In 1955, Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy, was brutally murdered by a group of white men who beat him, shot him, and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River. The men defended their actions by claiming that Till had 'disrespected a white woman.' In 2012, Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old African American boy, was brutally murdered by a member of the neighborhood watch of a gated community. The neighborhood watch coordinator defended his actions by claiming that Martin had 'behaved suspiciously.' Both Till and Martin spurred the nation in an impassioned rally to reconstruct cultural divisions and put an end to racial oppression. Why then, in our current and “post-racial” society, was Martin killed just last year?
It is easy to see why Martin has been referred to as “the Emmett Till of our generation.” And, though the motives behind the Martin case are still currently in dispute, this comparison has some value; it is true that both of these deaths occurred as a result of racial divisions (regardless of what happened after, Martin would not have been shot had Zimmerman not initially followed him). However, some individuals believe that this comparison does the Civil Rights Movement an injustice. On a CNN news article covering the event, one person commented, “Please do not compare crimes of humanity where groups of beings repeatedly beat one another to a one shot, possible mistake on an aggressor.” And another stated, “[Till’s] death was a result of hatred… Trayvon Martin’s death was an unfortunate mistake, but a mistake nonetheless… We crossed that bridge a long time ago…”
Personally, I think these comments are inane. In regards to the first one, Martin was still shot and killed, despite the fact that he was unarmed. Zimmerman chose to point the gun at him and pull the trigger. Is murder not a "crime against humanity," regardless of what scale? And, regardless of whether not the final shot was truly an act of self-defense, it was no mistake that Zimmerman followed Martin unnecessarily in the first place. To the second, while I cannot say whether or not Zimmerman acted out of hatred, I think referring to Martin’s death as a simple, “unfortunate mistake” is extremely disingenuous. This individual also claimed that we as a society “crossed that bridge long ago,” referring to the master narrative-approved notion that racism is obsolete. Therefore, it would be unthinkable to consider that Zimmerman could act out of racial hate. Clearly, as many posts on this blog have shown us, that is entirely false. Racial tension is still prevalent, and African Americans still do not receive the same rights that privileged whites do.
What do you think? Is Martin’s death comparable to Till’s? If not, why? If so, why is history still repeating itself over half a century later?