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March 28, 2012

Reading the Pictures: Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman As Stereotypes

One thing that’s been bugging me is how, from the time the Trayvon Martin story broke until this past Sunday, he and George Zimmerman were overwhelmingly represented by just a few photos. There is the (full-size and cropped) cherub-like photo of Trayvon in the red t-shirt with the word “Hollister” on it. And then, there is the photo of him, seemingly also about the same age of 11, wearing that now renowned hoodie.

For Zimmerman’s part, the only photo that I’d seen circulated was the (mug shot-like) one above featuring the grim and glum (“I must of done it”) expression, the neighborhood watch volunteer sporting that orange-y shirt (evocative of a prison jumpsuit). Comparing the two, which were published in innumerable places side-by-side, seems like an open-and-shut case, no?

But then, fasten your seat belts. Starting with the story this weekend, among other reportedly less-than-complementary history, including Trayvon having had a baggie with trace amounts of pot in his backpack, the “visuals of choice” have begun to shift.

I haven’t actually seen these two photos published side-by-side, but with the stories mentioned above, as well as the reports of alleged eye-witnesses offering more complicated descriptions of what happened in Florida that fateful evening, it’s interesting to see Zimmerman — no longer just the volunteer neighborhood watch guy but now the mortgage risk analyst – (“suddenly”) smiling while Trayvon has suddenly leaped six years “morphing” into a six-foot-three, not as innocent and happy-go-lucky-looking black seventeen-year-old male.

With new facts and alleged facts swirling and the nation paying close attention, beware the emergence of previously unseen imagery in combination with the tendency to stereotype. Perhaps the most troubling instance so far is ABC’s use of the photo above left.

It’s one thing for this image to be published on a flier circulated in the black community announcing Tayvon’s memorial. It’s another thing, however, the way ABC extracts the image from the flier so it loses its R.I.P.-context, and crops it so that it amplifies the skull-and-cross bones and the scary blood red imagery without the context of Trayvon’s name, using it to close out its Nightly News story raising doubts about Martin’s role in his death, this image in the video clip appearing coincident with the words:

“At this point, Zimmerman claims Martin tried to grab his gun. Thats when he shot the 17 year old.”

Heading into visually dangerous territory, we’re already a long way from hoodies, skittles and ice tea.

(photos: AP Photo/Handout-Martin Family; Orange County Jail; unattributed; unattributed.)

  • Juan

    There are a lot of facts to be discovered here. I do know one fact: if Zimmerman had complied with what the police told him to do (i.e., not follow Martin), nothing of this would have happened.

    I do want to know the rest of the facts, including the abysmal response from the Sanford Police. But from what we know already, Zimmerman is guilty of the death of Martin. Murder or self defense is a different matter.

  • BamaGuy1024

    There is unequal justice for African Americans. Imagine if a black man shot an unarmed white kid Treyvon’s age – do you think the black man would be released even after telling the same story Zimmerman did?  What upsets me so much now is the character assassination of Treyvon, as if he deserved to die.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      I’m really interested, in reference to your comment, what happens when snapshots hit the mediasphere, if big media runs them, that could be interpreted more as “gangsta.” The photo ABC uses has a bit of that vibe already, which is why I think they used it the way they did.

    • dan0

      well actually it would be a unarmed latino being killed by a black man, oh yeah , that happens all the time only you dont want to accept the facts just stir up white animosity

    • Collins4646

      Are you joking? For one, Zimmerman isn’t white, so I don’t know why you said “unarmed white kid”; plus, on top of that, your statement was clearly already biased to begin with.

      This is the hypothetical situation you SHOULD have used: “Imagine if a black man — who was the head of the neighborhood watch and a well-respected member of the community — reportedly defended himself from a 6′3, 180 pound hispanic, who has had many past situations with the law including an assault on a bus driver as recently as two months previous to the incident, who [reportedly] attacked the black man in the dark.

      In this hypothetical situation (which is the 100% reciprocal of the actual situation in terms of race): yes, the black man would be released just as Zimmerman was. 

      Stop making it about race. It’s about the TRUTH on what happened that night, regardless of skin color. 

    • Cythara

      Regarding interracial murders, a white person is TWICE as likely to be killed by a black person as a black person is by a white person.  FBI stats for 2010 (latest available) show 447 white victims of black murderers and 218 black victims of white murderers (how many of those murderers are cops, I wonder?).  Here is something to ponder, according to the FBI statistics, there were approx 8050 black murderers in 2010.  2010 was considered a ‘lite year’ for violence.  The Census is every ten years and a murderer can expect to receive about 10+ years for murder, so you can extrapolate that between 2000 and 2010 there were AT LEAST 80,500 black murderers in a census population of 38.9 million African Americans.   This works out to 1 of every 485 blacks is a murderer.   When this is coupled with the well established fact that 1 of every 3 black men between 20 and 29 is in prison or on parole,  why wouldn’t Zimmerman shoot first? 

