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Zimmerman bought into stereotypes


George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin with a blast to the chest. The killing followed a bizarre sequence of events that began with Zimmerman in his car following Trayvon. Immediately after the shooting the police asked the question that America is asking now: Why did you follow him? Zimmerman’s answer betrayed his stereotypical assumptions. He stated that Trayvon was a “f---king punk.”

Our ideas about race trace back to the civil-rights era. Blacks were knocked down by water hoses, bitten by police dogs and beaten by Southern police wielding cattle prods and nightsticks. This was racism based on ignorance and hate. Zimmerman’s racial assumptions, on the other hand, are based on what I would call “a claim of knowledge.”

Zimmerman claimed to know a lot about Trayvon, though he had never met him or spoken to him before. Zimmerman “knew” that Trayvon was a “punk” apparently based on his appearance. Videos from the 7-Eleven store show Trayvon wore a hoodie and saggy pants.

A generation of film and MTV videos have popularized the iconic image of the ghetto thug. In the film Trespass, a 1980s horror movie, the monsters are Uzi-wielding urban gang members dressed much like Trayvon. In Juice, Tupac Shakur, playing a street thug, famously kills people dressed in saggy pants and an iconic hoodie; and in all the rap videos, thug figures appear similarly dressed. These stock figures are pure stereotype. Accepting these stereotypes as real, Zimmerman claimed to know who Trayvon was, based on his race and the clothes he wore.

In other words, Trayvon fit the profile. Trayvon did not have to do anything wrong. Zimmerman thought he knew from Trayvon’s appearance as a black man in a hoodie that he was a criminal and punk. Zimmerman mistook paranoid racial assumptions for facts.

Donald Jones, Cutler Bay

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