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Bonfire of the Trayvanities

If you find yourself in Greensboro, NC, on Wednesday night and feeling a little randy, you are invited to visit a local titty bar to show your respect and love for Trayvon, and to proclaim your demand for justice. Just FYI.

So, now we learn from police and witnesses that Trayvon Martin broke George Zimmerman’s nose in the altercation that led to his shooting death. More from the Orlando Sentinel:

Zimmerman told [police]  he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.

Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police. Trayvon then said, “Well, you do now” or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to the account he gave police.

Zimmerman fell to the ground and Trayvon got on top of him and began slamming his head into the sidewalk, he told police.

Zimmerman began yelling for help.

Several witnesses heard those cries, and there has been a dispute about whether they came from Zimmerman or Trayvon.

Lawyers for Trayvon’s family say it was Trayvon, but police say their evidence indicates it was Zimmerman.

One witness, who has since talked to local television news reporters, told police he saw Zimmerman on the ground with Trayvon on top, pounding him — and was unequivocal that it was Zimmerman who was crying for help.

Zimmerman then shot Trayvon once in the chest at very close range, according to authorities.

When police arrived less than two minutes later, Zimmerman was bleeding from the nose, had a swollen lip and had bloody lacerations to the back of his head.

This information certainly futzes up the narrative. If things happened this way, given Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, it’s easy to see why police didn’t arrest Zimmerman. If you were Zimmerman, and a guy had pinned you down and was whaling away on your face, breaking your nose, wouldn’t you shoot him if you had a gun? I would. I don’t blame Trayvon Martin for feeling threatened by this creepy guy following him, and it seems to me that Zimmerman ought not to have been following him. This was a needless tragedy, with mistakes on both sides. My early assumption that there could be no explanation but racism for why cops didn’t charge Zimmerman appears to have been wrong.

Not that any of that matters now. The media narrative is set. We don’t even know for sure what happened yet, but Trayvon’s parents are headed to Capitol Hill today to appear at a Democratic event. Jesse Jackson says “the whole world is watching.” More news from yesterday’s Florida rally:

Anjail Madyun of Orlando wore a pink T-shirt that read, “It’s not a black or white thing. It’s a right or wrong thing.”

Madyun, 40, said that “until we get beyond black and white, we’ll have to come to events like this. Mothers will always be crying. Fathers will always be burying their sons.”

 The Christian Science Monitor has a statement explaining Martin’s mother’s having trademarked use of his name:

Also Monday, an attorney for Martin’s mother confirmed that she filed trademark applications for two slogans containing her son’s name: “Justice for Trayvon” and “I Am Trayvon.” The applications said the trademarks could be used for such things as DVDs and CDs.

The trademark attorney, Kimra Major-Morris, said in an email that Fulton wants to protect intellectual property rights for “projects that will assist other families who experience similar tragedies.”

Asked if Fulton had any profit motive, the attorney replied: “None.”

Well, if that’s true, that’s fine by me, but we’ll see. How many other families experience “similar tragedies”? How often does a white person kill an unarmed black person? We don’t have statistics on the question of victims being armed, but 2009 FBI homicide statistics reveal that 209 blacks were killed in the US that year by whites. How many blacks were killed by other blacks? That would be 2,604.This means that in 2009, Trayvon Martin would have been more than 10 times as likely to have been killed by a black person than a white person. Ten times. Black mothers and fathers will, alas, continue to bury their murdered sons, but in more than 9 out of 10 cases, it won’t have a thing to do with white and black.

Yet where are the Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton rallies to confront the causes of black-on-black homicide in America? If they could succeed at that, even a little bit, they would save far more black lives than with what they’re doing in Florida. But of course there are few self-aggrandizement possibilities in such a cause. There are no potential financial rewards for these two shakedown artists in taking on that cause. And there is less potential for racial outrage. It looks for all the world like to these guys, the shooting death of a young black man only really matters if the shooter was white.

George Zimmerman may be guilty of a crime. If the new investigation finds sufficient reason to charge him with homicide in this case, then I hope and expect that he will be charged, and have his day in court. Whatever happens on that front, though — that is, whether he is guilty or innocent of a crime in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin — he is inescapably and permanently a scapegoat.

UPDATE: A commenter says this whole thing is a terrific example of Rene Girard’s scapegoating theory. From the Wiki entry on scapegoating:

Girard developed the concept much more extensively as an interpretation of human culture. In Girard’s view, it is humankind, not God, who has the problem with violence. Humans are driven by desire for that which another has or wants (mimetic desire). This causes a triangulation of desire and results in conflict between the desiring parties. This mimetic contagion increases to a point where society is at risk; it is at this point that the scapegoat mechanism[9]is triggered. This is the point where one person is singled out as the cause of the trouble and is expelled or killed by the group. This person is the scapegoat. Social order is restored as people are contented that they have solved the cause of their problems by removing the scapegoated individual, and the cycle begins again. The keyword here is “content”, scapegoating serves as a psychological relief for a group of people.

The key point: scapegoating provides psychological relief for a group of people. It doesn’t matter whether or not the scapegoat is actually guilty.

I was thinking about how difficult it now is to think clearly and analytically about this case, because of all the high-pitched emotions surrounding it. Do you believe that any of those activists really want “justice”? I don’t. They want Zimmerman punished. The possibility that justice might require not punishing Zimmerman (because the Florida law, rightly or wrongly, may have given Zimmerman the right to respond with deadly force) is not in the cards. I was thinking about in my case, I was so psychologically troubled by 9/11 that I was willing to believe anything the government said to justify war on Iraq. I needed a scapegoat. I didn’t see it at the time, but it didn’t really matter to me whether or not Saddam Hussein was guilty of the things the US government accused him of. Some Arab government needed to pay for 9/11. Might as well be his. That was my thinking — and it was wrong, and led to much worse trouble for everyone. The point is, the need for a psychological discharge to restore order warped my thinking about the war. The need for a psychological discharge over the Trayvon Martin killing is, I’m sure, doing the same thing to many of those who are rallying to his cause.

UPDATE.2: I agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that Zimmerman’s creepy behavior gave Martin reason to fear:

As a legal question, it may not much matter. By the lights of Florida’s law, Zimmerman doesn’t need much to immunize himself. Part of what’s disturbing  about this case, is I can easily imagine myself in Martin’s shoes. If you are following me in a truck, if you come out your truck to pursue and eventually confront me, it would not take much for me to believe that I needed to do whatever it took to stand my own ground.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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