I read the article about the brief interview that Frank Taaffe, friend of George Zimmerman and fellow neighborhood watch captain, gave to Anderson Cooper and local press about the shooting of Trayvon Martin before I watched the videos on the page. The article was troubling and the videos just made it worse. Taaffe’s perspective offers a poor defense of his friend and colleague as he confirms how insidiously race undermines reason in our engagements with one another. Taaffe balances the blame between Zimmerman and 17 year-old Martin for his being shot in the chest because he failed to openly and honestly answer Zimmerman’s questions about his presence in the neighborhood. What Taaffe doesn’t acknowledge is that Zimmerman had never considered Martin credible or regarded his presence in the neighborhood as legitimate. Before he even approached Martin, Zimmerman told the 911 dispatcher that Martin was a member of a tribe of “assholes” who “always get away.” The only way for Martin to be “up front and truthful” with Zimmerman would have been for him to confirm that he was an asshole who always gets away with his crimes, but that wouldn’t have been his truth. Trayvon Martin was condemned before he had even spoken a word to Zimmerman.
I don’t doubt that George Zimmerman was “congenial” to his friends and “an admirable person” among those who shared his views, but his actions towards Trayvon Martin suggest nothing of this person. Frank Taaffe’s claim that the media has demonized and condemned Zimmerman sounds more like right wing critiques of “the liberal media” than a fair analysis of the coverage of Zimmerman. For example, the Huffington Post story about Taaffe’s support seems quite favorable. If a reader came upon this story without knowing much of the case or even watched the video alongside the article, they could easily come away supporting Taaffe’s point of view. No one challenges Taaffe’s assertion that Martin bore the responsibility for his death by asking Taaffe whether or not his claim essentially blamed the victim; no one asked Taaffe how fair minded he was being about his “congenial” and “admirable” friend who made a call to a 911 dispatcher calling Martin an “asshole”; no one asked Taaffe about the relationship between his view of Zimmerman’s “passion” for the neighborhood and his apparent lack of discipline regarding a stranger who the 911 dispatcher told him to leave alone; no one asked Taaffe about the relationship between hospitality and suspicion. The Huffington Post article even describes Martin as black and Zimmerman as Hispanic (just like that: lower case “b” and capital “H”), which I suppose suggests that his shooting of Martin wasn’t racially motivated.
One thing that I haven’t read yet about this shooting is a direct engagement with how Trayvon Martin looked beyond the fact that he was black and wearing a hoodie. This offers more of a description of a type, a caricature of black boys in American culture, than an engagement with any one person. The photographs of Martin that have circulated in the media make his shooting appear all the more surreal. Trayvon Martin was a good looking kid. He was just adorable. As important as being physically attractive is in American culture, I’m surprised that I haven’t read anything about how attractive Trayvon Martin was. In addition to Jon Hamm’s critique of our American attachment to stupidity as evidenced by the embrace of the Kardashians, what he doesn’t say is that people also think that they are pretty; especially Kim. In America, being pretty counts as more important than any virtue; being pretty might just be a virtue. To that end, Trayvon Martin was attractive so that should mean something. I wonder how much Martin’s attractiveness played a role in the mainstream media picking-up a story that had been circulating in the African American media long before. When I see the one photograph of him in his football uniform, I can’t help but think that he was a kid on the team but that he didn’t have any stats. Martin looks too little to have played football. There’s no dirt on that uniform and not a scratch on his face.
It is hard for me to believe that anyone could look at photographs of Trayvon Martin and see him as a menace. He looks about as thuggish as the men playing thugs in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video. Even the “hoodie” pictures of Martin appear harmless. No one asked Taaffe to account for how Zimmerman saw Martin’s face. Did he really look at that kid’s face and see a man? How?
Some articles that I have read about Zimmerman’s self-defense claim point out that Martin was at least 100 pounds lighter than him. The only way it seems that Zimmerman could have felt threatened by Martin would have been for him to believe that that child possessed super-human strength. Such an association between black males and inordinate strength has a long, troubled, sordid history.
It doesn’t seem to me that the media has unfairly portrayed Zimmerman. Taaffe takes for granted that Zimmerman is not only alive but FREE. Taaffe apparently wants him to be free and beyond reproach (though he does believe that Zimmerman should not have been armed). No one asked Taaffe to justify his viewpoint and he doesn’t even realize how he then benefits from the same bias he set out to critique.
For more posts on Trayvon Martin, see the A Heap See Page.
6 thoughts on “Frank Taaffe on George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin”
Taafee’s opinion is completely irrelevant whether you agree with him or not. You really think this angle needs its own analysis? Opinions of friends and family in these situations are never reliable,and Taaffee isn’t even a witness. He knows nothing just like you and me.
And these other comments are hilarious. The media have overwhelmingly been on the side of Trayvon Martin.
Taaffe’s opinion requires attention because it seeks to frame George Zimmerman’s actions as justifiable. Taaffe’s remarks, as well as those of Zimmerman’s friends and family, are being offered as evidence of Zimmerman’s racial innocence. To that end, they are being used to craft a counter-narrative to Zimmerman’s actions, which themselves suggest the opposite. When reporters do not hold people accountable for the views they espouse, like the one’s I quote from Taaffe, then their ostensible support of Trayvon Martin appears weak at best. Just today, news outlets have referenced eye-witness testimony that confirms Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night. What isn’t acknowledged is that those same police reports were themselves limited by police failure to collect the many accounts that did not confirm Zimmerman’s story; they silenced those people. The African American media are responsible for allowing a space for those voices long before mainstream media started reporting on the story.
Furthermore, I disagree about the irrelevance of the opinions of family and friends. Distinct from your view that they “know nothing,” I think they do know something about the habits, routines, character, and views of the folk in their lives. While not scientific, their anecdotes have a place in recovering the stories of identity that, in Trayvon Martin’s case, are no longer available. Too, I also strongly disagree with the claim that we “know nothing”: I KNOW that Trayvon Martin is dead and that George Zimmerman is still free.
Thank you so much for your very thoughtful comment. Your analysis puts me in mind of a quote from Du Bois that one of my very good friends first drew my attention to years ago. You can find it in “Of Our Spiritual Striving” in Souls of Black Folk where Du Bois writes of the “all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the devil.” Your analysis underscores the continued relevance of this idea.
I think that the reason why no one says anything about the way that Trayvon looked was because they didn’t see him as a person who was capable of having any kind of attractiveness. The racist narrative that prevails in this country says that blackness, in whatever form, cannot be attractive. This is always the way in which the larger media discusses and see attractiveness of black people–it is always shocking when “one of them” is attractive. I remember someone in Trayvon’s family had to confirm that most of the pictures that they show of him were recent. There was an implied accusation that the pictures they showed were dated or younger photos of him–when he was adorable–he certainly couldn’t be an adorable seventeen year old black male. Those things just don’t go together in the larger racist narrative.