As the groundswell of support nationwide grows with calls for Justice for Trayvon Martin, there have also been pathetic attempts to smear Trayvon, and to spin what appears to be damaging evidence of George Zimmerman's racial animus.
For me, the most glaring event was the appearance of the self-described "friend" of Zimmerman, Joe Oliver, who got face time on numerous television talk shows where he made attempt after attempt to flip the meaning of words heard on Zimmerman's 911 call: "fucking coons."
Here is how the tape has been transcribed by some listeners, and as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, "I hear it clear as day."
Zimmerman: Shit, he’s running!Once that news broke, the damage control posse was unleashed to attempt to make this not about race.
911 Operator: He’s running? Which way is he running?
[sounds of Zimmerman's labored breathing and car door sounds]
Zimmerman: Down towards the, uh, other entrance of the neighborhood.
911 Operator: Okay, which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?
Zimmerman: The back entrance.
[sounds of Zimmerman's labored breathing]
Zimmerman: Fucking coons.
911 Operator: Are you following him?
911 Operator: Okay, we don’t need you to do that.
Charles P. Pierce has taken this on ably in his Esquire piece "The 'Color-Blind' Delusions of the Trayvon Backlash":
Ask Joe Oliver, this "friend" of the gunman who insists that Zimmerman might have said "fucking goons" and not "fucking coons," because the latter is an obsolete racial slur and the former is a "term of endearment," according to Oliver's daughter. This is enormously believable because, if you're an armed 28-year old gunslinger in pursuit of what you believe is a dangerous burglar, the first descriptive that would leap to anyone's mind is a term of endearment used by high-school girls. Yeah, sure. Whatever. As if. And it is enormously believable because This Is Not About Race.Yes, it is about race. I disagree with what Joe Oliver says in the following clip: "I don’t know anyone younger than 40 who uses coon as a racial epithet."
Oh really, Joe? Simply trotting a black man out to make the media rounds of denial isn't gonna cut it.
This country has a long history of using "coon" as a code word and epithet for blacks, and "coon hunting" has been an ugly sport having nothing to do with cute four-legged mammals who look like they are wearing Zorro masks, since the first black slaves attempted to flee bondage, pursued by coon hunters with coon hounds, and regulated by patrols called "paddyrollers."
Before delving into the past of enslavement and fugitive slave catching, let's look first at some recent evidence.
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Wayde Lynn Kurt, who according to the Southern Poverty Law Center was a member of of an "Odinist, white supremacist gang called 'Vangard Kindred,'" is a case in point. The group "routinely traveled around Spokane looking for minorities to bait into a verbal and/or physical altercation, a practice referred to by group members as 'coon hunting.'"
On Nov. 4, 2008, following the announcement of President Obama's victory in the presidential election, the defendants set out to assault African-Americans in Staten Island, N.Y., because they believed the victims had voted for the President. Nicoletti drove the group to the Park Hill section of Staten Island, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, where they encountered an African-American teenager and assaulted him. Nicoletti struck the teenager with a metal pipe and Garaventa hit him with a collapsible police baton. Nicoletti then drove to the Port Richmond section of Staten Island, where the defendants assaulted an unidentified African-American man, knocking him to the ground.Sure. Raccoon hunting is a sport. The state of South Carolina considered issuing special "Coon hunter" vanity license plates declaring just that, which has been lauded by some hunting groups but has distressed many black citizens.
The third assault was against an individual whom the defendants mistakenly believed was African-American. The plan was for Contreras to hit the victim with the police baton as the defendants drove by him. Instead, Nicoletti deliberately drove his car into the victim's body. The victim was thrown onto the hood of the car and hit the front windshield, smashing it. The victim was seriously injured and remained in a coma for several weeks after the attack.
But we all know the history of the slur that is a synonym for the "n" word.
