I must admit: I learned something from reading Alex Seitz-Wald’s post at Salon titled “No, Chris Lane is not Trayvon Martin!” I didn’t know until I read it there that Rush Limbaugh had called the crime the “Trayvon Martin [case] in reverse.”
I agree with Seitz-Wald that the two crimes are very dissimilar, though his and my reasons for so stating could not be further apart.
He writes that the decision by Sanford, Fla., police to initially release George Zimmerman “smacked of institutional, state-sponsored racial favoritism of the worst kind. It was only after public outcry that state prosecutors took over the case and pressed charges.“
That assessment nearly turns the facts of the case on their head. According to the report filed by the Sanford, Fla., police, a bloodied George Zimmerman was released on his own recognizance “for lack of evidence and lack of legal grounds for arrest” as well as Zimmerman’s “right to defend himself with lethal force” against a deadly attack. Seitz-Wald is right that Zimmerman was arrested following “public outcry,” but that was to avert a riot, not to correct an injustice.
But there are far more compelling differences that Seitz-Wald overlooks. One is that Chris Lane was shot in the back while Trayvon Martin took a bullet to the abdomen as he lay on top of George Zimmerman, on whom he was raining down martial arts blows. Another is that the FBI, after rigorous investigation, concluded that racial profiling was not a factor in Zimmerman’s suspicions of Trayvon Martin. In the case of Chris Lane, the motive was something far more insidious. Either the three teens responsible for his death were bored or — according to a more recent theory — involved in some of gang initiation rite. Either motive is immeasurably more grotesque than the motives Seitz-Wald attributes to George Zimmerman without a shred of evidence to back up the presumption.
One of the most revealing statements in Seitz-Wald’s argument is his observation that “Jesse Jackson tried to extend an olive branch, tweeting that he was ‘Praying for the family of Chris Lane.’” [Emphasis added]
Seitz-Wald seems to be conceding that Jackson, who up until recently was bellowing that Florida is “an apartheid state,” was now making a lukewarm conciliatory gesture toward “whitey,” who had just lost one of its own in an act of savage brutality. Seitz-Wald’s instinct appears to be that Jackson didn’t mean what he tweeted, which is borne out by the reverend’s lip service to “senseless violence” being “frowned upon.” If only his language in re Trayvon Martin had been so calm and measured.
Perhaps the most interesting claim in the article — and certainly the funniest — is one made in defense of Obama pal Henry Louis Gates. “It’s not that difficult to understand,” Seitz-Wald writes, “so we’ll spell it out.” (If it’s not difficult to understand, he shouldn’t need to spell it out, but I digress.)
Defending Obama’s ostensible double standard when it comes to reacting to crimes whose victims are black, Seitz-Wald writes:
Henry Louis Gates, the famed black professor … was arrested while he was trying to get into his own home in Cambridge, Mass., after he misplaced his keys. That’s not how police are supposed to operate, and that’s why Obama weighed in.
Again, if Seitz-Wald bothered to acquaint himself with the police report, Cambridge police were doing precisely what police are supposed to do. They saw someone attempting to jimmy open the door of a darkened house. When they asked for identification, Gates became belligerent and lapsed into ghetto-speak: “Ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside.” Gates was arrested not for attempted breaking and entering but for disorderly conduct.
Seitz-Wald concludes his analysis by noting:
If you want to actually understand race relations in this country, you need to understand the difference between these cases.
He’s right, though he doesn’t specify when or if he plans to start his education.