Over the last 48 hours, there has been a sustained effort to smear Trayvon Martin, the 17-year old African-American who was shot dead by George Zimmerman a month ago. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said, “They killed my son, now they’re trying to kill his reputation.”
Thus far these attacks have fallen into two categories: false and irrelevant. Much of this leaked information seems intended to play into stereotypes about young African-American males. Here’s what everyone should know:
1. Prominent conservative websites published fake photos of Martin. Twitchy, a new website run by prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, promoted a photo — purportedly from Martin’s Facebook page — that shows Martin in saggy pants and flipping the bird. The photo, which spread quickly on conservative websites and Twitter, is intended to paint Martin as a thug. As Twitchy later acknowledged, it is not a photo of Trayvon Martin. [Examiner]
2. The Sanford Police selectively leaked irrelevant, negative information about Martin. The authorities told the Orlando Sentinel this morning that Trayvon was suspended from school for ten days “after being found with an empty marijuana baggie.” There is no evidence that Martin was under the influence of drugs at the time of his death, nor would prior possession of marijuana be a reason for killing him. It’s unclear what the relevance of the leak was, other than to smear Martin. [Orlando Sentinel]
3. On Fox News, Geraldo said that Martin was dressed “like a wannabe gangster.” Bill O’Reilly agreed with him. The sole evidence is that Martin was wearing a hoodie. Geraldo added that “everyone that ever stuck up a convenience store” was wearing a hoodie. [ThinkProgress; The Blaze]
4. Without any evidence, prominent right-wing bloggers suggested that Martin was a drug dealer. Right-wing blogger Dan Riehl advances the theory, also advanced in a widely linked peice on a site called Wagist. There does not appear to be any evidence to support this claim whatsoever. [Riehl World View]
5. Without any evidence, a right-wing columnist alleged that Martin assaulted a bus driver. Unlike Zimmerman, Trayvon has no documented history of violence. This allegation continues to be advanced by a blogger on the Examiner even after the real reason was leaked to the police and confirmed by the family. [Miami Herald; Examiner]
6. Zimmerman’s friend says Martin was to blame because he was disrespectful to Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s friend Joe Oliver said that Martin would not have been shot to death if Trayvon had just said “I’m staying with my parents.” Of course, Zimmerman was not a police officer, and Trayvon had no duty to tell him who he was or where he was going. [NBC News]
The final part of the effort to smear Trayvon Martin is to link him and his supporters to irresponsible fringe groups like the New Black Panthers and marginal provocateurs like Louis Farrakhan. Threats by these groups are serious and should be investigated, but they have nothing to do with Martin or his supporters. The leader of the effort to associate Martin with these groups is Matt Drudge. You can see how he is framing the story today here.
Ultimately, whether Martin was a perfect person is irrelevant to whether Zimmerman’s conduct that night was justified. Clearly, there are two different versions of the events that transpired on February 26, the night Trayvon was killed. There are conflicting statements by witnesses and conflicting evidence as to who was the aggressor. Zimmerman has the right to tell his side of the story. But his opportunity to do this will come in a court of law after he is charged and arrested. In the meantime, Zimmerman’s supporters should stop trying to smear the reputation of a dead, 17-year-old boy.