By Tonyaa J. Weathersbee
(This column originally appeared on Black America Web in 2012)
The Sanford, Fla., police department's sloppy handling of Trayvon Martin's slaying
investigation isn't the only example of how the lives of young Black men are devalued in this society.
Another example is the media's fixation on his past; on whether his tweets, his street slang, or any of the stuff that Black teenagers say or do is enough to make him too unwholesome for anyone to believe that he didn't do anything to scare George Zimmerman into shooting him.
First, there was the Sanford police chief, Bill Lee, who implied that if the 17-year-old "had done things differently," he might still be alive. There was FOX News' Geraldo Rivera, who said that if Trayvon hadn't been wearing a hoodie, Zimmerman wouldn't have followed him.
Then there were the conservative websites - the ones run by people who apparently think that all Black people look alike - that published fake photos of Trayvon in sagging pants and flipping the bird, and others that suggest that he was dealing drugs.
They've made a big deal out of his tattoos, of a photo that shows him sporting a gold grill, and his sometimes profane tweets about sex.
Which brings me to this question: Why wasn't Rivera, FOX News and all these other right-wing bloggers and pundits obsessed with this kind of character analysis more than six years ago, when 18-year-old Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba after leaving a bar with three guys she barely knew?
Natalee was the blond Alabama girl who, in 2005, went to Aruba for a five-day graduation trip with her classmates. According to a Vanity Fair article, Aruba Deputy Police Chief Gerold Dompig said hotel managers reported that Natalee and her crew were so wild that the Holiday Inn told them they weren't welcome the next year, and that Natalee often began her day drinking cocktails.
Her classmates last saw her at the bar and nightclub, Carlos n' Charlie's, where she left with 17-year-old Joran van der Sloot, 21- year-old Deepak Kalpoe and 18-year-old Satish Kalpoe, around 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 30.
Natalee didn't show up for her flight the next day, and her disappearance dominated the news. Ultimately, van der Sloot pleaded guilty to the slaying of a Peruvian woman who he met in a casino in Lima, and he now awaits sentencing.
Little, if any, news about Natalee - who in January was declared officially dead - focused on whether she had a wild past. Few, if any, right-wingers elaborated on her excessive drinking or on whether she was promiscuous, or blamed her for her fate because of it.
And they shouldn't have.
What is wrong, though, is when these same right-wingers and media pundits can't manage to see a slain Black boy in the same way. What's wrong is when they use fake pictures of Trayvon, when they exaggerate his tweets and his slang to paint him as a potential predator, instead of an obvious victim.
What's wrong is how they can look past the character flaws of a white girl who was drinking irresponsibly and went off with strangers the night she went missing, yet they can't muster the same kind of compassion for a Black boy engaged in the normal act of walking when he was stalked and slain by an overzealous community watchman.
Now there are those who would argue that Natalee's disappearance occurred in the pre- Twitter, pre-Facebook age, and there was no digital imprint to analyze.
But here's the thing: Trayvon had never been arrested for a violent crime, nor is there any evidence, nor a digital imprint, to show that he was prone to violence.
Knowing that, then why make a big deal about his hoodie? Or his grill? Or his tweets about sex?
They do it because right-wingers know that in this country, many people react to stereotypes about young Black men more than they respond to truth. They see virtually everything that young Black men do - wearing hoodies, or dreadlocks or grills - as menacing, and they use it all as an excuse to marginalize them.
It's not right. And it speaks volumes about race in this country when rightwing pundits and media folks can't muster the same compassion for a Black boy who was slain while leaving a convenience store, like they did for a white girl who left a bar with strangers.