  • bks

    If Zimmerman had chased after a 17-year-old girl in his truck and then on foot and then killed her, he’d be in jail, bloody nose or not.

        –bks
     

    • jimhale

      Why do you use the biased word “chased” instead of the more neutral word “followed”?

  • bystander

    In the context of a conversation about “accuracy,” a wise old community organizer once said to me,  There is the truth, and the truth you would rather believe.

    Aside from the epistemological elements, which have kept me musing for years, that statement comes back to me in the context of these two sets of photographs.  It also frames for me the possibility of feedback loops between the visual media and ourselves.  Is it always true that the media leads viewers/readers/listeners to some preferred narrative?  Or, are there times when viewers/readers/listeners lead the media?This set of photographs, situated side-by-side, present me with an opportunity to think about the truth and the truth I would rather believe.  For viewers inclined to a cleanly polar conceptualization of good and bad, all four pictures are true, but two represent the truth they would rather believe.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      I agree. Looking at these photos, it seems the whole story has moved into the territory of “cultural Rorschach.”

  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com/ Stan B.

    Why isn’t Trayvon afforded the “stand your ground” defense- especially since someone first stalked him, then got out of their car to accost him?

    • LanceThruster

      Good point, though I think the media mentioned a gang shoot-out where no charges were filed because they both could claim protection of that statute.

    • bks

      Who says he isn’t?  I think it’s clear that if Martin had a legal weapon he could have killed Zimmerman and used that defense (in FL).  If he did slug Martin, good for him, that he at least gave his murderer something to remember.

          –bks

    • Anonymous

       Have you listened to the 911 tapes?  Go to the Sanford Florida website and Trayvon Martin case and listen for yourself.  Will answer some questions.

  • Anonymous

    Did you listen to the 911 tapes Juan?  Zimmerman did stop following Trayvon when they asked him to.  

  • alisha

    Why dont everyone calling zimmerman a racist and a murderer shut up for a minute and let the facts be shown! trayvon approached him and did attack zimmerman, and yea hes 17 but he is a 6 foot 3 male hes not some little child like the media perceives in the photos. let the case be investigated and figured out instead of everyone jumping to these ridiculous conclusions! and racism come on really? he didnt go shoot 5 black people it was one person that seemed to be or possibly was a threat which we will be finding out soon!!!

    • Mirror

       Its because of all the weirdness in the actions of the police and prosecutors that it keeps going on and on. Also, to start with, Zimmerman’s own words on tape show that he’s a racist.

      Ultimately, what is the driving force behind the outrage is the certain knowledge that if you reversed the races of the victim and killer, then the killer would absolutely be in jail right now. The case highlights starkly the racial inequality in the way the laws are applied.  A lot of  people, like me, have had it up to here with this racist double standard.  And the response of the gun nuts and their allies has been to double down on the racist caricature of the Martin in order to justify his killing.  You might think the tragic accident route would be the better way to go, but they instead go the deserved killing route.

    • Janis Edwards

      these facts do not preclude race from being part of the incident, and part of the conversation. Race, class, and other stereotypes can definitely affect how the incident has been visually presented in the news, which is the point of this bnn posting.

    • dan0

      well the thing is , if someone is stalking you , you have 2 choices, run or confront
      Trayvon chose to confront. Zimmerman was the stalker and the aggressor. if anyone should have the stand your ground defense it should be Travon. Walking through a neighbrhood is not a crime, stalking someone with a loaded weapon is. If not , then any vigilanty group can follow someone untill they they confront and then gun them down in self defense

    • JK

      the point is that he follwed the boy and thought he was strange or high but he thought
      he was he couldn’t have gone straight home in peace without zimmerman stalking him that why he ran and when he stop he picked a fight with him so it doesn’t matter the boy was still killed and under aged either way 6 foot 3 male or not it was wrong to stalk and confront a fight when he was told to stay in him moble car at the time so no trying to make him innocent  IT’S A 1ST DEGREE MURDER AND HE NEEDS TO DO YEARS FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE!

  • Prometheum23

    he just looked like a normal kid. i see plenty of “suspicious” people on a daily basis around my neighborhood. do i call the cops on them ? no ! he looks, at worst, like a withdrawn kid. but then again, so are goths. should we shoot them, because they act or dress differently than us ?

    • Janis Edwards

      read about it. It was not a random act. The community has vigilante-styled patrols. Neighborhood Watch with more of an assertive, pro-active aspect. Your analogy doesn’t hold up.

