I’m having a hard time understanding the current status of the George Zimmerman case with regard to its presentation by the media to the general public. When the initial news of Trayvon Martin’s slaying was publicized, the country seemed to be in an uproar over racial profiling, personal gun responsibility, and the legal interpretations of self-defense. However, as the case winds down in the next few days, the immediacy and sensationalism of the 24 hour news cycle has created a reality television series out of the televised court proceedings. Viewers are captivated by the Law and Order style drama that is being analyzed and tweeted about in real time. But, what does our seemingly visceral desire for punitive justice bring us? It serves as a polarizing distraction from the reasons that angered us in the first place. Racism is still persistent and deadly regardless of the Zimmerman verdict, gun ownership is still an issue for which the American people have clamored for more restrictions with no avail relative to Congressional action or even discourse, and in fact, the self defense claim the Zimmerman camp is toting is being marketed as a justification for increased gun ownership across the country. In other words, what drew our attention last February remains unchanged no matter what George Zimmerman’s fate becomes. We should not lose sleep necessarily over his impending freedom or imprisonment, but embroiled within the greater plot of this case are important talking points in American life that have now been completely clouded by the reality T.V. coverage of the trial.
As I watched CNN’s daily live coverage of the saga, I found myself feeling as if I was at a legal sporting event where the Defense represented the hated New York Yankees and the Prosecution was the underdog Boston Red Sox. Everyone is rooting for one side or the other, but at the end of the day, after the game ends we all go home. That is sickening. This isn’t a sport, this is an opportunity to ascertain truth and exercise justice where merited. Over makeup-ed anchors praising the “lawyering” from each “team” and “experts” weighing in with their previous experience concerning the ins and outs of pandering to juries, discrediting witnesses, or massaging facts so as to illuminate a different “truth” that supports your desired verdict is meaningless. The soap opera will continue until the series finale ends, or the 9th inning concludes, with a verdict. But, what will have changed in America?
To be clear, I don’t have a leaning on the case because I haven’t been able to learn enough about the facts despite attempting to follow the broadcasts. My concern, however, is that every sensational and fantastic piece of news that surfaces is following the path that this case has. We are upset because a teenager was killed, or because people were injured on the streets of Boston, or because a cop killer was loose in California. But, then what? Do we parlay the energy we direct toward the invocation of anger or fear or empathy to learning from the events so that the nation becomes a better place as a result? I fear that we have become so paralyzed by the circus of news media that we are no longer able to think with any kind of meaningful perspective or logic about “big” events in our daily lives. We prefer to watch the events unfold and be the passenger seat driver about the meaningless aspects of the events and it causes us to lose focus on the potential to have an important discussion about what needs to change in order to avoid these events in the future. Trayvon Martin’s legacy has the potential to be one that helped us gain perspective on how big of an issue racism continues to be just as George Zimmerman’s legacy has the potential to be one that aided us as a cautionary tale about responsible gun ownership. When this case ends and the fanfare ceases concerning the ultimate verdict, we are kidding ourselves to think that we as a people have progressed any further by remaining glued to the courtroom feed of this trial. This is not reality T.V. Cases like this one could mean something if we had the conversations that allowed them to instead of remaining subservient to the sensationalized, ratings driven “news” from our media sources.