Civil rights icon Jesse Jackson took to the pulpit and the classroom in Miami to sermonize and implore African Americans to vote and to turn the death of Trayvon Martin into action.
“There are lessons in this tragic matter of Trayvon Martin’s death,” Jackson said at 93rd Street Community Baptist Church on Sunday. “It defines white and black in this season -- that racism is alive and doing much too well.”
So are half-truths and distortions – if Jackson’s speech is any measure.
After mentioning the deaths and martyrdom of black activists and youths, Jackson brought up Trayvon’s death Feb. 26 at the hands of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who claimed he was acting in self defense when he shot the unarmed teen in a Sanford gated community.
Jackson pointed out that Trayvon was from Miami Gardens. And he wondered why the teen was all the way in Central Florida staying with his father.
“How did he leave Miami?” Jackson asked, “cause he was suspended from school on some trivial notion that there was some marijuana dust in a bag. If that’s the case -- a child’s about to step in the wrong direction -- you call his mother. You say, ‘mother we need to have a meeting. Your son’s about to make a wrong step.’ And you convene him and his mama in the principal’s office. You don’t throw him away…..Ten day suspension for marijuana dust?”
The following day, at Miami Central, Jackson repeated the line – although he noted “that’s a mistake to have marijuana in a bag.”
If Jackson’s story of the suspension were the whole truth, it might be an outrage (assuming you don’t believe in zero-tolerance for drugs at a public school). But it’s not the whole truth anyway.
As the Miami Herald first reported, Trayvon Martin wasn’t just suspended in February for having marijuana residue. A police report showed he also had a “marijuana pipe.”
And it wasn’t just his first disciplinary incident. It was his third and final. He had been suspended before that for repeated tardiness. And Trayvon also was busted in October when he was spotted marking up a door with “WTF.” A subsequent search of his bag showed he had 12 pieces of jewelry, a watch and a large flathead screwdriver
“It’s not mine. A friend gave it to me,” he told a school resource officer, declining to name the friend.
Whether that’s evidence of burglary or not, it’s clear there’s more than just marijuana residue at issue here. Trayvon didn’t deserve to be shot. But the evidence shows he deserved to be suspended.
Not only is Jackson lacking a grip on the facts of the suspension, he seems to think that schools have the time, money and staff to nurture every kid and give him more than three at-bats without a suspension.
“They threw him away in Miami,” Jackson said. “He was suspended out of school before he was killed -- not because he had a gun or some act of violence – (but because of) some rule that does not lend itself to developing our children in their formative years.”
An opponent of handguns, Jackson also took aim at the much-reviled Stand Your Ground law that gives citizens the right to use deadly force in public if they feel reasonably threatened.
Zimmerman is seeking protection under the law. He initially wasn’t charged because of Stand Your Ground.
Those are facts.
But what we don’t know is what was in Zimmerman’s mind when he apparently pursued and shot Trayvon. Jackson, however, suggested that Zimmerman was almost inspired by the Stand Your Ground.
“Here was a man who was on the loose with a semi-automatic weapon, who felt empowered by some fuzzy state law to pursue and profile and kill somebody,” Jackson said.
Considering the lack of clear evidence into Zimmerman’s state of mind, that comment is debatable and certainly inflammatory. That’s a problem – even by Jackson’s own standards. He wants more racial unity, but he’s pouring gasoline on a racially tinged forest fire.
“Since you’ve had on the books these Stand Your Ground laws,” Jackson said, “homicides have increased three fold.”
The Uniform Crime Report Statistics for 2011 just came out and show that, Stand Your Ground was passed in 2005, homicides in Florida have increased 12 percent – not 300 percent – to 985. And, in some ways, that increase is misleading because 2005 was an abnormally low year for homicides (we were recovering from eight hurricanes in 13 months). The 40-year annual average for homicides in Florida is 1,110 and this year’s murders and murder rate are lower than each of the previous five years. Meantime, violent crime is down 22 percent from 2005-2011.
Jackson probably meant to say that “justifiable homicides” have increased three fold (from 12 to 36).
But omitting that one word -- “justifiable” -- makes a big difference. And omitting entire facts makes an even bigger difference.