    • Anonymous

       That picture of Martin is about 5 years old, when he was 12. Also, there is the question of why was Martin inside a gated community, when the house he was staying at was across the street, outside the gated community? He had been caught before by his with a bunch of women’s gold jewelry (which he claimed belonged to a friend, who he couldn’t name). The media are trying to play us; even worse, yesterday ABC published the name of a 13-year-old black boy who witnessed the whole thing and backed up Zimmerman’s story at the scene. ABC put this child’s life endanger. Who is outraged that a true innocent’s life is ruined, and that he could very possibly be murdered? I am. Are you?

  • Just Curious

    In response to Grafbren and your assertion of a “double standard”:  is it possible that the opposite scenario that you are speculating about does not exist?  Has a black neighborhood watch patrolman ever gotten into an altercation with a white, unarmed youth and killed him with the claim of self-defense?  I’ve never heard of a scenario remotely close to that.  Please provide some facts.

    • Oddwarlock

      I live in New York and certain Neighbohoods white will get acusted just because they are white so thier is a double standard against whites

  • JERRICHOBOWMAN

    george zimmerman know that he is guilty.he is lying to court everyday.he is trying to escape trail.he should be in prison”.WE SHALL ALL GET TOGETHER AND TESTIFY AGIANST GEORGE ZIMMERMAN.

    • jimhale

      I can’t testify. I wasn’t there. Were you?

  • Starke Jermayne

    Regardless of what he does, be it sagging, smoking weed, wearing gold teeth, if he is six foot tall, he was shot.. unarmed. by a man whos wounds arent life theartening (if he has any wounds). he shot a boy who was screaming for his life. a child. a minor. after disobeying police orders. now be realistic how many people would have not asked somebody why they were following you?? how many people wouldnt feel indangered if a 250 lb man was follow you (who is 140 lbs.) how many people would feel the need to state their business in their own neighborhood to a stranger?? & just because he was black & smoked weed he needed to?? or he was justified to be shot. forsenics by court qualifed people say that it wasnt zimmermen screaming for his life.. so why did he shot him? & nobody knows what trayvons body looks like. why? because police havent given the family his autopsy report.

    • Topdog1980

      Doesn’t matter what really happened none of us were ther to bare witness! In the end George will end up in jail whether or not he did anything wrong. Race seems to have played a part in this no matter if it was racism or not it was in the context profiling to say the least. In the end only God should be the one to judge. Our constitution says that we are presumed innocent to the extent that it is better to set a guilty man free than to incarcerate it the innocent. It makes me sad that people comment things as fact that they couldn’t possibly know. I will simply say a prayer for Treyvon & George & all of you. I challenge the Treyvon supporters to find out all they can in support of George and all of the George supporters to do the same for Trevon! God Bless & peace to all.

    • jimhale

      Smoking weed goes to his self-control at the time.
      The autopsy report said Martin was 5′11″.
      The identity of the person screaming for help was the subject of conflicting testimony.
      Zimmerman did not weigh anywhere near 250 pounds when the police weighed him fully clothed.
      The autopsy report said Martin weighed 157 pounds (lying naked in morgue).
      If you feel endangered, you hustle home – less than a hundred yards away.
      If you feel endangered, you don’t hang back to question (or to be questioned by) anybody.

  • Pingback: Trayvon & Troy & Suicidal Systems That We Choose Not to Change - PoliticalArticles.NET | PoliticalArticles.NET

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4CM5LFF3KZNBCE5GBC3XSAZDZM Thor C

    Eye witness said George was screaming not Tray, as Tray pounded his head on the ground.
    This witness told that to the local news media the very next day, and to the police the
    night of the shooting. The  LIBERAL COMPLACENT LAPDOG DOORMAT NATIONAL MEDIA did not let
    this be known to the rest of us until 4 weeks later, AFTER they twisted this story
    completely out of control. And there was no racial profiling. NBC’s doctoring of the 911
    tape compared to the actual unedited tape reveals this. This was done on purpose to push
    the narrative. George never mentioned Tray’s race until the operator asked him. ABC
    original realease of police tape showed no apparent wounds to George. Again, pushing the
    narrative. Paramedics report that night states George was given treatment and cleaned up
    at the scene, and enhanced views of ABC’s footage clearly show his wounds. Any of you who
    believe what NBC or ABC tell you are fools. So George acted like an idiot. Poor Tray died,
    and he shouldn’t have, if George would have just stayed home. We still do not know all of
    the facts in the case, probably never will. George should probably go to jail. Only God
    knows the full truth. The biggest tragedy here is once again the mainstream media has you
    all running around in circles chasing your tails. And that court qualified person? 
    He doesn’t even have a degree. Just more media garbage for you to choke on.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4CM5LFF3KZNBCE5GBC3XSAZDZM Thor C

