A reader of mine sent me this photo last night. As the murder trial of George Zimmerman wheezes to its conclusion, the TV networks dutifully pipe in live pool video from the courtroom, as if it is force-fed to them and they have no choice but to excrete it, soft and undigested, into our living rooms, bedrooms, offices. Sometimes, the pool recorder or the networks' producers don't switch to a mundane image of lawyers being lawyerly quite fast enough, and we get to see snippets of the human cruelty, stupidity, and frailty that occasion trials such as this.
This is Trayvon Martin's body. These are the last skinny jeans he wore, cuffed once at the bottoms. These are his stylish kicks, his sockless ankles. There are Trayvon's taut neck, his slack jaw, his open eyes.
This is what happens. Not just when we input "black" and "teen" and "hoodie" and "night" into our onboard computers and output "DANGER," but also when we find the aftermath Newsworthy, and must consume it voraciously from start to finish, but insist that we cannot stomach seeing the bones and gristle on our plates.
This image has made its way to the internet on message boards and the like, but not on any notable sites that I could find. The Huffington Post and others have published some images of Martin's body—covered by a sheet—but none of his face.
I had a brief conversation by email and phone last night with the reader who wanted to send this to me, who felt compelled to save it, but seemed unsure why he had. Before he'd shared the image, I asked him what it showed. Was it newsworthy? He stammered. "It's... a dead black kid," he said, disturbed, hoping five words could convey many more. In email, he'd asked me: "What will you do with pic?"
To Trayvon's parents, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, I'm sorry that I feel compelled to share this photograph. Were I a slave to journalistic norms, I would say that it's somehow in the public interest to see him there. I would point out Florida's sunshine laws, and the TV network's incompetence, and argue the inevitability that this image would've gained a wider audience than it has already.
But those are rationalizations. They don't explain my motive: Good old-fashioned rage that this kid is dead because my home state empowered a dullard aficionado of Van Damme and Seagal movie cliches to choose his own adventure. Florida literally gave George Zimmerman license to make up neighborhood threats and invite violent confrontations, confident in the knowledge that he carried more firepower jammed down his sweaty fat waistband than every army on earth beheld before 1415.
I wish I were a better person than that, but I'm not. People come up short all the time, after all. I suppose it's a good thing I don't have a gun.