Our view: The risk of taking our cues from talking heads

July 15, 2013 9:54:12 AM



From the start, the Trayvon Martin tragedy was a polarizing story. 


It remains so today, less than 48 hours after a six-woman jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges. 


Two distinct camps have emerged: If you're black and/or liberal in your political views, you see it one way. If you are white and conservative, you see it another. There appears to be little room for common ground. 


The first camp suggests that this cause is a reminder that the nation's long, tedious and often troubled journey to racial equality is far from over. That a black unarmed teenager whose only "crime" was walking home from a convenience store, could be gunned down with impunity is a reminder that America's ugly past isn't so much in the past as some might think. That it took major protests to even bring Zimmerman to trial suggests the type of bigotry that many assumed was a relic of a different era. A black teenager is shot dead and the shooter goes free. Really, how much progress have we really made? 


There are also those who view Zimmerman as kind of a poster-child for the "myth of the responsible gun-owner" and an indictment of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law which allows someone to shoot another person if he is in fear for his safety. Zimmerman is what you get when there are no reasonable restraints on gun violence. The Second Amendment has been co-opted to create a gun culture that is a growing menace to innocent citizens, regardless of race. 


The other camp sees this tragedy in a far different light. 


For people in that camp, the incident was tragic, but not criminal -- at least as far as our judicial system goes. 


They will point out that there were no eye-witness accounts other than that of Zimmerman and no conclusive evidence to seriously dispute Zimmerman's version of events. Zimmerman claimed he shot Martin in self-defense. It was the state's burden to prove otherwise. The jury's verdict said the state failed to make its case beyond a reasonable doubt. People in this camp do not believe that the shooting was racially-motived. While they will admit that what happened that night was a tragedy, they do not see it as a commentary on race relations and that many of those who are trying to exploit the tragedy for their own purposes. 


There is, of course, another group of people who hold yet another view. For them, the Trayvon Martin case is a tragic event which need not have happened. The people in this camp are inclined to consider both arguments, but ultimately are not satisfied that there ever will be conclusive proof that one side is completely right and the other completely wrong. They are wary of simple explanations.  


In an age in which we can choose our version of the news with the click of the remote control, we risk the danger of reacting to reactions, of forming our opinions based on the opinions of others, of choosing sides to the point where all dissenting arguments are attacked and discarded. The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case is simply the latest manifestation of this trend. 


And that, too, is a tragedy.