There’s a story at this link (h/t Mike) on the man who seems to have sparked the huge social media-centered protests regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Kevin Cunningham is a 31-year old social media coordinator for a Palestinian children’s charity called KinderUSA. He is a resident of Washington D.C., and, since everyone’s race and appearance seems so crucially relevant in this case, it can be noted that he is of Irish descent. The online petition he initiated, demanding the prosecution of George Zimmerman, became the focal point and spur for the attention the case has received.
This episode is just a particularly prime example of the way things go nowadays. People read a few lines about a story, get outraged, retweet it to their friends and followers, and suddenly there are thousands or potentially even millions of people who have formed a fixed opinion about a story that, in reality, they know almost nothing about. In this case it progresses to the promulgation by thousands of people (including only most-famously the film director Spike Lee) of an address where the shooter is said to be residing, with the obvious implication that people should physically go there and “get” him. Except that no one is living there besides an unrelated elderly couple.
It used to be that the hot-heads would gather in the public square with their pitchforks and torches, and with a rope ready for the hanging, and someone with total confidence in his own truth and righteousness would rile the crowd up with hatred for someone they didn’t even know. Now we do it on Facebook and Twitter. What can you say? You can’t change it, but it’s important at least to take stock of where we are.
I don’t know what happened between Martin and Zimmerman that night of February 26th. But there sure are a lot of people who were certain from the very first thing they read about it on Twitter or wherever else. I do think that anyone taking a public position on it should feel obligated to consider the morality of the entire situation that has now developed, and not only what happened that night (which we know is currently being re-investigated by other authorities including federal). That includes our president, Barack Obama, who once again felt the need to speak publicly on a matter of local law-enforcement. He provided a rallying cry for those who are certain of one reading of the situation, with his statement that, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” That’s now appearing on hoodies being manufactured and sold, well, for the cause. Yet, having waded into the situation publicly to that extent, President Obama has since refrained from commenting on the growing sense of blood-lust out there directed towards George Zimmerman, a man who is free only because no one in authority, despite all of their resources, has been able to procure the evidence they feel necessary to obtain a warrant for his arrest, and a man who, like all of us, is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a courtroom. The “New Black Panthers”—as hate-filled a group as exists in the U.S. today—have put a $10,000 bounty on the man’s head. In the week since President Obama’s original remarks, this sense of mob justice about to burst over into violence has only grown and grown, yet the president has not seen fit to say a single calming word. Not even a tweet.
There are those who are happy to join the mobs. There are those who are repulsed by them. And then there are those who attempt to use them. That last category is, I think, the most culpable of all.