Imagine a lanky white teenager was walking in a strange neighborhood at night. He's a good kid—according to one of his teachers "an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness"—although he's not above making the foolish teenaged mistake of getting caught with an empty baggie with marijuana residue inside it. But he has no criminal record. The worst anyone can say about him is that he smokes some pot, which puts him in the company of nearly half of all American high school students, something more than half of all American adults would legalize. But he's a good student and has no criminal record. In other words, he's a pretty typical teenager. A good kid.
Then one night this typical teenager is walking alone in a strange neighborhood, munching on some junk food and talking on his cell phone. And remember that we're reversing the races here, so now he's a white kid walking alone in a strange neighborhood, and it's a black man who steps out of an SUV and starts following him. A black man who outweighs the teen by nearly a hundred pounds. A black man who steps out of an SUV, pulls up a hoodie, and starts following the teen. The kid tells his friend on the cell phone that someone is following him. He tells her because he doesn't understand why someone is following him. He's nervous. He's just walking along, munching on junk food, and someone has started following him.
Finally, he decides to confront the guy. Even though he is nervous, he probably can't imagine that simply walking in a strange neighborhood would lead to someone shooting him dead. He's standing up for himself, but the thought of violence, the thought of gunfire, doesn't even enter his head. But when he confronts the big guy who had been following him, and asks why he has been following him, the big guy pulls a gun. It happens so suddenly, the teen probably barely has time to realize that something serious is now happening. This was just an innocent evening stroll, a big guy had started following him for no reason, and now his life is being threatened. This was just an innocent evening stroll, and now he's looking at a gun. Pointed at him. By a big guy who had been following him for no reason. A big guy who now shoots him dead.
Three witnesses later report having heard the boy's desperate cry for help. The police report (pdf) says he was found face down, with his hands under him. He was carrying no weapon. He was carrying no drugs. He was carrying the type of junk food typical teenagers carry. In our reversal of races scenario, the story then is that a lanky white teen was walking in a strange neighborhood, snacking on junk food, talking to a friend on his cell phone, when a large black man stepped out of an SUV, started following him, frightened him, and shot him dead. Imagine the reaction.
Now suppose we find out that the teen's killer had a history of race-based paranoia. Suppose we find out that the teen's killer's neighbors had complained of his aggressive behavior. Suppose we find out that the teen's killer had once been arrested for "resisting arrest with violence and battery on an officer." Suppose we find out that the teen's killer that night had ignored a police dispatcher who had told him to stop following the teen. And suppose that after all that, the much larger black man who had stepped out of an SUV, pulled up a hoodie, and started following the white teen had ended up shooting the white teen dead. What would have been the official response? What would have been the right-wing reaction?
Would a police officer have tried to coach a witness to change her story? Would the local state attorney and police chief have overruled even the lead homicide investigator, who recommended that the killer be charged with manslaughter? Would the police have neglected even to give the killer a routine drug and alcohol test? Would the police have neglected to contact whomever the kid was talking to on the phone just moments before he was shot, ignored the witnesses who contradicted the killer's story, and later reported that the killer had been bloodied in a confrontation with the dead teen, even though the real time reports suggested no such thing, and even though the police surveillance video shows the killer had no discernible wounds or discomfort, and even though the funeral director who prepared the dead teen's body for burial says there was no evidence he had been in a fight?
If Trayvon Martin had been white and George Zimmerman black, this would not have become a national story. If they had reported it at all, the right-wing media would have praised Martin for trying to stand his ground before a dangerous violent thug. It defies credulity to think they would be dismissing the killer's behavior, making despicable excuses such as blaming the kid's clothing, or if— unthinkable in this reversing-the-races scenario—there had been no criminal charges filed against the killer, dismissing the story altogether. The questions here don't even need answers. The questions answer themselves.
Had Trayvon Martin been white and George Zimmerman black, Zimmerman would be headed for death row. Right-wing media would be hailing Martin as a hero. A martyr who had stood his ground against a dangerous predator. They would be saying that it's too bad Martin hadn't somehow fought back against Zimmerman, and that if he had somehow succeeded in fighting a man so much larger than him, it would have been justifiable if he had left Zimmerman dead.
There is no polite way to explain what has happened. There is no polite way to explain the reflexive defensive rationalizations by the right-wing media and their right-wing fans. This was a racist killing with a racist cover-up and the right wing's reaction has been virulently and viciously racist. To understand the depth of the right wing's racist depravity, all it takes is to consider the very different reaction to this horror had the races of the victim and his killer been reversed.
Welcome to post-racial America.