    Eye witness said George was screaming not Tray, as Tray pounded his head on the ground.
    This witness told that to the local news media the very next day, and to the police the
    night of the shooting. The  LIBERAL COMPLACENT LAPDOG DOORMAT NATIONAL MEDIA did not let
    this be known to the rest of us until 4 weeks later, AFTER they twisted this story
    completely out of control. And there was no racial profiling. NBC’s doctoring of the 911
    tape compared to the actual unedited tape reveals this. This was done on purpose to push
    the narrative. George never mentioned Tray’s race until the operator asked him. ABC
    original realease of police tape showed no apparent wounds to George. Again, pushing the
    narrative. Paramedics report that night states George was given treatment and cleaned up
    at the scene, and enhanced views of ABC’s footage clearly show his wounds. Any of you who
    believe what NBC or ABC tell you are fools. So George acted like an idiot. Poor Tray died,
    and he shouldn’t have, if George would have just stayed home. We still do not know all of
    the facts in the case, probably never will. George should probably go to jail. Only God
    knows the full truth. The biggest tragedy here is once again the mainstream media has you
    all running around in circles chasing your tails. And that court qualified person? 
    He doesn’t even have a degree. Just more media garbage for you to choke on.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4CM5LFF3KZNBCE5GBC3XSAZDZM Thor C

    Eye witness said George was screaming not Tray, as Tray pounded his head on the ground.
    This witness told that to the local news media the very next day, and to the police the
    night of the shooting. The  LIBERAL COMPLACENT LAPDOG DOORMAT NATIONAL MEDIA did not let
    this be known to the rest of us until 4 weeks later, AFTER they twisted this story
    completely out of control. And there was no racial profiling. NBC’s doctoring of the 911
    tape compared to the actual unedited tape reveals this. This was done on purpose to push
    the narrative. George never mentioned Tray’s race until the operator asked him. ABC
    original realease of police tape showed no apparent wounds to George. Again, pushing the
    narrative. Paramedics report that night states George was given treatment and cleaned up
    at the scene, and enhanced views of ABC’s footage clearly show his wounds. Any of you who
    believe what NBC or ABC tell you are fools. So George acted like an idiot. Poor Tray died,
    and he shouldn’t have, if George would have just stayed home. We still do not know all of
    the facts in the case, probably never will. George should probably go to jail. Only God
    knows the full truth. The biggest tragedy here is once again the mainstream media has you
    all running around in circles chasing your tails. And that court qualified person? 
    He doesn’t even have a degree. Just more media garbage for you to choke on.

  • Pingback: Trayvon & Troy & Suicidal Systems That We Choose Not to Change | The South East Review of Media, Culture, and Politics

  • Texasnero

    Everyone keeps saying that Zimmerman disobeyed the “police” when he decided to continue following Trayvon. A 911 “operator” is not the police. Just an observation.

  • Grafbren

     The cleaned up Zimmerman seems even weirder to me.  What is this clean cut guy doing spending his nights waiting with his gun to stop imaginary bad guys from doing bad things?

  • jimhale

    The media (in this case ABC) should have been hungry at that point for ANY image of Treyvon Martin other than the over-used and out-of-date picture of him in the red Hollister shirt – that his aunt said was taken when he was 14.

  • Anonymous

     You just do not get it. Where do you get the story that Zimmerman was a highly respected member of the community and head of the neighborhood watch?  This was a man who called the police more than sixty times in several months. And he had a record. He also was fired from a job as a security guard for being too short fused and aggressive.

    He stalked and murdered an unarmed kid who was simply walking home. WAKE UP

  • Anonymous

     I looked up your accusation about Trayvon attacking a bus driver. You, like Fox News and other ultra-white ultra-right “news” sources are so willing to make Trayvon the aggressor, so willing to blame Trayvon for his own death. What a miserable person you are

  • Anonymous

     I will say as simply as possible. Trayvon was unarmed, carrying an iced tea and a bag of candy. Trayvon did not come out of the night armed with a loaded gun and stalk and threaten and attack Zimmerman. Now do you get it?

  • dan0

    because he wasnt in danger, and Trayvon was unarmed, or do you think all black men should be shot?

  • dan0

    because he wasnt in danger, and Trayvon was unarmed, or do you think all black men should be shot?

  • dan0

    because he wasnt in danger, and Trayvon was unarmed, or do you think all black men should be shot?

  • Looking Glass

    But in his own words on tape Zimmerman made no comments that can be construed as racist . NBC originally released a heavily doctored version of the ouriginal 911call .NBC later acknowledged the recording was edited and 2 NBC employees were fired over it .
    As for original actions of the Police – keep in mind the had no clue Trayvon was visiting with one of the residents within that gated community . (His father’s girlfriend) .

  • jimhale

    Not an iced tea….an Arizona fruit drink that can be used with Skittles and codeine to get a person high.
    Trayvon was no scared kid hurrying home when he was scared. He was a near-man who should have gone home instead of hanging back to confront the person following him.

  • jimhale

    The family lawyer said the picture was taken when Martin was 16. His aunt, on interview, said it was taken when he was 14.

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