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Some writers have theorized that Roof’s action was the result of an undercurrent of racism so endemic to American society that one just can’t help internalizing it—and if someone takes it seriously enough, they’re almost inevitably going to take up arms and try to join the white supremacist race war America has been inspiring white males to wage for centuries.
In an article titled “White America Is Complicit”, a writer at Salon opines: “If you are shocked by any aspect of Roof’s story so far—including that he is being described in news outlets as “quiet and soft–spoken” instead of as a terrorist—you are not only willingly obtuse but complicit in his crime. There is a single conclusion to draw in this moment, and it is that we are here again, because this is exactly who we are. … Roof adorned his car with the same Confederate flag that once flew over slaveholding states and today waves over the South Carolina statehouse. America may be unwilling to face its history, despite a mounting pile of black bodies that forces African Americans to reckon with it daily. But Roof is more honest than those—and there are so many—whose complicity lies in looking the other way…”
Other headlines tell us how “White America Must Answer For” the Charleston shooting, or call him “The Product of a System that Has Bred Racist Hate for Centuries” and tell us that the shooting “is simultaneously representative and starkly indicative of the rampant racism structurally embedded in America, the responsibility for which, it might be argued, bears no exemption for any American, especially white Americans….” This is bullshit.
There is a far better way to address the ideological roots of Roof’s statements, and what actually inspired him.
But we’d have to acknowledge something many people are going to find quite unsavory in order to do it. To put it plainly, that fact is that Roof’s understanding of the original issue which became the grievance that motivated the development of his preoccupation with race was correct. To a degree worth exploring in detail, Roof was absolutely right about something—and it turned out to be the something that lied at the core of his entire transformation—at least as he describes it in his “manifesto.”
Those are statements that seem harsh on first glance, and I will inevitably take blowback for them (from people who write and appreciate absurd articles like those mentioned above, no doubt). But I take refuge in the fact that this article more than adequately details the facts that prove me right. Understanding the point I am actually making, and not just making recourse to turning me into some easily dispensed–with caricature, will take a little careful listening. There’s no easy way to make the point I need to make here—but it needs to be made, because it is true. And if you can calm your patellar reflexes, you just might actually learn something.
We are simply not really going to have any grasp on what could have been done about it, or what could be done to deter similar incidents, unless and until we recognize, understand, and admit that. And this no more implies sympathy for Roof’s abhorrent acts of violence than it implies sympathy for the 2001 World Trade Center attacks to acknowledge that some of the grievances against U.S. foreign policy which fueled Osama Bin Laden may in fact have been valid grievances—in fact, while it is leftists who will have the strongest taboo against the statements I have just made in the last paragraph, they have been the ones telling us all along that it is self–defeating blindness to think that Islamic terrorists merely hate us “for our freedoms”—writers like Noam Chomsky write that “They don’t hate us for our democracy, they hate us because we … have devastated the civilian society of Iraq … they know, even if we pretend not to, that there has been a brutal military occupation, now going into its 35th year, which has relied crucially on U.S. support — diplomatic support, military support, economic support [in Israel–Palestine] … And many people may notice something else: the U.S. has criminals, internally… major criminals. Other countries are asking for their extradition, want them handed over, and the U.S. won’t do it….” Noam Chomsky says things like this, and Bin Laden reads his books, and that’s perfectly fine. Many leftists are careful to demand we recognize that appreciating Chomsky’s points is still not a justification for Bin Laden’s actions (not even if Bin Laden himself seems to think so); but simply something we must understand if we want any chance of stopping him (and others who will be inspired by the same grievances which motivated him unless these are addressed).
That brings us to Dylann Roof.
The key paragraph of Roof’s racist manifesto explaining his transformation from someone who “was not raised in a racist home or environment” into what he became was this: “The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I read the Wikipedia article and … It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right. … this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. … I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”
In articles like Alternet’s “Dylann Roof is Not Alone”, written by Chauncey Devega of ‘We Are Respectable Negroes’, we read that: “Black America is disgusted by how media will, as it always does, depict Dylann Roof as a lone shooter with mental health issues, as they humanize him in order to put the murderous violence in some type of context. By comparison, the American corporate news media is not neutral in how it depicts white criminals as compared to blacks, Latinos, Asians, First Nations Peoples, Arabs, or Muslims.”
