Fact and Fiction in The Shooting of Trayvon Martin

UPDATE: A new video shows George Zimmerman with no apparent injuries on the night of the killing.

I get so dispirited by the state of American discourse, which all too often comes down to not acknowledging any part of the truth, or even a potential fact, that doesn’t agree with one’s current opinion.

Because of it, I have to open up this post by saying I think George Zimmerman is culpable in the death of Trayvon Martin. Otherwise, I’ll be attacked for being an apologist for a man who I think is a racist reactionary who shot an innocent boy. That said, the story is more complex than we originally believed.

Here are the facts as we know them, first those that are undisputed, then from Martin’s point of view, then from Zimmerman’s, followed up by an attempt to reconcile the accounts.

The undisputed facts:

  • George Zimmerman began following Trayvon Martin in a gated neighborhood in Sanford, FL.
  • Zimmerman called 911 and reported a suspicious person he was following.
  • The dispatcher told Zimmerman to stop following Martin, and that police were on the way.
  • Zimmerman resisted to give his name and contact information to the police dispatcher, then hung up the phone.
  • Several 911 calls from neighbors record a scuffle, a man screaming for help, and a single gunshot.
  • In the time between hanging up and the police arrival, Zimmerman shoots and kills Trayvon Martin.
Next, the best understanding I can muster of both Martin and Zimmerman’s experiences that evening. Some of the facts are unclear or in dispute.
What Trayvon Martin experienced, as best as we can understand it:
  • Trayvon Martin walked to the store for some Skittles and an iced tea.
  • It was raining, and Martin had a hoodie on.
  • On the phone, Martin told a friend that a creepy man was following him.
  • The friend advised Martin to run, and Martin said he’d walk faster to get away.
  • The friend hears a scuffle on the phone, the call drops.
  • Martin is shot dead by George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s account, as we understand it:
  • George Zimmerman was driving to the store and spotted what he called a suspicious person.
  • Zimmerman stopped and parked his SUV, got out, and began following Martin.
  • He called 911 and reported a suspicious person. The reason for his suspicion is unknown.
  • Martin confronted and assaulted Zimmerman, at which point he shot the teen in self defense.
  • During the fight, Zimmerman sustained injuries, including a broken nose, and abrasions on his head, and perhaps other injuries, but refused medical treatment.
In dispute is the crucial minute or two between the time Zimmerman hung up with the 911 dispatcher and the police arrived on the scene. Either Zimmerman shot Martin in cold blood, without provokation, or it occurred during a physical altercation between the two. The difference between murder, manslaughter, and self-defense lies in that moment about which we may never know the truth.  Continue reading “Fact and Fiction in The Shooting of Trayvon Martin”

Recent TV Expeditions: Smash and Lilyhammer

A few notes on recent TV.

NBC’s Smash:
I wanted to like you. Really, I did. As a gay man who can’t stand Glee, I’ve been feeling left out of the club for years. But I’m over it. Unlike a lot of folks, I like both Debra Messing and Katharine McPhee as Julia and Karen, respectively. But Julia flipping out about her son smoking pot, in 2012? Totally and utterly unbelievable, and Messing seems like she’s on the verge of laughing each time she is forced to treat it like a capital case. Let’s not even talk about Ellis, or even worse, Dev. Ugh Dev.

This one you may not have heard of, but it’s Netflix’s first foray into original programming.  Starring Steven Van Zandt (of Springsteen *and* Sopranos fame) as a mobster who moves to Norway as part of the witness protection program, the series is comedically very fun. It manages to strike the balance between drama and comedy that The Sopranos was so good at, which is an impressive feat.

Fact and Fiction on Joseph Kony and Invisible Children

I’m a pretty savvy guy, but I’m having a really tough time separating fact from fiction when it comes to Joseph Kony and Invisible Children and I wish the media would do more of this. Here’s what I think is clear and what you should know:

  • Joseph Kony is a monster. This much is clearly true. Over the past 30 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has kidnapped 30,000 children and slaughtered many more.
  • That does not mean he has an army of 30,000, it’s a total over the course of decades.
  • Right now, experts think there are only a few hundred, not thousands, of members of the LRA. They’re still causing problems, but not on the scale Invisible Children would have you think.
  • Joseph Kony probably isn’t even in Uganda. In fact, most people think he’s not, and hasn’t been for 6 years.
  • He is not expanding into other countries, he’s in hiding after being indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
  • The US has boots on the ground in central Africa specifically for the purpose of tracking down the LRA.
  • Check here and here for more.

Here’s what I think we know about Invisible Children:

  • Charity Navigator gives them 3 stars (of four), which is a respectable score.
  • Despite what you read, the founders make modest salaries, all under $100k.
  • They don’t seem to do much to actually help people other than raising awareness.
  • With that in mind, this post saying they only give 31% of their revenue in direct need seems spurious.
  • If you count their film-making, research, and travel, which seems fair as raising awareness is their goal, 80% of their revenue goes to programs, not administrative costs.
  • They subscribe to a few philosophies of activism that many people, including myself, are wary of, including buying stickers, t-shirts, and “clicktivism.”

What am I missing? Lots, I bet. What questions are still open? There are a ton. But hopefully this clears up some of the facts surrounding #StopKony.

Sharing Publicly on Facebook

Lately I’ve been very surprised at the number of people who are sharing with the “public” setting on Facebook. I personally share a lot with the world (subscribe here!), which is a conscious choice I made years ago and have rarely regretted since. But along the way, I’ve seen a lot of outbursts by friends and colleagues how Facebook is exposing personal information in a way that violates their privacy.

I’ve always disagreed, arguing that if you don’t want people to see something, don’t put it online, and that while the privacy settings on Facebook aren’t the most intuitive, they do work. I’ve gotten burned a few times when I haven’t followed my own good advice, but for the most part those two rules have held true for me.

With all that in mind, it’s surprising to me the amount that I see the “globe” icon (indicating a post is visible to everyone) appear in my news feed. I’m inclined to think it’s user error and not intentional. Thoughts?