Native American Journalists on Trayvon Martin

"We have our own system of injustice, and we've been living it for 100 years," one veteran Native journalist said.

George Zimmerman at his trial (pool/Getty Images)
George Zimmerman at his trial (pool/Getty Images)

The fallout from the George Zimmerman trial was in the air Friday, as President Obama made a surprise speech about the verdict in the White House press briefing room. But at the National Native Media Conference in Tempe, Ariz., where the Native American Journalists Association was meeting, other topics ruled the day. The words “George Zimmerman” or “Trayvon Martin” were hardly uttered.

When asked why, attendees offered remarkably similar responses, variations of, “Welcome to my world. Native Americans receive unequal justice all the time.”

“We have our own system of injustice, and we’ve been living it for 100 years,” Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, veteran Native journalist and founding president of NAJA, told Journal-isms.

“We’re used to it. We have to prove our innocence,” replied Lucinda Hughes-Juan, Tohono O’odham, a freelance business writer and business instructor at Tohono O’odham Community College.

“Native Americans have always dealt with similar circumstances,” said Ronnie Washines of the Yakama Nation Review, a  Yakama and a former NAJA president.

Each could cite examples.

In South Dakota, Giago said, a Native American was given a five-year sentence for driving while intoxicated, while a white man received probation.

“On my reservation alone,” Washines said, “there have been almost a dozen unsolved murders and missing women cases.” Then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales came to the reservation and promised to have investigators review all of the unsolved homicide and mysterious death cases on the reservation.

“They can’t find anything. Came back with zero,” Washines said.

“This is typical,” Hughes-Juan said of the way justice was administered in the Martin case. “Being followed around in stores, stuff like that. We have so many issues, poverty issues, day-to-day survival.” In March, NAJA and other Native groups complained to CBS-TV about the sitcom “Mike and Molly.” “In the episode in question, Mike’s mother, Peggy, who is played by Rondi Reed, reacted negatively to remarks that she should go to Arizona,” Bill Donovan reported then for the Navajo Times.

Arizona? Why should I go to Arizona? It’s nothing but a furnace full of drunk Indians,” the character says.

“It’s a stereotype we get all the time,” Hughes-Juan said. “Welcome to the club. I could still be going into a store in Tucson and not be waited on.”

Both a publicist for the show and CBS refused to apologize — or to comment at all, Donovan wrote. A CBS spokeswoman told Journal-isms on Monday that the network still had no comment.

Loren Tapahe, president and CEO of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Arizona and former publisher of the Navajo Times in Window Rock, Ariz., recalled the 2010 case of Vincent Kee, a young mentally disabled Navajo man.

A McDonald’s employee, Paul Beebe, according to the DOJ, ‘took the victim to his apartment, which was adorned in racist paraphernalia, including a Nazi flag and a woven dream catcher with a swastika in it,’ ” Diane J. Schmidt reported in February 2012 for the Navajo Times, referring to the Justice Department.

“Two other McDonald’s employees, Jesse Sanford and William Hatch, joined them after their shift.

“There, in the course of a nightmarish evening that the defense would attempt to characterize as pranks gone awry, they drew the words ‘white power’ on the back of Kee’s neck with a marker and an obscene picture on his back, shaved a swastika into his hair, and used markers to write the words ‘KKK’ and ‘White Power’ within the lines of the swastika, clearly identifying its intent.

“Finally, Kee was assaulted. Beebe put a towel in his mouth to stifle his screams and branded a swastika on his arm with a wire hanger heated on the stove. The defendants recorded their actions on a cell phone as ‘proof’ that Kee consented to their acts. . . .”

Three men were sentenced for the crime, but, Tapahe said, “It didn’t make the news until the federal government got involved.”

Native Americans rank near the bottom on so many social indicators that “a lot of this one is Native people are always dealing with our own issues,” Perci Ami, a Hopi master trainer and facilitator who came to the convention in place of an ailing Patty Talahongva, a past NAJA president. If Martin had been an Indian, “We would have responded the way African American people are responding. That’s probably the main reason you don’t see a lot of discussion.”

Outside the convention, some Native Americans have taken a different approach. Activist Suzan Shown Harjo last year used the Martin case, in which Zimmerman, a night watchman, fatally shot Martin, an unarmed black teenager, as an example of white privilege.

All sorts of excuses are made for whites who harm non-whites, mainly that they act out of fear,” Harjo wrote. “No one really acknowledges what their fear is: That non-whites, once in charge of anything, will be as bad to the whites as they have been to us.”

Suzette Brewer wrote last week for the Indian Country Today Media Network about a high-profile custody case involving 3-year-old Veronica Brown, a Cherokee, and Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple who took the newborn Veronica home from the hospital in an open adoption approved by the mother. Brewer quoted an outraged Native legal scholar: “This is Indian country’s Trayvon Martin moment; we cannot pass on this.

Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation whose family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation, wrote last year about the backlash he received from “one small group of dissenters” who disagreed with his piece urging everyone to care about the Martin case.

“We must realize that Native people have a vested interest in making sure that everybody in this country’s rights are respected,” Ross wrote. “The more that all people of color are able to enforce their rights in this country, the more likely that justice will eventually make its way to Native people.

“We are all inextricably linked and need each other — therefore, Indian people should be screaming for justice for Trayvon Martin specifically because we’ve seen many instances of Native people being killed by rednecks under the theory that the Native people were ‘threatening’ before.

