The Trayvon Martin case: Lessons for education researchers

Posted By News On April 4, 2014 - 12:31pm

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (April 4, 2014) – The 2012 fatal shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin by his Florida neighbor George Zimmerman sparked a fierce debate about racism and gun violence. Now, researchers are exploring what the controversial case says as well about sexism and violence against women.

Boston College Lynch School of Education Professor Ana M. Martinez Aleman spoke today at the American Educational Research Association annual conference in Philadelphia about the highly politicized debate surrounding the Martin case and the implications for researchers who probe issues at the intersection of race, gender and economic status.

AERA's Committee on Scholars and Advocates for Gender Equity in Education invited Martinez Aleman, a higher education expert whose research frequently looks at issues of race, culture and gender, and her fellow panelists to explore the issue.

"We in the educational research community don't often deal well with race and gender simultaneously," said Martinez Aleman, most recently the author of the book Accountability, Pragmatic Aims, and the American University. "We tend to deal with one or the other. But when we look at the Trayvon Martin case, I think there are lessons about how we can lose sight of gender and fail to think about the links between racism and sexism."

For instance, when an all-female jury was empaneled for Zimmerman's 2013 trial, commentary focused on whether the six women could judge the case fairly despite their "maternal instincts," Martinez Aleman said. It was the kind of question no one would raise to an all-male jury, she added. Zimmerman, 30, was acquitted of second-degree murder.

As the case against Zimmerman, who is of Peruvian descent, played out, the national discussion focused on civil rights, racial profiling and the horrific toll of gun violence on black males, a debate that reached as far as the White House and President Obama.

But missing from that discussion was the similarly devastating impact of gun violence on black women, said Martinez Aleman. At 4.54 deaths per 100,000, the homicide rate for black women in America is more than three times the rate for white women, and more than double the rate for women of all races, according to the Violence Policy Center's recent review of 2011 homicide statistics.

"As horribly hurtful and shameful as the Martin case was, it's telling that we hear little about the many violent acts perpetuated on African American women, and don't seem rally around that injustice," said Martinez Aleman.

Martinez Aleman said she hopes the conference discussion will raise provocative questions within the research community, particularly among experts who study a range of issues connected to gender and equity, both inside and outside of the classroom.

"It's a call to researchers to really come to terms with the fact that race is not a stand-alone category," said Martinez Aleman. "Race and racial violence are informed by gender and many other issues. Unfortunately, we tend to pull back from those types of analyses. They are difficult and complex analyses to do. But these identities intersect and those intersections have serious implications for social policy — education included."

Seems odd that someone in the context of education research, would neither research the Martin case, nor educate herself on the details of the case. The most likely reason Trayvon Martin attacked and beat George Zimmerman is that Martin thought Zimmerman was gay. It had nothing to do with race, or gun violence. Zimmerman after screaming for help and trying to get away had his gun exposed, and was forced to use it when Trayvon saw the gun and reached for it instead of ending the beating.

The problem has been the focus on irrelevant arguments – some of which are actually unsupported by the evidence.

1. ‘George Zimmerman (GZ) racially profiled Trayvon Martin (TM)’ There is no evidence of this.

2. ‘GZ disobeyed an order by the police’ * The civilian dispatcher, Sean Noffke, testified that he did not give GZ an order and, in fact, he, like his fellow dispatchers, are trained not make comments that sound like commands. * Noffke also testified under cross that, as a result of his asking GZ which way TM was going, GZ could have reasonably interpreted this as being asked to follow Martin. * It is also not a crime in Florida to disregard a comment made by a civilian dispatcher.

3. ‘GZ got out of his car’ Not a crime on public property and not negligent either.

4. ‘GZ followed TM’ Again, anyone can follow anyone on a public street unless the followee has obtained a restraining order against the follower and even there, the RS only places time, place, and manner restrictions on the person enjoined.

5. ‘GZ wasn’t really injured’ * Under Florida’s self-defense laws, one doesn’t have to be injured AT ALL to use deadly force * No one is required to refrain from defending himself while another is engaged in or attempting to commit a felony.

6. ‘TM is dead through no fault of his own’ * If you believe that TM assaulted GZ, then he IS dead as a result of his own actions.

7. ‘GZ could have left’ * Under Florida law, there is not a duty to withdraw rather than use deadly force * TM was straddling GZ so how the latter was supposed to leave the scene is unanswered.

8. ‘GZ was armed and TM wasn’t’ * One’s fists can be considered weapons and can result in severe bodily harm or death. * GZ was legally carrying a weapon * There is no requirement under the law that the same weapon be used by the assailant * A homeowner can kill an intruder whether or not he has been threatened * Those that attack cannot feign surprise if they are met with superior firepower.

9. ‘Stand Your Ground!’ * SYG is NOT at issue in this trial. * The defense is a classic self-defense case.

10. ‘Black men NEVER get to use SYG!’ * Wrong

11. ‘GZ is a man and TM was a boy!’ * As if ‘boys’ don’t commit murder, rape, and assault everyday in this country.

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