We’ve already taken a close look at Devega’s first sentence’s claim in the first part of this series.
Now regarding his second: in fact, a study published in early 2015 found that across the years of 2008–2012, whereas 40% of the perpetrators of all violent crimes committed were black, across 146 episodes of breaking news on MSNBC, FOX, CNN, CBS, PBS, NBC, and Univision, only 20% of the crimes reported on had black perpetrators. Black–perpetrated crimes across several recent years were in fact not overreported, but underreported.
Of course, the authors of that study inevitably try to find a moral to draw that supports the pre–existing liberal narrative which their very own data obviously undermines. They argue that it’s a problem that blacks are “invisible” on TV news because not only are they underrepresented as perpetrators of violent crimes, they’re also underrepresented as victims—Table 3 on page 32 shows that despite being 48% of the victims of violent crimes across this period of time, they were represented as victims only 22% of the time. So even though this very same author had argued just a few years earlier that black overrepresentation was a dire problem, not it’s black underrepresentation that is the problem. (I’ll eventually have more to say about the ways in which the battle for social justice is a struggle that just can’t ever be won: if minorities are overrepresented amongst military recruits, then that’s because America is using them as cheap fodder for war because we consider them expendable. If minorities are underrepresented amongst military recruits, then that’s because America doesn’t consider them good enough to fight for our country just like everyone else.)
Nevermind that this “underrepresentation” of African–Americans as victims is a consequence precisely of the combination of two facts put together: first, that African–Americans commit a disproportionate amount of the crime in the United States to begin with; and second, that so many of the victims they choose are African–American. Blacks are responsible for approximately half of almost all of the violent crimes committed in the United States. In the case of murder, approximately 85% of the victims they choose are black; for most other crimes, the number is closer to 50%. Meanwhile, only a very small percentage of crimes perpetrated by whites involve black victims (I spell out these statistics in much more detail shortly and elsewhere). Cut black murderers in half in the statistics, and blacks will actually then be fewer than 22% of the victims of murder—making black victims overrepresented here given the underreporting on cases with black perpetrators.
I may also have more to say about this study and the way its results were portrayed in the future, but for now suffice it to say that white–on–black crimes are so rare, and black–on–black crimes such a large fraction of total crime, that these numbers inevitably mean crimes with black victims were still very disproportionately likely to be displayed at least in the proportionally rare occasions that they didn’t have black perpetrators: blacks victims of violent crime became invisible when black perpetrators of violent crime did precisely because there are proportionally so few non–black acts of violence against blacks to begin with.
In any case, the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case Dylann Roof’s manifesto talks about was partially responsible for that disparity in news coverage across this period of time (the case originally surfaced in late 2012, the ending of the study’s time frame)—so it’s time to take a refresher course on what actually happened in that case, and the abusively slanted way the media originally portrayed it, the consequences of which still last to this day.
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For a random sample of the general impression many hold of the Zimmerman/Martin case, Breaking Brown speaks about “Zimmerman’s history of calling 911 to report mostly suspicious black males.” This was a very prevalent belief, especially throughout the early stages of the story—Zimmerman is a wannabe cop, and he’s playing out his action hero fantasies on black people. But what does Zimmerman’s record actually show? Zimmerman made a total of 44 calls in the 8 years leading up to the Trayvon Martin incident. And just 6 of that total involved black suspects. Meanwhile, 2 of those 6 were in regards to the home invasion of Olivia Beltaran—and it was Beltaran who, while hiding in her bedroom, called 911 and described the perpetrators as two black men. Zimmerman brought Beltaran a new deadlock because hers wasn’t working, and later on two separate occasion saw the same two suspects matching Beltaran’s description. And there is evidence that Zimmerman actually had, in fact, identified the correct suspects.
