Letter to the Editor– Associated Press

An article appeared yesterday in the Associated Press with a headline that I felt was way off. Here is my letter to the editor of the AP.

Photo of Trayvon Martin (accessed from abcnews.com)

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my disappointment and anger over a very poorly worded headline “Was Fla. shooter a vigilante or good neighbor?” article by Mike Schneider, published 3/21/2012.

It seems to me that the outrage and tremendous sorrow that this case has generated stems not from questions about the confessed shooter’s vigilantism or neighborliness, but whether or not that vigilantism tipped over into racially motivated and unprovoked killing. A vigilante, by definition, is a person who takes it upon him or herself to suppress or punish crime outside the sphere of law enforcement (Miriam-Webster). This term indicates taking the law into one’s own hands *when a crime is being committed or is about to be committed.* In the case of the slaughter of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, unfolding evidence– which was in the public eye yesterday prior to the publishing of this article– reveals that this young man neither committed nor was about to commit any crime. In fact, he expressed on the phone to a young woman moments before his death that he felt unsafe because he was being followed.

A more accurate question might have been, “Was Fla. shooter a vigilante or a murderer?” or “Was Fla. shooter a good neighbor or a cold-blooded killer?” The use of two suggested motivations– fighting crime and protecting the neighborhood, neither of which are borne up by the facts (no crime was committed prior to the shooting, and the neighborhood was not in danger)– negates the other side of this conversation, denying that there is something far more sinister and fearful behind Zimmerman’s actions, be it fear, racism, megalomania, or some combination thereof.

Language is powerful, and as our society wrestles with the terrible truth of what happened to Trayvon Martin, we must be as careful as possible to be respectful of both the nuances and the strong emotions enveloping the families of both the victim and the shooter, the community in which this killing took place, and a nation that still has a lot of work to do when it comes to overcoming violence and racism. I feel that your headline yesterday missed the mark, and missed an opportunity to contribute to this national conversation in an informative and sensitive way.

Sincerely,
Reverend Rebecca Clark

I contacted the AP as suggested on their website by emailing info@ap.org. You can also take action by signing a petition at Change.org calling for prosecution of the shooter, and by sending a letter as suggested by the Open Letter Campaign to the Sanford Chief of Police calling for justice (as a tribute to Trayvon, we are asked to send an empty skittles wrapper with each letter): Chief of Police, Sanford Police Department, 815 West 13th Street, Sanford, FL 32771

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5 Responses

  1. I just signed the petition and invited my total limit for today of Facebook friends to sign. I am so very pleased at your relatively restrained, calm, professional and CHRISTIAN way of writing to these editors! Praise be for leaders in this struggle such as yourself!

    • I don’t know that I’d call myself a leader in this struggle, but I am proud to be a participant in it. Thank you for engaging in the fight for justice.

      May the God of peace and justice be with you,
      Becca

  2. A very sad case, no question. But we should be careful about ascribing motives to people’s actions.

    Zimmerman appears to be an overzealous wannabe cop who overreacted to recent break-ins in the neighborhood. He perceived that a couple of kids were “driving real slow, looking at all the other vehicles in the complex”.

    The article mentions that Zimmerman, who is himself a minority, kept watch over his black neighbors’ houses for them while they were away. He definitely should not have fired his weapon, but I cringe at the suggestion that this is “racially motivated”. We don’t know that to be so. As you say, language is powerful.

    • Hi Rick,

      You are right, I am assuming in some ways that race played a part in this tragedy. However, I cannot say for certainty that race was the motivator, which is why I never say that Zimmerman firing his weapon was racially motivated. I wrote instead that the question we seem to be wrestling with is whether or not the shooter’s vigilantism tipped over into racially motivated killing, and I suggest a variety of reasons behind his actions– fear, racism, megalomania, or a combination thereof. Hopefully, as he is tried and brought to justice, there will be an opportunity to assess and express his motivations.

      Thanks for reading,
      Becca

  3. I recently received a mailing from “YES for Des Moines”, concerning the Iowa Supreme Court Ruling, requiring the City of Des Moines to “Pay Back” Des Moines, Iowa Residents a $40 Million Judgment.
    Since I was unaware of what this was all about, I looked it up on the internet and found………..The City of Des Moines must pay back more than $35 million to residents who paid an illegal tax on their electric and natural gas bills from 2004 – 2009.
    Ironically, the proposal to either charge Des Moines residents a “Franchise Fee” over a period of seven (7) years or increase property taxes, means that the city is charging the residents of the City, who are supposed to be “paid back”, a “FEE” or “Increased Property Taxes” to pay us back. Interesting! So we as residents get to pay a fee or tax to the city who is required to pay it to us to fulfill a suit the city lost to pay us back????
    Anyone confused yet??? I’m not. It’s a shuffle game. The City gets off, not having to pay anything, not having to suffer for mismanagement, etc…and making us, the residents of the city, have to repay ourselves.
    Why collect the money in the first place? Good Question! It’s a question that each of us should ask the City, maybe even the Court!!!! How can they shirk their duty and not be held to the standard that the rest of us would????
    I don’t want to pay myself, I want to be reimbursed, and all the residents of Des Moines from the City and NOT by collecting from me to pay something they already received. No to the Franchise Fee and No to any Property Tax raises. Its time to force the City to be held responsible and NOT put it onto our shoulders for their illegal activity.
    Jerome Fitzsimons

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