If last week Trayvon Martin’s death broke as a national story, then this week it reached a full boil. Every day new details have been leaked and analyzed, pundits have opined and the interested parties have sought to characterize each other. Brooke again talks with Huffington Post senior reporter Trymaine Lee about how this story has continued to develop.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. The story of Trayvon Martin that began slowly to build national attention last week has reached a full boil and shows no signs of letting up. And probably, inevitably with more time, comes more detail, detail that complicates the story of the young black teenager shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who has been protected from prosecution because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws.
Now, Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school three times. Zimmerman had been arrested for shoving a cop and for domestic violence, and with each new fact, new waves of speculations, protests and media bloviating.
To help us pierce through the fog of this coverage, we decided to turn again to Trymaine Lee, a reporter for The Huffington Post, who’s been following the case almost from the beginning, partly from Sanford, the suburb of Orlando, where the event took place. Trymaine, welcome to the show.
TRYMAINE LEE: Oh, thanks so much for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So tell us what happened in the last week and what it does to the story that you were originally telling?
TRYMAINE LEE: In, in the last week you’ve seen a number of official leaks from Trayvon Martin’s school in Miami. You’ve seen police leaks. So there seems a concerted effort to try to kind of shade the character on – of both individuals.
I think the difficulty is for some people to digest that these folks are whole people. Trayvon Martin was this smiling fresh-faced kid, but you throw, you know, some gold caps on his teeth and throw in, you know, possible marijuana usage, for some people they’re unnerved. And I think some people felt maybe duped, like we thought he was really one of us but now he’s something else. And that something else is, for some, maybe a thug.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you described a series of leaks that have been coming out. It’s coming from the police, it’s coming from the school. Are these targeted leaks?
TRYMAINE LEE: Now you have the Department of Justice is lookin’ into this, the, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Other state officials and agencies are looking into this. The FBI has joined into this investigation. So I think everyone is trying to cover their - behinds now.
So the lawyers and the family would say that many of these leaks, particularly those that seem to have originated in the Police Department, is exactly why you need outside agencies to investigate. So in the last week or so, we’ve seen one leak come from the Police Department that kind of explains Zimmerman’s account of that night, where he says that he turned around to return to his car and that Trayvon Martin appeared out of nowhere and attacked him from behind, punched him in the face, broke his nose, grabbed his head and was smashing it into the sidewalk.
And so, now we fast forward a day or two and we get the, the release of the surveillance video from the night of the shooting, just a few hours later. And George Zimmerman is seen exiting a police cruiser — not a bandage, not a bruise, no blood, no soiled clothing. And so, the one leak counters the previous leak.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We see it covered a little differently on the various cable networks. And the President’s weighed in. Have you watched how the punditocracy has been dealing with this story?
TRYMAINE LEE: It’s interesting because in the first three quarters of this, there seemed to be a general consensus that there could have been some sort of major misstep here, bordering on a miscarriage of justice.
But after the President spoke and, and mentioned that if he had son, he – he would likely look like Trayvon, just from the emails that I received, they’ve turned very political, very vile, mean and angry.
And if you look at some of the other sites, you have some produced so-called “Twitter images” from Trayvon Martin, with offensive or questionable language. You’ve seen some photos on some websites that clearly were not Trayvon Martin, of kids with their pants hangin’ off their behind and middle fingers up. And I’ve received emails, and Obama seems to be a recurring theme. It’s clearly taken a different tone.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you say “mean” do you mean racist?
TRYMAINE LEE: Oh, it’s clearly racist. I mean, I’ve – I’ve seen the “N” word. And I’ve been called personally [LAUGHS] the “N” word, the blacks are doing this, you know, “you people, you all.” It’s kind of disappointing because this is changing the focus here.
And the focus needs to be on what does justice mean in America, right? How are we dealing with race and law and justice in America? These are very important questions that as media we should be shining light on this situation, however it turns out.
But now that it’s been politicized and racialized, it’s changed the whole tone and, and temperature of this thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You’re a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. You reported on Katrina for The Times-Picayune. You worked for several years with The New York Times. Then you jumped to The Huffington Post, a liberal website that makes no bones about its political position. So what I want to know is do you think your work will be done only when there’s a trial, only when George Zimmerman is convicted? What do you want out of this now?
TRYMAINE LEE: You know, this is the liberal media, right? But for me, I approach it the same way I would any newspaper. And I, I think that the Op Ed page is separate from the newsroom. I don’t see any ends in sight. As my mother would say, “There is no station in life.” It’s not like once we get to this point, it’s finally a wrap, it’s over.
I would like to see this the beginning of a conversation, and for us to be able to take a real serious look at race in America, justice in America. How are the scales of justice tipped, and what is weighing them down one way or the other?
So at the end of this, I can’t say that I – that I want one thing or the other, but I’m certainly interested in seein’ where this goes. I wonder if, if this ultimately is this watershed moment that we all believe it will be, and how we’ll all be changed, ‘cause I think we’re all gonna be a little different after this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Trymaine, thank you very much.
TRYMAINE LEE: Oh, as always, thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Trymaine Lee is a senior reporter at The Huffington Post.