In another one of those cases, “the male appeared to him to be casing Frank Taafe’s house, located at the shortcut from the main road. Zimmerman said the guy kept walking up to Taafe’s house and away from it, and he knew the guy didn’t live there. By the time police arrived, the male had left. Taaffe was out of town.” Zimmerman reported the suspect’s race in this case because “I know the resident, he’s Caucasian”—so the suspect clearly can’t be the home’s owner. Once again, race had a perfectly valid reason for being relevant. Zimmerman wasn’t obsessed with black suspects. The calls he did make about black suspects were perfectly proportionate to the number of black suspects actually committing crimes at Twin Peaks.
The media widely spread the myth that Zimmerman used the phrase “fucking coons” during his 911 call. But, “In the end, Tuchman, the audio expert and special guest host Wolf Blitzer — who was filling in for Anderson Cooper — all agreed that the word in question was “cold,” not the racial slur. … the reason some say that would be relevant, is because it was unseasonably cold in Florida that night and raining….” This also makes a hell of a lot more sense of the “it’s” that can faintly be heard preceding the sentence: “It’s fucking cold” is a much more plausible sentence than “It’s fucking coons.” It turned out that while Zimmerman never used a racial slur towards Martin, Martin did use one towards Zimmerman—and regardless of the comparative offensiveness of anti–white and anti–black racial slurs, if these would have told us something about Zimmerman’s state of mind, so they should tell us something about Martin’s.
Even more egregiously, when Zimmerman calls 911, he isn’t sure about Martin’s race—he has that famous hoodie on, after all, and it’s raining and dark and Zimmerman is somewhere behind the hoodie’d Martin in a vehicle. At 0:08, Zimmerman simply describes Martin as “a real suspicious guy.” At 0:27, the dispatcher asks: “Okay, and this guy, is he black, white, or Hispanic?” Zimmerman responds with a very clear note of uncertainty: “He LOOKS black,” in a tone that implies a following “BUT I’m not entirely sure.” My interpretation of Zimmerman’s tone at this point is bolstered by the fact that when Martin turns back in Zimmerman’s direction and starts scoping him out at 1:00, allowing Zimmerman the first chance at getting a closer, and more head–on look, Zimmerman takes the first opportunity to (at 1:10) confirm, “And he’s a black male.”
When NBC first presented this audio, they literally edited the tape to give the very overwhelming—and overwhelmingly misleading—impression that Zimmerman brought up Martin’s race both immediately and unprompted, opening the call by saying: “He looks up to no good. He LOOKS black.” (See this YouTube video for a comparison, and skip to 1:28 to NBC’s edit first.)
Lost in all this hysteria were details like the fact that two years earlier, in 2010, Zimmerman had protested, passed out fliers to black churches, and even spoke at an NAACP meeting agitating to bring repercussions to a cop who punched a homeless black man and failed to be charged or punished for the incident despite video evidence. (“Collison turned himself in … on Jan. 3, 2011 [and] agreed to pay for Ware’s medical bills and make donations to nonprofit organizations, including the NAACP.”)
When the Zimmerman/Martin case first broke, those who were paying attention in 2012 will remember that the media heavily relied on these two photos of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, in presenting the case:
Who could possibly believe there was any plausibility to Zimmerman’s version of events—on which it was Martin who doubled back after Zimmerman to tackle him to the ground—with these images flashing at them every time the case was discussed? Without question, what we saw was a systematic pattern of lies and distortions during the early period of reporting about this case. Had the bias ran in the other direction, it would have looked like this, and few would have failed to recognize how offensively and manipulatively distorted the images were:
In fact, this comparison would have been more accurate than the photos that were actually used (though still unreasonable—photos shouldn’t be chosen to sway opinion in either direction), as both of the above photos were much more recent than the ones that were used. Suddenly, Zimmerman’s version of events would have appeared far more plausible and worth taking seriously—it might not have seemed so obvious to the public that Zimmerman must have stalked Martin straight down and shot him in cold blood.
