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April 12, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Case: Reflections on an Arrest

There is no doubt that when big news events occur, the media will step in to fill a vacuum created by government inactivity. This is even more true when the event has racial and political overtones and has been drawn out over time. Yesterday, local government stepped into the vacuum by arresting George Zimmerman and that act, which marks both the end of angst and the beginning of process, was, of course, captured in photographs.

The first photo is one people have anticipated on both sides of the various issues presented by the case: the mug shot of George Zimmerman shortly after his arrest. We see a noticeably smaller Zimmerman in the police photo. And, in the lack of expression on his face, we are free to read into the photo any number of emotions. To me, he looks surprisingly vulnerable and young. No smirk, no defiance, no suit, no tie; just a direct gaze into the police camera from a man dressed in classic laborer’s clothes. Though smaller, his face is round and shows a couple of blemishes on his forehead. As the object of desire for many advocating his arrest, this photograph may be a slightly disappointing denouement to this chapter of the Trayvon Martin story.

Then we have the photo from the press conference conducted by Zimmerman attorney Mark O’Mara. Associated Press photographer Phelan Ebenhack captured the frantic stance of the media as well as slyly placing the caption in the form of O’Mara’s shingle on the lawn in front of his office. But compared to yesterday’s photos of the bizarrely self-promoting press conference by Zimmerman’s former attorneys, O’Mara is visually typecast for the role of small town Florida defense attorney: worn shoes and court suit, hands active but not used as an accessory to prove a point (like the upraised fist from Zimmerman’s former lawyer), oddly Mr. Smithian. This photo doesn’t capture what he said, but manages to convey how he said it: humbly, calmly, earnest.

In the last photograph, Getty photographer Joe Raedle deftly captures everyone else with interest in the case: the prosecutors, black patrons of a Sanford barbershop, the media, and you, the news consumer: all reflecting the anticipation and interest of the country at large. To me, this is the most interesting photo of the three: only the woman in the photo is watching events on the TV facing the camera (facing you). The men seem to register various degrees of disinterest or even cynicism as they sit as subjects for the camera men reflected in the second mirror. They look away from the TV or at the photographers. Maybe that’s because they know the start of the process doesn’t necessarily guarantee a desirable outcome. Maybe the cameras themselves intrude on their interest in televised events. But if the classic booking photo and the O’Mara press conference shot serve to show a calm beginning of process, this photograph captures all the emotion and activity leading up to yesterday’s events — as well as the pensiveness over what is to come.

(Top photo: Sanford Police Department caption: This Wednesday, April 11, 2012 booking photo provided by the Sanford Police Department shows George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, 28, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder Wednesday after weeks of mounting tensions and protests across the country. His attorney, Mark O’Mara, said his client would plead not guilty. Middle photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo caption: Mark O’Mara, attorney for George Zimmerman, right, addresses reporters outside his offices in Orlando, Fla., Wednesday, April 11, 2012. Zimmerman, 28, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder Wednesday after weeks of mounting tensions and protests across the country. O’Mara said Zimmerman would plead not guilty. Bottom photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images caption: People sit and watch as the Florida Special Prosecutor, Angela Corey, is seen on television announcing second degree murder charges to be brought against defendant George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting on April 11, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Martin was killed by Zimmerman on February 26th while Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch patrol in the gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, Florida.)

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