments and feelings and have them played out on a public stage; to turn a human tragedy into a PR war. No more. One side wants to conduct a trial by television. The other feels compelled to respond. As a result, Trayvon Martin’s death has been turned into a media-driven circus.
The impulse of those who comprise the political class to reduce every single event in life – including tears and sorrows beyond measure – to partisan political ends isn’t the worst thing in the world. But it’s bad enough. And it needs to stop.