Playing ‘Games’ with Trayvon Martin’s image

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin (AP Photo/Martin Family)

Writing about the ‘rabid’ hate aimed at Trayvon Martin seems only to generate more hate. The view that the unarmed 17-year-old killed by George Zimmerman nearly a year ago was a thug who deserved to die is as strong as ever.

Many folks took issue with the picture I used yesterday and again today — that of a smiling, fresh-faced Trayvon wearing a red T-shirt from Hollister, the mass clothier of adolescence. Some think he’s as young as 11 years old or as old as 14 in that snapshot. Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump told me this afternoon that the slain teenager was 16 when that photo was taken in August 2011. Folks forget that, when he was killed, Trayvon had turned 17 just three weeks earlier. Trayvon would have been 18 years old yesterday. The most recent photo released by the family was of him on a horse wearing an orange T-shirt that was taken about a week before he was killed.

But one reader sent me an e-mail last night that was beyond ridiculous. “Why didn’t you show the up-to-date picture of Trayvon Martin as below instead of the one where he is much younger?” he asked. “I don’t take either side because I just don’t know all the facts, but what I do know is you can’t beat honest reporting.” Click here to see the “up-to-date picture of Trayvon Martin” he attached.

Until this morning, I had no idea who this man was. But last night, I let the letter writer have it. “You’re unbelievable,” I wrote. “Thanks to George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin will never be as old as the man in that picture.” The e-mailer responded, “The photo was sent from someone who I believe is a trustworthy source. If that photo is not of Trayvon Martin, I apologize.”

If? As I pointed out in my final response, the man in that photo is twice the age of Trayvon. Also, the medical examiner’s autopsy on the teen revealed that he had two tattoos, one on the right arm and one of the left wrist.

Trustworthy source? Hardly. Whoever sent that photo to the letter writer is a pernicious peddler of lies. The man in that photo is the rapper Game — a fact I discovered from PolitiFact, which debunked the Game-as-Trayvon myth in July. Truth be told, that I had no idea who Game was should not come as a surprise. Rap isn’t my thing the way jazz or R&B is. This much I did know, Trayvon looked nothing like the 31-year-old pictured.

The letter writer and other people seem so eager to paint Trayvon as a thug, a wannabe gangsta, a monster who got what he deserved. Fake photos of Trayvon are all over the internet. The veracity of the one of him with gold teeth is still a question. When I asked Crump about it, he said flatly, “I have no idea.” But the answer to the question about the picture’s authenticity doesn’t matter.

Zimmerman knew nothing about Trayvon the night he killed him. Yet the neighborhood-watch volunteer thought he knew all about the unarmed teenager. He called the police to report “a real suspicious guy” and then followed Trayvon even after being told by a dispatcher on the non-emergency line at the Sanford, Fla., police department, “We don’t need you to do that.”

Ultimately, what does matter is why Zimmerman got out of his vehicle. As lead investigator Chris Serino wrote in his “capias” request seeking Zimmerman’s arrest for manslaughter, “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.” Maybe we’ll find out when the trial gets started in June.

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