"The Coon" as a caricature for blacks, and as a racist stereotype, has been portrayed in film, literature and in song, documented by authors like film historian Donald Bogle. A simple Google search will bring up racist recordings like Coon Shootin' Boogie:
Boys are in the truck and they're ready to go,Events that took place during Hurricane Katrina in Algiers Point, exposed by A.C. Thompson in The Nation, were a disgrace:
It's a Coon Shootin' Boogie (he he), don't ya know.
The boys are in the truck and they're ready to go,
It's a Coon Shootin' Boogie (he he he), don't ya know.
Well, take out your bullets and load up your gun.
(Put the shells in.)
Point it at the heads and let's have some fun.
The big fat lips and the kinky ol' hair,
(That kinky ol' hair.)
It's easy to find them, 'cause they're everywhere.
(All over the place.)
University of Chicago Political Science Professor Robert Gooding-Williams, in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, links events in Sanford to the events that took place in the past under fugitive slave laws.
Before he temporarily stepped down from his position last week as chief of the Sanford, Fla., police department, Bill Lee Jr., gave an explanation of his decision not to arrest George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin. Lee said he had no reason to doubt Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. Though Lee is no longer in the spotlight, his words linger for at least one compelling reason: his explanation bears an eerie resemblance to cases brought under the Fugitive Slave Law during the Antebellum period. Today, a legal standard that allowed the police chief to take Zimmerman at his word recalls the dark past of slave-owners claiming their property. The writings of Martin Delany, the African American political philosopher and activist, shed light on the uncanny resemblance.
Graphic images abound of slaves fleeing bondage in fear of being ripped apart by hounds.
And so as we picture young Trayvon Martin, pursued by a man who had prejudged him as suspicious, who muttered his opinion about Trayvon not as a term of endearment but as a racial slur, we have to face the ugly reality that whether in groups, or as individuals, there are those in this society who are racist vigilantes.
I am encouraged by the outpouring of support and outrage around Trayvon's death, and against the Sanford Florida police bungling of all of the events that followed. But I want to warn everyone that this cannot be only about the death of one young man, no matter how tragic.
There are many other hate cases that garner no national coverage. Police departments across the nation have to be called to account to properly investigate hate crimes and vigilantism.
I think today of Patty Dawson, who is Navajo and San Carlos Apache, who thankfully did not die when she was attacked, but we have to again watch local police fail to properly collect evidence, and to obstruct the process of justice.
Trayvon Martin was slain on Feb. 26. George Zimmerman is still not under arrest.
There are those who are hopeful to see "Just Us" become Justice.
I am not sanguine about the outcome, even if George Zimmerman gets brought to trial. I have not forgotten that Johannes Mehserle is walking around free after serving "half of a two-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter in the shooting of unarmed train rider Oscar Grant."
I have not forgotten the justice that never happened for another young black man who went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market "to buy candy" in 1955. His name was Emmett Till.
Ironically, some of the same plaints being lodged by bigots about photos of Trayvon were made about the photo of young Emmett.
Emmett Till in a photograph taken by his mother on Christmas Day 1954, about eight months before his murder. Scholars state that when the photo ran in the Jackson Daily News Emmett Till and his mother were given "a profound pathos in the flattering photograph" and that the photograph "humanized the Tills"At Emmett Tills' funeral, where his mother decided to have an open casket, the Chicago Defender reported that over "250,000 people viewed and passed by the bier of little Emmett Till." There were cries of outrage across America. Just as hundreds of thousands of people have reached out to Trayvon's family and protested across the nation.
Nothing will restore Trayvon Martin to his family.
We all bear the responsibility to face the fact that "race" and its sidekick "racism" continue to play a role in our daily lives, and far too often in death.
It was not Trayvon's hoodie that caused his death. You can take off a hoodie, but you can't remove your skin.
As long as we, from the president to a young kid going to buy candy, are viewed as "coons" and other pejoratives by a sizable portion of our citizenry, elected officials and folks running for office, there will be no justice and no peace.
You can stand strong against hate by staying informed and getting involved.