Trayvon Martin has been tragically killed. The black Florida teen was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in the suburb of Sanford, Fla. Instead of letting justice take its course, race-baiters are exploiting Martin’s death. They are being led by President Obama. His actions have been irresponsible, fanning the flames of racial discontent and division.
The 17-year-old was gunned down on Feb. 26 while walking back to the home of his father’s girlfriend. According to Mr. Zimmerman, Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and acting suspiciously. Police authorities and eyewitnesses say that Mr. Zimmerman and Martin got into a violent fight. Mr. Zimmerman’s face was bloodied. His nose was broken. His head was smashed on the pavement. He claims he shot Martin in self-defense. Local law enforcement refused to file charges.
Martin’s death has sparked national outrage, especially among civil rights leaders and the liberal media. He has become a symbol of racist injustice - a black kid killed in a gated community with a police department supposedly turning a blind eye. The Rev. Jesse Jackson says “blacks are under attack.” Louis Farrakhan vows “retaliation.” The Rev. Al Sharpton has organized massive protests, demanding Mr. Zimmerman be arrested and sent to jail. The New Black Panthers have placed a $10,000 bounty for the shooter’s capture. They issued a poster: “Wanted Dead or Alive.” This is racialist demagoguery - pure and simple.
Yet, it was Mr. Obama who turned this tragedy into a national issue. At a recent news conference, he urged Americans to engage in “soul-searching.” Moreover, Mr. Obama said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” The president’s aides claim he was showing compassion for the victim’s family. In reality, he poured gasoline on the racialist fires. Under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, Mr. Obama gave them what they wanted: He put the presidential spotlight on Martin’s death - and thereby bolstered the burgeoning protests.
Mr. Obama’s comments were shameful. No one can know what his “son would look like.” The statement was meant as a sign of race solidarity; Martin was black, and so by extension, Mr. Obama shares the victim’s racial identity. Also, shootings take place all over the country on a regular basis. If Americans are required to search their souls every time someone is killed, we’ll be meditating ceaselessly.
Hence, what makes this case so different as to demand national attention? The answer is simple: the victim’s skin color. Race-hustlers, such as Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Farrakhan, have made their careers - and lucrative fortunes - by fomenting racial grievances and demonizing the “white power structure.” In their eyes, segregation has never been truly repealed; it has just become invisible. They need the Trayvon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and evil nation. For them, it’s always Selma, Ala., circa 1965.
Their narrative, however, faces one major problem: Mr. Zimmerman is Hispanic. He has black relatives and close friends. He is also a registered Democrat, with no history of racist outbursts. In other words, this act was not white on black; it was minority on minority - not exactly Bull Connor with his attack dogs and water hoses tearing into civil rights activists.
If guilty, Mr. Zimmerman should be held fully accountable. Yet, there is now a rush to judgment. The media and the civil rights establishment have discarded the presumption of innocence. We do not know the full circumstances regarding the shooting. Yet, this has not prevented Mr. Zimmerman from being smeared as a murderer, racist and vigilante. Florida’s governor has appointed a special prosecutor to look into the case. FBI and Justice Department lawyers have been assigned as well. Instead of allowing the legal process to take its independent course, race-mongers are anointing themselves judge, jury and executioner. The rule of law is being assaulted by racial demagogues.
The debate is filled with hypocrisy and double standards. There is largely silence when it comes to black-on-black violence. Nearly half of all murder victims are black; the overwhelming majority of those crimes are committed by black perpetrators. Black male teens, especially in urban areas, have been ravaged by drugs, crime, violence and failing public schools. Rather than holding rallies on these key issues, the civil rights leadership - aided and abetted by Mr. Obama - focus on racially polarizing cases. This generates media attention and mobilizes black voter turnout.
Mr. Obama is exploiting a young man’s death to advance his political agenda. Nearly 95 percent of blacks voted for him in 2008. Polls show that many blacks have become demoralized under the Obama economy due to high foreclosure rates, 13 percent unemployment and soaring gas prices. Hence, Mr. Obama is implementing what The Washington Post dubbed “Operation Vote” - the deliberate targeting of minority voting groups by fostering ethnic resentment. The president, however, is playing with fire. Race, tribe, ethnicity - these are powerful forces that can tear a nation apart. Trayvon Martin deserves justice. In the meantime, the nation needs a leader who calms us rather than inflames a volatile situation.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.