Friday, June 22, 2018
Politics

Trayvon Martin case fuels intense political debate on left and right

From suspect to victim to cultural symbol, Trayvon Martin has metamorphosed into a political point of departure over race.

When President Barack Obama spoke about how his son could have looked like the 17-year-old, his white Republican rivals quickly accused him of being racially divisive.

When Gov. Rick Scott established a task force to investigate the "stand your ground" gun law connected to Martin's shooting, a state Democratic leader rebuked him for wanting to wait until the case is adjudicated.

Liberal and left-leaning media have taken up Martin's case, with calls to arrest his shooter, George Zimmerman. Conservative and right-leaning media have called for a get-the-facts first approach, while some have published images of Martin portraying him as a thug.

Groups from the NAACP to the National Council of La Raza, to white and black supremacist groups, have entered — or been drawn into — the political fray as well.

"It's campaign time, and unfortunately, it has come to that. But that's what we get these days, unfortunately," said Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the only elected black Republican in Florida's Capitol.

Carroll, who's chairing Gov. Scott's task force on stand your ground, said the group needs to take its time and not interfere with the investigation. She also wants to avoid partisan and racial politics.

But Carroll noted that race infuses the case and our justice system, especially with the high-incarceration rates of African-Americans. But she still wanted to focus on whether the state's stand your ground law, authorizing the use of deadly force, needs to be tweaked. The National Rifle Association is sure to fight that, while gun-control advocates are trying to get the law stripped from the books.

The Florida Senate's incoming Democratic leader, Chris Smith, criticized the decision by Scott and Carroll to hold off on investigating the law. But Carroll said the task force needs time to gather facts for the "emotional" and increasingly partisan case.

The politics won't go away.

"Once the story went national, we first dealt with the tragedy but very quickly you saw political questions starting to be asked,'' said James B. Peterson, a professor of Africana Studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. "Race is a powerful political tool.''

"Immediately, you have the right and left at the table. It's unfortunate that this case has become such a hotbed. Both sides can easily go back to their stock characters,'' he said. "On the left, it's marching and protesting and talk about institutional racism. On the right, it's talk about rushing to judgment and accusations of race-baiting. The irony is both sides are demanding justice.''

And both sides have 24-hour cable channels, websites and Twitter armies that push their narrative about what happened.

State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, has changed his Twitter avatar to depict him wearing the type of hoodie sweatshirt the unarmed Martin wore on his last night. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., wore a hoodie on the House floor, prompting Florida's highest-profile black Republican, U.S. Rep. Allen West, to criticize the action as "gimmickry."

Meantime, the Internet's atwitter over the decision of the Daily Caller, a conservative website, to obtain and publish apparent tweets from the teen's now-closed Twitter account. The messages depict fairly typical rap-fueled, sex-obsessed misogynistic lingo common to urban and suburban youth in Miami Gardens.

A New York Times blogger criticized the Daily Caller and others for "cherry picking" images about Martin to make him seem more threatening. It failed to mention that the paper's liberal columnist Charles Blow has said little of Martin's school suspensions and his dalliance with pot in favor of discussing his "cherubic" countenance.

When the nation's first black president said, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," the political floodgates over race broke open again in the presidential election.

"Is the president suggesting if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be okay because it wouldn't look like him?" Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity wondered. "That's just nonsense. I mean, dividing this country up, it is a tragedy this young man was shot."

Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich echoed the sentiments.

In Florida, Lt. Gov. Carroll can personally relate to having a child who looks like Martin. She has two grown sons and a daughter, and she pointedly declined to criticize the president.

"That's his personal interpretation and how he feels. So that's nobody else's business to interpret what he is saying," Carroll said at an event with her 25-year-old son Nolan Carroll, a Miami Dolphins defensive back.

"As old as Nolan is, I still call him. Are you home safe? It's night time, I'm going to sleep," said Carroll, who initially didn't want her son to play football as a kid.

But now that her son plays professional football, how can she worry?

"Even at that," she says. She still calls and asks, "Are you home?"

Miami Herald staff writer Audra D.S. Burch contributed to this report.

Comments
Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six local candidates across Tampa Bay — all county commissioners and city council members — effectively won their elections Friday by default: No one qualified to run against them.The rest still have a fight.Some will square off in an Aug. 28 primary...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Published: 06/22/18
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18