Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder of 17-year-old Martin

April 13, 2012



Entertainment Editor

Staff Reporter


In the previous issue of The Tech Talk, a personal column about Trayvon Martin titled “Putting the hood in hoodie,” led to an immediate backlash and an overwhelming response from readers.


The column was published Thursday, March 29, and by the next morning it had generated more than 300 comments on The Tech Talk website, and thousands more emails and Twitter and Facebook mentions that were overwhelmingly negative and some even threatening.


The nationwide furor behind this incident began when Sanford, Fla. neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Martin claiming self defense February 26 and was not initially charged or arrested. Zimmerman was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder in the incident.


“It is extremely rare for a publication of any size to get the type of response we got on this one particular subject,” said Dr. Reginald Owens, chairman of the journalism department.


On the afternoon of March 30, one day after publication, the column was pulled from The Tech Talk’s website.


“It was a hard decision to pull the article, but we felt it to be in the best interest of all those involved,” Owens said.


In its place, the journalism department issued a statement saying, “The department and the newspaper take responsibility for allowing the article to be printed without proper review.”


Although the statement noted that some of the facts in the column concerning the Trayvon Martin case were incorrect, not attributed and lacked balance, the newspaper staff and journalism department stand by the editor’s right to freedom of speech.


“We have no problem publishing someone’s opinion,” Owens said. “In this column, my main concerns were the factual errors coupled with the lack of balance.”


Owens said in this case the newspaper’s editing and review process failed. He said the journalism department is reviewing their editing process.


“In the midst of this hurrah, we need to realize The Tech Talk is a class, a laboratory experience, and this incident has served as a teaching moment for all involved,” he said. “Despite all the controversy, students learned some object lessons here. The most important lesson is that we have to be careful about what we say and how we say it, especially when racially sensitive issues are involved. We learned, too, of the tremendous power of social media.”


The week the column was published, the Trayvon Martin incident was the No. 1 talked about topic on Twitter and third on blogs, according to a special report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence, an organization that tracks these trends.


Social media played the major role in spreading word of the column virally and showed how social media allows for people to not only read the news, but also to respond to it, said Judith Roberts, Tech journalism instructor and Tech Talk adviser, whose research area is social media and the news.


“When news happens, people in general want to give their opinion about the issue,” Roberts said. “Twitter is one place where they can express their thoughts.”


Roberts said breaking news is often released through Twitter whether it is by someone on the scene or by a news outlet.


“Information can be disseminated as quickly now as it is written,” she said. “More than a billion tweets are written weekly on Twitter, and each tweet can be retweeted in an instant.”


Roberts said most of the hundreds of tweets on The Talk Talk column were actually retweets.


No doubt, Trayvon Martin’s death has sparked nationwide outrage and the Tech population, though not as outspoken, have weighed in on this national debate.


The real issue is not about Martin’s shooting death, but it is more about race, said Samuel Speed, assistant dean of student life.


“I think it should be a wake up call to our country for us to look deep into why we think the way we do and be honest about it,” Speed said. “We all have internal biases, but when those biases take the shape of racism and takes someone’s life, we have really stepped over the boundary.


“We tend to stay on the surface of the (race) issue without getting to the root of the matter. It is an age-old problem when you look at the history of this country. It is a problem that has never been dealt with.”


Manaen “Jack” Mundi, a senior mathematics and physics major from Camaroon, said he felt horrible and bitter about how the Trayvon Martin case was handled by Florida authorities.


“It’s the feeling of being declared guilty of a crime that has not been committed yet because both parents are black or one parent is black,” Mundi said. “If George Zimmerman was black he would have been arrested on the spot.”


Mundi said the Martin incident provides a good opportunity for blacks and whites in the university community to talk about race.


An African-American mother of three sons, Sharon Jackson, a Ruston fitness trainer, said she does not know what it feels like to lose a son, but she knows what it feels like to love a son dearly. She said the Martin case raises the fear that her sons – 18-, 21- and 25-years-old – can be racially profiled.


“It’s because of everything from 400 years ago, and I think if we today would teach our children that everybody is the same then there would be more change,” Jackson said.


Racial profiling and white fear of African-American men have a long history in this country, said V. Elaine Thompson, an assistant professor history.


“From the first black man arrival in 1619 to the 1960s, white men had been able to control black men,” Thompson said. “There are elements in the community that haven’t gotten over the fact that they can’t do that anymore.”


And for this reason she points out that some white people became fearful of African Americans even until today. She also said there needs to a reform of the gun laws and the accessibility of education for everybody as well as more racial interaction in moving forward.


“We need to generate trust, friendship and understanding among the races on a broader scale,” Thompson said. “If Mr. Zimmerman’s community wasn’t still [almost] exclusively white, he would never have been afraid of a black man in his neighborhood, which is a perfect example of continued segregation in the South.”


There is too little factual information to give a fair analysis of the Trayvon Martin case, but there is evidence of existing racial problems rooted in our society, said Mark Melder, an assistant professor of sociology at Tech.


“One thing people love to trot out is that education reduces racism, which is not true,” Melder said. “What reduces racism is being in the classroom with people you never met before and talking to them.”


If groups of people from different races continue to segregate without interaction then all the racism and negative stereotypes will continue in America, Melder said.


“Nobody is born racist; it’s taught just like math, science and arithmetic,” he said. “Somebody teaches you racism.”


Email comments to gpb009@latech.edu and ahg007@latech.edu.



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