Obama Was Right to Weigh In on Trayvon Martin Case

Obama Was Right to Weigh In on Trayvon Martin Case

By Clarence Page - September 2, 2013

To some people, it has been said, all black people look alike. These days, all black issues seem to look alike, too.

What else explains the false comparisons that conservatives who ought to know better insist on making between two horrible, controversial and yet distinctly different racially charged tragedies?

One is the case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old who was fatally shot in a Florida confrontation with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who is not black. The other tragic case is Chris Lane, an Australian baseball player who was fatally shot while jogging in Oklahoma where he was attending college.

Quite a number of conservatives have been searching for their own version of the Martin case ever since the original one erupted. Why? They want to catch President Barack Obama in a racial "Gotcha!"

The right has been steamed ever since the president was asked to comment on the Martin case and responded: "My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son he'd look like Trayvon."

Reactions to that remark illustrate the sad contours of America's racial divide. As an African-American, I heard in Obama's remarks a heartfelt expression of comfort and reassurance to the parents of a teenager that had been killed under suspicious circumstances. But some of my friends -- and I'm talking about real friends, not just some figure of speech -- heard a cynical expression of racial solidarity and tribalism from a president who is supposed to know better.

To confirm this Obama-is-a-racist narrative, they need to catch Obama in the act of racial hypocrisy. That's why many of the same conservatives who had insisted race talk didn't belong in the Trayvon Martin case rushed eagerly to inject it into the awesomely awful Lane case.

Two black teens have been charged with shooting Lane from a passing car allegedly driven by a white friend, who faces lesser charges. One of them was quoted by police as saying they committed this heinous act because they were "bored."

Let's be clear: None of these kids is a credit to his race. But Rush Limbaugh outdid his own high levels of windbag distortion in calling the Lane killing "Trayvon Martin in reverse, only worse."

Fox News' Eric Bolling, cohost of "The Five," declared that mainstream media weren't covering the "racially charged" Oklahoma shooting because it "seems they prefer to report on crimes where minorities are the victims."

Never mind that Oklahoma District Attorney Jason Hicks denied that race motivated Lane's killing. Why let mere facts get in the way of blimp-sized bloviations?

Black conservatives weighed in, too. One of them, Bob Woodson, head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprises, brought a racially mixed luncheon crowd of Republicans to their feet with: "We should not wait for a white face before we get outraged. Evil is evil, whether it wears a white face or not."

That's right. Well said, Bob. In fact, despite rumors to the contrary, even the much-maligned Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have agreed in public with that much!

But outrage needs to be aimed at constructive action. To claim that the nationwide protests were only about Martin's slaying misses the point. The outrage in Florida was aimed at how poorly Martin's case was investigated.

Zimmerman was questioned quickly and released without charges. Meanwhile Martin's body continued to lay in a morgue, unidentified and unclaimed, while his parents wondered all night where he was.

The parents wanted answers, but news media, including Fox, were not very interested in the story until activists and black talk radio stepped in. After protests grew, the state opened a proper investigation that led to Zimmerman's prosecution.

Police say they released Zimmerman because they doubted they would be able to get a conviction. They may have been right, considering how Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law strengthens pleas of self-defense. Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict fueled more protests to change such laws.

In short, let's keep the real issues straight. The Chris Lane atrocity brought a swift response. The system worked. The Trayvon tragedy raised serious questions about whether the system works for everybody. Presidents always should raise that question, no matter what color they happen to be. 

Page is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist specializing in urban issues. He is based in Washington, D.C. E-mail:

Copyright 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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