On Wednesday, Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, nearly two months after the murder occurred on Feb 26.
Why the delay?
Is it possible that race played a role in the fact that George Zimmerman was not arrested on February 26? Would things have been different if Trayvon Martin were a white student? This story could easily have been buried, but instead of vanishing, the story amplified across the nation, until the overwhelming pressure of public opinion finally led to an arrest.
“Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition,” said Angela Corey, the Florida special prosecutor. But indeed, it is only after the Trayvon Martin case became national news that the prosecutor made the move to take any action against Zimmerman.
The amount of media attention surrounding the Martin case has been tremendous, including marches around the country, a petition to charge Zimmerman, and a photo that allegedly shows Martin’s lawyers reclining in hoodies (referencing a Geraldo Rivera comment about what is really responsible for Martin’s death).
Almost certainly, the prolonged national outcry about a killer on the loose must have influenced Corey's decision to charge Zimmerman.
This is undoubtedly a step toward justice for Travon Martin and his family. But it prompts a host of questions: What if this death had gone unnoticed by the rest of the country, like so many others? If Martin’s death were not so straightforward (and so easy to cast blame), would we still care? And, more frighteningly, would the killer still be charged?
Increased connectivity means news articles, pictures, tweets and even foursquare locations are shared with the world in seconds. But when overwhelmed with information, what does society choose to focus on?
In order to go viral, a story (photo, tweet, etc.) must be simple, easily condensed, and punchy. Trayvon Martin’s story was easily translatable to mass media because it was just that: easily understood. It provoked strong feelings, and was easy to rally around. Martin’s supporters were able to effectively and quickly share their outrage through social and traditional media.
If cases of violence and wrongdoing are not so easily condensed, or understood, will the general public still care? We prefer to consume our news in bite-size pieces, using aggregate news readers that feed us just enough to ensure we sound knowledgeable. Martin’s tragedy is an exception to the complicated, intricate tragedies that occur everyday, often unnoticed.
Social responsibility is a forgotten concept in today’s self-serving world. Why worry about someone else’s problems when you can focus on getting more likes, more followers, or the latest iPad? I applaud everyone who shared Trayvon Martin’s story and helped to bring his killer to justice. But as a society, we should continue to bring to light similar injustices – ones that get buried under the plethora of celebrity gossip, sound bites, and meaningless slogans.
Let’s spend our time continuing to call for meaningful change and justice, and not simply ogling over Kim Kardashian’s new photos with Kanye, or KONY 2012 without knowing what the story is behind it. The power of social and traditional media lies with consumption, and what we do with that information. Harnessing that, millennials can make conscious social policy choices that steer our country in the right direction, and benefit us all.