CSRRR packs house to discuss Trayvon Martin case
By Jenna Box (3JM)
A man with a gun. A dead teen. A hoodie.
These images have been burned into the minds of Americans as symbols interracial crime, the use of deadly force and diversity in media coverage and crime reporting.
A little more than a year ago, the tragic shooting of a 17-year-old black teen walking home in a hoodie in Sanford, Fla., made waves across national media outlets.
On March 20, the 10th Annual Spring Lecture put on by the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations titled “At Close Range: The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin,” brought myriad questions about this case to light through a variety of interdisciplinary panels.
Keynote speaker Charles Blow, a New York Times op-ed columnist, highlighted the media’s role, and experts from nine University of Florida departments offered insight from their unique fields at the all-day event filmed by C-SPAN.
“Academic exploration of public policy issues from a multitude of perspectives cannot only deepen our own understanding but also help build a foundation for thoughtful policy making by those who create the laws, regulations and rules that govern all of us,” Dean Robert Jerry said as he opened the event to a packed audience in UF Law’s Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom, HOL 180.
The case has all the elements of a good story, Blow said: guns and murder, an unarmed boy and a suspicious man, racial profiling and threat responses. The combination of these raised some tough legal, social and racial questions.
Blow mentioned how the victim’s race has affected news coverage. Outside of Florida, he said, the only journalists who seem to write about the case are relatively young black men like him. Also, he mentioned the common topic of discussion: whether a black teen wearing a hoodie was enough to cause “suspicion.”
The arguments that “the way he behaved, the things that he wore, suggested he was not worthy of life past Feb. 26 fall short,” Blow said. “There is nothing that you can wear that gives someone license to shoot someone in the chest.”
Additionally, Blow spoke passionately about the “cocoon” media consumers place themselves in.
“People prefer to be affirmed in their beliefs than challenged,” he said. “I believe that is what we’ve seen in the Trayvon Martin case. People know what they want to believe and only listen to sources who confirm it.”
Alongside Blow, representatives from the UF departments of African-American studies; anthropology; English; health services; history; journalism and communications; philosophy; political science; and sociology, criminology and law, gave lectures and answered questions earlier in the day.
“[Blow] was an exceptional choice,” said Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of CSRRR, Chesterfield Smith Professor of Law and organizer of the event. “He was pitch-perfect and was able to use the case to discuss broader issues of journalism, politics and justice. This was a chance to talk across race, across disciplines on a wide range of issues.”