Politics & Policy

Race in the Internet Age

Protesting the Zimmerman verdict in Times Square on July 14.
With new technology, the provocateurs can be in our pockets.

The day after the George Zimmerman verdict was announced, I was at the supermarket. As always, Americans of all races went about their business. An elderly Asian lady got help from a tall Caucasian kid reaching an item on an upper shelf. A black cashier shared a joke with a white customer. A manager who might be Hispanic helped a patron of indeterminate ethnicity with a return. All was calm and composed. Let’s call that Supermarket America.

There’s another America that exists on the TV, the radio, and the cell-phone screen. There, the race baiters, provocateurs, rumormongers, and ratings-mad self-promoters hold court. It’s the dark underside of the nation. Let’s call it Id America. Those little computers we all carry in our pockets are in some respects the wonder of the age, but there’s a dark underside to the Wired Era. In addition to the profusion and normalization of pornography, the Internet has also served as a vehicle for political pornography. When an emotional story like the Martin/Zimmerman tragedy presents itself for exploitation, the complexities and nuances are buried in an avalanche of deliberate racial incitement. The Internet serves more to inflame than to inform. Rumor is in the saddle, and it rides America.

#ad#According to Snopes.com, one widely credited story that made the rounds suggested that George Zimmerman’s legal bills were being paid by Koch Industries. A much-forwarded e-mail read in part, “The company . . . is paying for Zimmerman’s legal fees because they feel he had legal right to bear arms and shoot Trayvon. . . . We are asking that . . . people not buy any of the following items . . . Angel soft toilet paper, Brawny paper towels, Mardi Gras napkins and towels, Quilted Northern toilet paper, Soft and gentile [sic] toilet paper.”  

Whatever the merits of avoiding “gentile” toilet paper, which probably isn’t kosher under any circumstances, the rumor was false. Koch had nothing to do with Zimmerman’s defense.

But the tone of the e-mail, the assertion that a conservative company believes Zimmerman had the “right” to shoot Trayvon Martin, was consistent with much of the commentary to be found on MSNBC, CNN, and dozens of websites throughout this episode.

It was wall-to-wall incitement. NBC may be facing a defamation suit for selectively editing a 911 tape to imply that Zimmerman was racially profiling Martin. An MSNBC host called Zimmerman a “murderer.” Commentators like Tavis Smiley summed up the case as “Trayvon Martin was a child who was racially profiled and gunned down.”

On the other side, a photo purporting to be a more recent shot of Trayvon Martin made the rounds. It showed a muscular six-foot-two-inch black youth lifting his middle fingers to the camera. But it wasn’t Trayvon Martin.

Tavis Smiley insists that “race will get you killed in America.” Advocates for a guilty verdict sport T-shirts saying “Enough is Enough.” In the alternate universe that the commentators and hustlers such as Al Sharpton invent, America is in the grip of an epidemic of violent crimes committed against young black men by white people. That just isn’t true. According to the FBI, most blacks are killed by other blacks. The same goes for whites killing whites. Blacks are less likely to be killed by whites than whites are to be killed by blacks, but, for the most part, murderers kill fellow members of their melanin class.

In Supermarket America, no one wants to see anyone’s innocent child killed. Among normal Americans, there is a common-sense understanding that, based on what we know, it looks like both Martin and Zimmerman (both of whom had brushes with the law in their pasts) showed poor judgment. That a jury could not say that Zimmerman, his face and head bloodied, acted “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a “depraved” state of “ill will, hatred, or spite” was an understatement. There was abundant evidence that he was defending himself in the course of a fight. Was he too rash? It’s possible, but that wasn’t for the jury to say. They were asked only whether his conduct could not by any stretch be considered self-defense.

It’s a terrible tragedy that Martin’s life was cut short. It’s also a tragedy that our race-baiting provocateurs never tire of waving the bloody shirt in hopes of stirring even more interracial violence and bitterness.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.              

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