An even more recent and realistic comparison less biased to either side might have looked something like:
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In general, the most central complaint about Zimmerman’s actions is the supposition that he followed Martin, directly provoking the final confrontation by cornering Martin down a dark road or alleyway even if he didn’t throw the first punch. Frequently, this complaint adds that Zimmerman did this against police orders that he stay in his car, which Zimmerman deliberately obeyed. So let’s take a listen to the actual 911 call and see what answers we can determine about that. From 0:00 to 1:35, Zimmerman gives his complaint that “it looks like [this guy is] on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about … just staring … and now he’s staring at me!” In response to questions, he gives description to the dispatcher of Martin’s appearance and location.
Notably, the dispatcher never says anything about whether or not Zimmerman can, or should, get out of his car. At 1:35, we hear movement: the sound of the chime of a car with an open door, followed by Zimmerman’s car door shutting. He sighs and says with a tone of passive resignation, “Ahhh, they always get away…” At 1:45, Zimmerman is only now doing what could possibly be called “following” Martin—we can very clearly hear the sound of wind rushing through Zimmerman’s phone.
And the dispatcher continues asking questions about Martin’s location—while getting out of his car, Zimmerman says: “He’s down towards the, uh, the entrance of the neighborhood.” The dispatcher asks: “Okay. Which entrance is that that he’s heading towards?” And Zimmerman responds: “The back entrance.” Only now, presumably in response to the unmistakable sound of wind rushing through the speakers for the last ten seconds, the dispatcher at 1:54 asks, “Are you following him?” And Zimmerman responds, “Yeah.” The dispatcher replies again: “Okay. We don’t need you to do that.” And at 2:00, Zimmerman calmly says, “Okay.”
Nevermind that, as the dispatcher himself testified, this was just a “suggestion” in the first place—not so much any kind of command as a ‘we don’t need you to do that’—‘that isn’t a requirement for our purposes.’ An actual quote from the testimony: “We’re directly liable if we give a direct order … We always try to give general basic … not commands, just suggestions.” So, “We don’t need you to do that” is different than a more direct “Don’t do that.”
At 2:05–2:10, the dispatcher asks: “Alright, sir, what is your name?” And Zimmerman responds: “George.” After a slight pause, he adds: “ … He ran.” And at this point, the sound of wind rushing through the phone stops entirely. So, assuming that the wind only rushed through Zimmerman’s speakers while he was speed–walking in the direction Martin was running, and never simply when the breeze blew Zimmerman’s way, the total evidence we have for Zimmerman “stalking” Martin is a maximum 25 seconds, the full duration for which Martin was either nearly or completely out of Zimmerman’s sight. And Zimmerman actually does stop after the dispatcher informs him that following Martin isn’t necessary, even though this was not an order, nor even a request that he stop—merely letting Zimmerman know that the dispatchers don’t require him to do it. Zimmerman does in fact stop, at this point, anyway.
A far cry from the suggestion that Zimmerman compelled Martin to fight back by stalking him down into a corner.
And these distortions were not a coincidence. A report from Ernhardt Graeff, Matt Stempeck, and Ethan Zuckerman titled “The battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a media controversy online and off–line” investigated the “phases” of reporting on the case. After a first “act” that consisted solely of local reporting within Florida, “The second “act” of the story begins on 7–8 March, ten days after Martin’s death, when the story received a new wave of media attention from two of the national media’s largest outlets … This resurgence in interest was the direct result of efforts to publicize the story. Martin’s family was able to enlist the legal services of civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump on a pro bono basis. Crump had taken on a previous civil rights case and failed to convict, which he attributed to an inadequate media strategy prior to the trial itself (Caputo, 2012). Crump brought on local lawyer Natalie Jackson, who enlisted the pro bono services of publicist Ryan Julison. … Within a day of joining the effort, Julison attracted significant media coverage. He began reaching out to the largest national media sources (as measured by audience reach) and worked his way down until he found interest from Reuters and CBS This Morning. … Huffington Post, … an important early amplifier…, misreported that Zimmerman was white….” They conclude that “broadcast media … is susceptible to media activists working through participatory media to co–create the news and influence the framing of major controversies. … Benjamin Crump’s strategy to focus PR efforts on broadcast media with national reach was astute.”
