By James D. Agresti and Rachel McCutcheon
March 1, 2022
On the 10th anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, the New York Times has published a video about this tragedy that slanders individuals, sows racial resentments, and impugns the people of the United States en masse. In addition to employing a series of highly deceptive half-truths, the video edits a police recording to make it seem like Martin was murdered and that his killer got away with it because Martin was black.
The events underlying the video unfolded on a rainy night in Sanford, Florida in February 2012 when Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teen, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman. Often labeled by the media as “white Hispanic,” Zimmerman is half-white, half-Hispanic, and partially black.
Shortly before the shooting, Zimmerman called the police, and the conversation was recorded. According to the Times’ edited audio, Zimmerman told the police:
This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. He looks black.
In reality, however, the following discussion took place, with the words in bold removed by the Times:
- Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
- Police Dispatcher: “OK, and this guy—is he white, black, Hispanic?”
- Zimmerman: “He looks black.”
By editing out the bold words, the Times made it seem as if Zimmerman was concerned about Martin because “He looks black.” Moreover, the Times knows this edit is deceitful because when NBC News made the very same edit in 2012, the Times reported:
- “NBC News has fired a producer who was involved in the production of a misleading segment about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.”
- “The action came in the wake of an internal investigation by NBC News into the production of the segment, which strung together audio clips in such a way that made George Zimmerman’s shooting of Mr. Martin sound racially motivated.”
- “The segment in question was shown on the ‘Today’ show on March 27. It included audio of Mr. Zimmerman saying, ‘This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.’”
- “Inside NBC, there was shock that the segment had been broadcast.”
- “On April 4, the network news division said in a statement that it deeply regretted the ‘error made in the production process.’”
- “‘We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers,’ the network said.”
The Times’ video and an accompanying commentary were written and created by Times staffers Charles Blow, Jonah Kessel, and Adam Ellick, along with filmmaker Quincy Ledbetter. Featuring Barack Obama and Al Sharpton, the video and commentary also allege:
- There was “an encounter between” Martin and Zimmerman before he “shot Martin in the chest at close range.”
- “Martin was just 17 years old, a boy, and he was where he was supposed to be.”
- A jury of “six white women” who were “going to be favorable” to Zimmerman found him “not guilty” on grounds that he “was acting in self-defense.”
- “When that verdict came in,” says Al Sharpton, “that verdict said to me that you all have changed the leaders of the system, but you haven’t changed the system.”
- Martin became an “archetype and icon of Black victimization in a society hostile to blackness.”
- “As President Obama put it, ‘My hope is that when we look back at what happened with Trayvon and are able to say that that was the start of America looking inward, and, in fits and starts, coming to terms with what was our original sin.’”
- “A new racial consciousness was awakening, and to be fully conscious of American racism is to be fully enraged by it.”
Here are the actual facts of the matter.
In the wake of the shooting, the police did not arrest Zimmerman based on their finding that he acted in self-defense. During the next six weeks:
- President Obama stated, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
- Al Sharpton organized protests and threatened to take them “to the next level if Zimmerman isn’t arrested.”
- NBC News edited and repeatedly aired audio of Zimmerman saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
- Based on a grainy police surveillance video, ABC News published an article titled, “Trayvon Martin Video Shows No Blood or Bruises on George Zimmerman.” The article didn’t mention that police took the following pictures of Zimmerman on the night of the incident:
- various media outlets:
Under that barrage of racially charged political pressure and media misinformation, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter six weeks after the incident. More than a year later, a jury found him not guilty of all charges on grounds that he shot Martin in self-defense. Still, Zimmermann and his parents were forced into hiding by an “enormous amount of death threats.”
The Obama administration’s Department of Justice conducted a separate investigation and announced three years after the incident that it found “insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges” against Zimmerman.
So in reality, the death of Trayvon Martin was nothing like the Times, Obama, and Sharpton portray it. Far from an archetype of American racism, it is an archetype of how the media, politicians, and activists systematically mislead Americans and stir up racial strife.
The Times, CBS News, and the Washington Post all identify the Trayvon Martin case as the launching point of “Black Lives Matter.” This movement contends that “virulent anti-Black racism … permeates our society” and that black people are “systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”
Above and beyond twisting the facts of specific cases like Martin and Michael Brown, media outlets have advanced BLM’s mantra by focusing the public’s attention on less than 0.01% of the 15,000+ murders that occur in the U.S. each year. Then pointing their fingers at these rare cases, journalists and commentators make sweeping accusations of “systemic racism.”
Such journalism exploits the statistical fact that anecdotes can be highly deceitful and the psychological fact that people are easily misled by them because it’s easier to grasp stories than data. It is also a hallmark tactic of racists and demagogues, who demonize broad groups of people based on the actions of a few.
Furthermore, BLM’s narrative is belied by facts that cut to the core of its central claims:
- In every year from 1980 to 2019, about 11% of murders were interracial, and murders of white people by black people were about two-to-three times more common than vice-versa.
- Black and white people are typically arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced at rates that accord with the frequency and severity of their criminality. A notable exception to this rule is murder because blacks are much more likely than whites to get away with this crime.
- Based on four different national datasets showing the rates at which people of different races commit “murder/nonnegligent manslaughter, violent crime, and weapons violations,” a 2018 paper in a scholarly journal found that “in nearly every case, whites were either more likely to be fatally shot by police or police showed no significant disparity in either direction.”
In his famed “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that the first step in achieving justice is to gather “facts to determine whether injustices exist.” Similarly, Abraham Lincoln said, “I have faith in the people. They will not consent to disunion. The danger is, that they are misled. Let them know the truth and the country is safe.” The vast bulk of media is not providing the relevant facts or even a semblance of truth to the people, and this imperils both justice and safety.