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No more victim-blaming!

According to a news report from The Guardian, more than a month has passed since the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin occurred in a gated, middle-class community near Miami, Florida.

Trayvon Martin was walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s house, when he was shot and killed by volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Under the claim of self-defense, Zimmerman was released from questioning and has yet to be arrested. This is where the issue becomes problematic. Sanford Police argue to have released Zimmerman based on the Florida “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to employ deadly force against another person if they fear for their safety, and because of his supposedly “squeaky clean” record. However, Zimmerman had both a restraining order alleging domestic violence and a charge of assaulting a police officer, both in 2005. Furthermore, the 911 tapes show that Zimmerman followed Treyvon, despite being told not to by the Operator. This instance contradicts his claim of self-defense, for it puts Zimmerman in the position of the aggressor, not that of the victim. His claim is even further discredited when you consider that Trayvon was unarmed, was half the weight of Zimmerman, and was carrying nothing but a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea. How Zimmerman could have felt his life threatened by this young boy is beyond me.

Even more problematic, is how the media has handled this case. Fox News reporter, Geraldo Rivera said on “Fox and Friends”  that the hoodie is as much to blame for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. He went on to urge black and Latino parents to not let their children go out wearing hoodies if they want to avoid racial profiling. Rivera argued that by wearing the hoodie, Trayvon was making himself look as a gangster, who are frequently perceived as criminals.

Much like the congressmen and individuals who spoke  at the 1994 Hip Hop Hearings, Rivera’s remarks seem to stem from a intergenerational divide. Both the speakers at the Hip Hop Hearings and Geraldo Rivera lived during the civil rights movement, a time when a lot of minorities practiced the “regulation of intra-community behaviors via the promotion of temperance, cleanliness of person and property, polite manners, and sexual purity” (AMS 310 Lecture, 2011). Minority communities used the politics of respectability in order to deter the stereotype that minorities are unruly and uncivilized people, and thus have their social reform movement taken more seriously. This might explain why Rivera, as well as the speakers at the Hip Hop Hearings, blamed the visible aspects of youth culture (style of clothing, music, etc.) for the problems that are currently affecting African and Latino Americans.

However, George Lipsitz argues that by blaming the hoodie or “gansta rap”, they are detaching the issues afflicting minority communities from their true socio-economic and political causes such as lack of jobs, lack of proper health-care, not enough funding for public education and social programs, etc (Course Packet, 395).  In a true democracy, people of every sex, ethnicity, and sexuality should have the freedom to wear whatever clothes they want and listen to whatever music they prefer, without having to fear for their lives or overall safety.

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