It is this kind of media network dedicated solely to bringing attention and outrage to (supposed) black victims that is lacking in cases like Dillon Taylor’s which lead to disproportionate awareness of black and white victims of police brutality (and interracial civilian violence) as a whole. Even more background on the story of how the same lawyer who later took over the Michael Brown case and invested his defense in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” lie worked with a PR company (with a history of sleights of truth of its own) to spin their narrative fast to the mainstream media to create the distortions of truth that marked the early stages of awareness of the Zimmerman/Martin case can be found (albeit with more partisan polemic than I’d have preferred) at The Conservative Treehouse.
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So, what happened after the end of the phone call?
Zimmerman ended his phone call with police at 7:15pm.
That leaves hardly two minutes for Zimmerman and Martin to encounter each other, and for the entire fight to run its course, for which we don’t have direct observational evidence. However, what we do have are very straightforward lines of surrounding evidence that make an account of what actually happened in this two minutes very clear.
One of the most relevant details produced by the prosecution’s key witness, Rachel Jeantel, was this: “I asked [Trayvon Martin] where he at. He told me he at the back of his daddy fiancee house like in the area where his daddy fiancee — by his daddy fiancee house. I said, you better keep running. He said, no, he lost him.”
We can combine that with the addresses of known locations to create a geographical timeline of events.
1 is the first location which Zimmerman gives the dispatcher immediately after beginning his phone call to 911 (1111 Retreat View Circle; the clubhouse). 2 is the approximate location at which Zimmerman parked his car, though it may have been closer to 1 than this. (“If they come in through the gate, tell them to go straight past the club house, and uh, straight past the club house and make a left, and then they go past the mailboxes, that’s my truck”). 3 is the location at which Zimmerman ended his phone call to 911—in the 25 seconds during which Zimmerman “follows” Martin before stopping in response to the dispatcher’s statement, the distance he travels is from 2 to 3. 4 is the location of Brandy Latreca Green (Martin’s “daddy’s fiancee”)’s home, where Martin was staying. (Per the NYT). 5 is where the police arrived to find Zimmerman bloodied and Martin unresponsive.
Now, the autopsy found that the only injuries on Trayvon’s body apart from the gunshot were those on his own knuckles. The responding officer observed that the back of Zimmerman’s jacket was wet and covered in grass, consistent with Zimmerman’s account that Martin had pinned him to the ground. There were lacerations to the back of his head exactly consistent with his account that Martin was shoving his head into the concrete—call Zimmerman’s injuries minor all you want; but if his injuries were minor, he was lucky. Anyone who doesn’t think this is a perfectly valid situation in which to become afraid for your life is an idiot: it takes almost nothing (warning: violent video) to take someone out this way—a single lucky hit this way can easily kill you, render you unconscious long enough to allow an assailant to kill you by some other means, or simply leave you alive with traumatic brain injury for the rest of your life.
More importantly, Zimmerman consistently stated that he didn’t know where Trayvon Martin was, right up until the very end of the phone call at (3) when he declines to tell the dispatcher his address for that reason—and Rachel Jeantel testified that he had made it back to the back yard of his daddy’s fiancee’s house (4) when the call dropped. This means the final showdown could not have happened unless Martin doubled back after Zimmerman. The known evidence therefore does not even allow for the interpretation that Zimmerman approached Martin first. While the skin on Martin’s knuckles was broken, Zimmerman had no injuries consistent with aggressive violence. Together, all these facts make it clear that it could only have been Zimmerman’s voice screaming for help on the ensuing neighborhood 911 calls.
All of this backs the complaint against Zimmerman up all the way back to “he shouldn’t have called the cops at all.” People who use this critique have probably never lived in a gated community. Every single entrance to Twin Lakes features the following sign, making it perfectly clear to every visitor what rules apply once inside: “We report all suspicious persons….” You consent to those rules once you walk inside.