Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Kyle Rittenhouse and Trayvon Martin were both the same age-17 years old. They both had some dings on their record. They both wound up in a much-watched courtroom drama. There are of course a couple of differences. Martin was Black and slain. His killer, George Zimmerman, was arrested, tried, and acquitted. Rittenhouse is white. Like Zimmerman, he was arrested for murder, and tried, but with much debate about whether a jury would convict him on anything. The bigger story is not just the much-debated alleged racial double standard in the pronounced stretch over backward judicial and legal tilt toward Rittenhouse. It’s how martin and Rittenhouse have been perceived and depicted by much of the media and the public.
With Martin, there was the non-stop barrage of veiled and not so veiled hints, innuendoes, digs, and crass, snide, accusing comments, remarks, slander, and outright lies about Martin’s alleged bad background. Here were a few of the choice shots taken at Martin in the wake of the killing. He had gold teeth. There were alleged Facebook defiant shots of him giving gang signs and flipping off. He was much bigger (and more menacing) than the stock angelic pictures of him. He had “nonviolent behavioral issues in school” and he was suspended for ten days, and his suspension may have been due to violence. He had tons of unexcused absences. He listened to rap and endlessly texted and talked on his cell phone.
Then the professional baiters and bashers took over. Fox Networks Gerald Rivera slurred that his Hoodie got him killed. TV and radio talker Glenn Beck branded him possibly a dangerous troublemaker. Just as predictably, then-President Obama’s sensitive and thoughtful statement of concern about Martin stirred a fresh round of Martin (and Obama) bashing up to and including GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich. He accused the president of stirring up the racial pot by speaking out.
The savage assault on Martin had two aims. One was to deconstruct him as supposedly not the innocent choir boy the press depicts him. The even more devious and insidious aim was to exonerate Zimmerman for the murder. If enough filth could be tossed at Martin to cast doubt and suspicion about his character and motives, then maybe Zimmerman had probable cause to kill.
With Rittenhouse, it was a far different story. I was struck repeatedly by how many times the word “kid” was used within and without the media to describe him. Here’s a guy who packed an assault weapon, traveled to another state, and then gunned down two men and wounded another. Kid? At no point during the Martin drama did I ever read or hear any commentator routinely describe Martin as a “kid.”
The word is not just a matter of pithy semantics. It creates a mindset of the innocence of children. Or, at worst, misguided, temperamental, and immature actions that are commonly thought the province of children. Murder is hardly thought of by the media and the public as a common temperamental, immature act of children. Rittenhouse drove the innocent, but immature, child act home with his teary-eyed outburst of alleged contrition on the witness stand.
Then there was his mom dutifully pleading his case in court and before the cameras. That further drove him the image and perception of a “kid” who had a loving, doting parent who would do everything to stand by her baby in his time of trauma and distress.
There was none of that family piety stuff with the parents of Martin. They were just as devoted and outspoken about their baby too. Instead, they were knocked for having an errant, crime-prone son. In other words, they were lousy parents.
“Kid” Rittenhouse got a small king’s ransom in contributions to his defense. Legions of conservative bloggers, websites, and commentators oozed sympathy for the “kid’s” ordeal. He was in mortal danger of being assaulted maybe even murdered by a pack of adults. So, in that perilous situation what was the kid supposed to do but try and ward off a bad outcome from adults? At times, it was those adults, that is the two slain men, who seemed to be as much on trial as Rittenhouse.
Again, they were bad acting adults and they posed real danger to a child. That’s not exactly the kind of scenario that would engender much sympathy for those kinds of adults. Children remember must be guarded, protected, and nurtured, not put on a courtroom stand and be assailed by adults. The watchword for alleged victimized “kids” such as Rittenhouse is indulgence. They may commit wayward acts. But when they do the search is on to try to find some humane rationale to understand, if not absolve them of those wayward child impulsive acts. Unfortunately, Martin didn’t get the same “kid” pass.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is Bring Back the Poll Tax!—The GOP War on Voting Rights. (Middle Passage Press) He is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays, 9:00 AM 90.7 FM. His political affairs commentaries can be found weekly on thehutchinsonreport.net