Sunday, April 8, 2012

Shelby Steele in Wall Street Journal Opinion Piece on the Death of Trayvon Martin – The Ugly Nasty Right Wing Rant Everyone Expected

But Hoped Would Not Happen

In the aftermath of the tragic death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, a young man shot to death by George Zimmerman as he walked through a Sanford, Florida neighborhood dressed in a hoodie and carrying Skittles and a can of iced tea the commentary was encouraging.  It was encouraging in that it was not split along racial or political lines, and other than a few irrelevant extremists it called for the simple application of justice in the form of Mr. Zimmerman’s arrest and trial to determine the truth and to determine if Mr. Zimmerman was guilty of a criminal act.  The reaction was an affirmation of faith in the American judicial system.

But this idea of a non-partisan, non political reaction to the tragedy has largely fallen, and that idea's final demise is in the writings of Shelby Steele on the Op/Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.  Mr. Steele is an African American, a fact which gives him license, were he to choose to use it, to be especially harsh on other African Americans were he to choose to do so and avoid any charge of racial bias.  He so chooses.

The odious and ugly concepts in Mr. Steele’s piece are numerous.  Here is just some of what he has to say.

First of all Mr. Steele asserts that events happened this way.

What is fundamentally tragic here is that these two young males first encountered each other as provocations. Males are males, and threat often evokes a narcissistic anger that skips right past reason and into a will to annihilate: "I will take you out!" There was a terrible fight. Trayvon apparently got the drop on George Zimmerman, but ultimately the man with the gun prevailed.

implying that this was just one of those macho things that happen with young men and that Trayvon ‘got the drop’ on Mr. Zimmerman.  This was of course a confrontation initiated by Mr. Zimmerman and unless Mr. Steele was there, which he was not his presentation of the events is a pure fabrication.  He does not know that Mr. Martin ‘got the drop’ on Mr. Zimmerman.  But believing his version of the events supports his case that Mr. Zimmerman is not a fault here and that the real issue is that other people are making a ‘cause’ out of this.

Despite the awful sadness felt by everyone, Mr. Steele claims that this event was one of joy for some people

In fact Trayvon's sad fate clearly sent a quiver of perverse happiness all across America's civil rights establishment, and throughout the mainstream media as well. His death was vindication of the "poetic truth" that these establishments live by.

And what is the ‘poetic truth’ he is talking about?

The civil rights community and the liberal media live by the poetic truth that America is still a reflexively racist society, and that this remains the great barrier to black equality.

So Mr. Steele gets an ‘A’ in Straw Men and an F in reality.  This case has nothing to do with the Civil Rights movement, nothing to do with society as a whole and everything to do with a local event in Sanford, Florida where the police and law enforcement have not acted as they should have, in part because of the race of the participants.   And Mr. Steele wants to exonerate Mr. Zimmerman of a racist motive

If Trayvon Martin was a victim of white racism (hard to conceive since the shooter is apparently Hispanic), his murder would be an anomaly, not a commonplace.

But this fails to recognize that racism did play a role here.  Mr. Martin was pursued and confronted with suspicion because he was an African American.  Mr. Zimmerman was not arrested and was set free because he was not an African American and the victim was.   That much is clear.

There is much more in this repulsive opinion, including the comment about African Americans and liberals using the death of Mr. Martin for their own benefit,

The tragedy surrounding Trayvon's death is not in the possibility that it might have something to do with white racism; the tragedy is in the lustfulness with which so many black leaders, in conjunction with the media, have leapt to exploit his demise for their own power.

and equally repulsive is the fact that he calls Mr. Martin’s death an “anomaly” which must be tremendously hurtful to Mr. Martin’s family were they to be aware of the comment.    But probably the worst of it is this comment by Mr. Steele

No matter the facts—whether Trayvon Martin was his victim or his assailant—George Zimmerman will also never be entirely redeemed.

So for Mr. Steele this is really all about 'redeeming' Mr. Zimmerman, who is apparently in the eyes of Mr. Steele and his followers the real victim here.

Well he is right, that Mr. Zimmerman will never be entirely redeemed.  But that is as it should be.  Most of what happened in this case is unknown, which is why a trial is necessary to bring those facts to light and to determine if indeed Mr. Zimmerman did engage in a criminal act.  But there are two facts which we do know, and these are not facts like fact checkers talk about, facts where they can be partly true, or true ‘but’.  These two absolute facts are this.

  1. Had Mr. Zimmerman not been carrying a gun Mr. Martin would not have been shot and killed.  Mr. Zimmerman had been told in training not to carry a gun.  He knew he should not have been carrying a gun and he chose to do so anyway.  That action caused Mr. Martin’s death.

  1. Mr. Zimmerman had been told not to follow Mr. Martin and not to confront him.  Had he stayed in his vehicle, had he not gotten out to confront Mr. Martin, had he done as he was told and was trained to do, Mr. Martin would not have been killed.

So no, even if he is exonerated by a trial Mr. Zimmerman cannot be redeemed, nor should he.  His actions and his actions alone, actions that were in contradiction to the training he had received and the message he had been given set in motion the events that caused this tragedy. The fact that those actions should not have been taken means Mr. Zimmerman did cause an unnecessary death regardless of whether or not a crime was committed..  He should never be fully redeemed.  And so a second tragedy of the Martin killing is that people like Mr. Steele, and not the people he attacks, are using it to make political points and to try and excuse a terrible tragedy, a useless killing and a preventable death.

If there is one postive here, it is that we do have the answer to one question.  That question is whether or not there is any commentary that is so hateful, so false, so ugly that even though it supports their political and social philosophy the Wall Street Journal will not publish it as an opinion piece?  We now know the answer, it is no.  If those who edit and make decisions with respect to the Op/Ed pages of the Wall Street Journal did not read this awful diatribe and think 'no, we will not publish this' then one must conclude there is nothing they will not publish in suppoart of their world views.


  1. You're exactly right on the two known facts. You're also right that there is nothing they will not publish in pursuit of ideology. Pathetic!

  2. Fact one is debatable. If Zimmerman's father is to be believed, Zimmerman was on his way to the store, not patrolling as a neighborhood watchman, in which case carrying the firearm was not intrinsically against any training.

    That said, I agree with Bill Cosby when he blamed "the gun". I don't know if Zimmerman would have left his car had he not had it, but I do know Trayvon would be alive if Zimmerman hadn't had it - and if any crime had been committed, we'd have heard two sides of the story. (My own opinion is that, if anyone was justified in standing his ground, it was Trayvon, not Zimmerman.)