A few days ago on Pitchfork.com, it was reported that Dev Hynes—a black musician and producer who performs under the name Blood Orange—was jumped along with his girlfriend by security following a performance at Lollapalooza during which he had given a speech on racism and police brutality. He had been wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the names of young black men who had been killed by either police officers or civilians, including Oscar Grant, Eric Garner and Jordan Davis, along with that of Trayvon Martin. Among his subsequent tweets were two of the following:
His girlfriend, who was also targeted in the assault, similarly tweeted, How insanely ironic that I wore a homemade “STOP POLICE BRUTALITY” shirt onstage 2day &begged audience 2take care of eachother &film arrests. The thing is, I’m not so sure that it is ironic. While allegedly having the shit kicked out of you by a bunch of low-IQ thugs would be upsetting for anyone, a security guard is not a police officer, as much as some security guards may like to pretend they are. Hynes and his lady friend seem to be reaching for a basis on which to reinforce their narrative, which seems unnecessary, as there is more than enough public support for it to begin with.
On top of that, there’s been no mention of the race of the security guards, which suggests that they weren’t all white and therefore don’t fit the profile of bloodthirsty Caucasian power-trippers perpetually on the lookout for an innocent black victim to brutalize. What is ironic, however, is the invocation of Travyon Martin’s name on Hynes’s custom-made shirt alongside the names of genuine murder victims.
Every time the name “Trayvon Martin” is invoked to highlight the issues of racism, stereotyping, and gun violence in American culture, it is massively undermining on the part of the speaker. More than two years after his death, people are still bringing up Trayvon’s name—in blog posts, song lyrics, and news pieces—and the left continues to track George Zimmerman’s every move as if they are cryptozoologists and he is some kind of mythical, web-toed creature.
To many, the case remains a disgraceful monument to the lack of value placed on young black male lives in America. To me, it’s a consistent reminder that millions of people—from ordinary citizens to politicians, commentators, and A-list celebrities—are willing to ignore the facts, distort the evidence, and abandon logic when their worldview is being threatened. Nobody—from John Oliver to Jamie Foxx to the president himself—bothered to mention in any of their condemnations the all-important detail that Martin was, at the time of his death, beating Zimmerman to a bloody pulp by slamming his head against the sidewalk.
They didn’t acknowledge it then, and they don’t acknowledge it now. When you point out that Zimmerman didn’t actually break the law, they just say that the law is wrong. When you point out that he shot Trayvon because Trayvon was halfway through the act of killing him—remember that regardless of intent, slamming somebody’s head into concrete enough times will achieve exactly that—they simply roll their eyes and insist that Zimmerman shouldn’t have been following him in the first place.
Maybe not, but then again maybe certain victims of domestic violence shouldn’t nag or bait their husbands into such a psychotic frenzy that they wind up breaking their jaws. If harassment is acceptable grounds for physical violence, I should be allowed to track down and cold-cock every idiot who sends me an angry and threatening email. In a rational setting, nobody would sincerely try to apply this reasoning to the real world, but in the heightened emotional climate of a media frenzy it’s suddenly seen as acceptable. The Martin case set a dangerous precedent; it just wasn’t the one that the masses had in mind.
By all means, wear your commemorative T-shirts and make your speeches. Talk about the problem of police brutality—hell, even complain about profiling, provided that you’re willing to approach the subject without a histrionic and reductionist mind-set—but don’t try to make security guards into police officers and aggressors into victims simply because you feel the need to inflate your arguments. Basing your stance on emotional rhetoric instead of the truth is good for nobody and serves as a setback for all of us.