After troves of evidence in the Trayvon Martin shooting case was released this week, veteran talk show host Geraldo Rivera on Friday pointed at the “thug wear” the slain Florida teen was wearing to suggest urban-style garb invites suspicion.
The long-time raconteur reporter made similar comments in March, where he partly blamed “the way the young men look” – particularly wearing so-called “hoodies” – for the shooting (to the embarrassment, he said at the time, of his son).
“I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way,” he told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly at the time.
In a later interview with Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Rivera apologized for suggesting that Trayvon’s clothes played a role in his death on Feb. 26.
But amid a national debate about how young black men’s fashion choices can jar public perceptions, Rivera buckled back down on the idea again this week after prosecutors released more than 200 pages of transcripts, as well as video and audio recordings, as part of the discovery process in the trial.
Zimmerman is awaiting trial on second degree murder charges after a special prosecutor in April reversed a local police decision to set him free. Police had concluded that there was no probable cause not to believe Zimmerman’s self-defense claim.
New evidence revealed this week – including a report that indicates the presence of marijuana compounds in Martin’s system, as well a video clip from the convenience store where Martin bought iced tea and a bag of candy minutes before the shooting – begins to suggest an explanation for what happened, Rivera told Bill O’Reilly on Friday.
“The marijuana is probably a lot less powerful than the surveillance video at the 7/11,” Rivera said, going on to say that Martin was “dressed in that thug wear – look at the size of him, he’s not a little kid.” He adds, “Trayvon Martin looks just like people who had been burglarizing and victimizing that neighborhood for the past 6 months.”
On the other hand, a central tenet of the prosecution’s case is that Zimmerman falsely and recklessly “profiled” Martin as a criminal. Though Martin had done nothing wrong, the Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood had experienced several burglaries leading up to the shooting, and Zimmerman, who started a local watch group, had urged residents to contact him if they had anything to report about the incidents, which were in some cases tied to young black men.
Zimmerman described Martin in a non-emergency call to police dispatch as a “suspicious … black male,” acting like he was “on drugs or something.” The FBI, however, found no evidence that Zimmerman uttered any racial slurs, which some listeners thought they heard in one of the 911 recordings.
Indeed, it’s how appearances and prejudices can change an encounter that’s at the heart of the Trayvon Martin court case, Mr. O’Reilly suggested. Admitting later that he was playing devil’s advocate, O’Reilly said to Rivera that bringing suspicion to bear because of someone’s appearance is inappropriate. “You’re racially profiling!” O’Reilly said.
Rivera explained that “a reasonable comparison” is a fair way to judge people, but O’Reilly countered that Zimmerman could have been “looking for action … he wants to be Inspector Clouseau.”
Moreover, Rivera’s contention that Martin’s appearance gave pause to Zimmerman’s response cuts right to the question of why, as police have wondered, Zimmerman didn’t simply shout a friendly, “Hey, can I help you?” instead of following and confronting Martin.
One police document suggested that “the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement, or conversely if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialogue in an effort to dispel each party’s concerns.”
While some have criticized Rivera’s view of the hoodie as a symbol of criminality, he does put his finger on the populist nuances of the broader Trayvon Martin debate.
In the weeks after the shooting, thousands of Americans donned hoodies to protest both what they believed was a case of racially motivated profiling and racial injustice. Last week, an entrepreneur quickly sold out of a stockpile of gun targets depicting someone, presumably Martin, in a hoodie.