“We should be screaming for the racial profiling of Mexicans in Arizona to stop specifically because we know what it feels like to be racially profiled and to thus be robbed of our rights. When redneck legislators attempt to limit the ability of homosexuals to decide whether they want to marry or not, we should stand beside them understanding how demeaning it is to have outsiders dictate what you can and cannot do as a group.

“We should stand with poor and voiceless people of all colors, including poor white people. We should stand up for them, because we would want them to stand up for us when our human and civil rights are threatened. No more begging for scraps — let’s demand full justice for all of our people.” 

Ruth Hopkins, Stand Your Ground for Trayvon Martin and All Our Children  

Jacqueline Keeler, Native News Network: My Dad Was Almost Trayvon Martin

Staff, Indian Country Today Media Network: Trayvon Martin Verdict: The Difference Between The Law and What’s Right

2 Surveys Document Racial Divide on Zimmerman Verdict

African Americans have a mostly shared and sharply negative reaction to the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the not-guilty verdict in the resulting trial, while whites are far more divided, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll,” Jon Cohen reported Monday for the Post.

“At least eight in 10 African Americans say the shooting of the Florida teenager was unjustified, recoil at the verdict in the trial and want the shooter, George Zimmerman, tried in federal court for violating Martin’s civil rights.

“On the Martin shooting in particular, the racial gaps are extremely wide. . . .”

The Pew Research Center released similar findings.

African Americans express a clear and strong reaction to the case and its meaning: By an 86% to 5% margin, blacks are dissatisfied with Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin,” the center said Monday. “And nearly eight-in-ten blacks (78%) say the case raises important issues about race that need to be discussed. Among whites, more are satisfied (49%) than dissatisfied (30%) with the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. Just 28% of whites say the case raises important issues about race, while twice as many (60%) say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

“Not only do reactions to the outcome of the case vary widely across racial lines, but overall interest levels also are very different. When asked, in a separate survey, what recent news story they are talking about with friends and family, 63% of blacks volunteer the Zimmerman trial compared with 42% of whites. Nearly six-in-ten African Americans (58%) say they followed news about the verdict and reactions to the case very closely compared with 34% of whites. . . .”

Meanwhile, the Root reposted an April 2012 piece by Edward Wyckoff Williams, who wrote, “On last week’s episode of This Week on ABC, Washington Post columnist George Will said that despite the Trayvon tragedy, ‘150 black men are killed every week in this country,’ and ‘about 94 percent of them by other black men.’

“Will parroted arguments made by many conservatives, his intended point being that black-on-black crime remains the real problem our nation should address. The half-truth he spoke went curiously unchallenged by the panel — including former White House adviser Van Jones — largely because the meta-narrative of black-on-black violence is widely accepted in journalistic and political circles.”

But, Williams noted, “What Will, [Shelby] Steele and [Bill] O’Reilly failed to mention is the exacting truth that white Americans are just as likely to be killed by other whites. According to Justice Department statistics [pdf], 84 percent of white people killed every year are killed by other whites. . . .”

Sharpton Plays Multiple Roles Almost Simultaneously

In just a few hours, the Rev. Al Sharpton played several parts in the Trayvon Martin story, Paul Farhi wrote for the Washington Post, “virtually at once: national TV host, Martin-family advocate, rally organizer and promoter, and newsmaker.”

Farhi added, “Sharpton’s immersion in the story — unthinkable for a network-news figure even a few years ago — has raised questions for MSNBC and its parent, NBC News. Among them: [Are] Sharpton, and MSNBC, helping to create some of the very news MSNBC is covering?

“MSNBC’s president, Phil Griffin, acknowledged in an interview that Sharpton is different from the network’s other hosts; indeed, Griffin hired him in 2011 with a ‘carve out’ from NBC News’ policy of prohibiting employees from direct involvement in political activity.”

Farhi went on to quote Gregory H. Lee Jr., president of the National Association of Black Journalists. “Rev. Sharpton has never claimed to be a journalist, so therefore, as to the question of the ethics of his participation in protests and rallies surrounding the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I’m not sure that the same rules apply as it would to, say, a reporter or anchor,” Lee said in the story.

” ‘I said at the time of the Rev.’s hiring that I am pleased that he represents a growing amount of on-air diversity at cable networks,’ Lee said, adding: ‘It is of the utmost importance that the nation’s television networks, radio stations, newspapers, magazines and online outlets represent the diversity of our viewers, listeners and readers.’ “

Speaking of online diversity, Roxane Gay wrote in Salon Saturday of her “anger, frustration and bewilderment” in reading a piece by Salon writer Rich Benjamin that asked about Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., ” Is Holder the president’s conscience? Or his Inner Nigger?

Gay replied, “As I followed various reactions on Twitter, I wrote my Salon editor, Anna North, because I wanted to know more about the editorial process. Later, I spoke on the phone with Salon’s interim editor-in-chief, David Daley, and we had a frank and lengthy conversation with about diversity and editorial/creative freedom.

“But. Is Benjamin’s piece a writing problem or an editorial problem? In looking at the editorial staff of Salon, one thing is clear — there is little ethnic diversity. Let’s not pretend, however, that this is only a Salon problem. Most magazines, online and print, are utterly lacking in editorial diversity and demonstrate little interest in addressing the problem. I don’t need to name names; just pick a magazine. . . .” 

Perry Bacon Jr., the Grio: The surprising success of Obama’s Travyon speech  

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: The “post racial” president speaks about a racial tragedy.

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: A flawed victim?

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: Black on black slime.

Aura Bogado, Colorlines: Obama, Trayvon and the Problem That Won’t Be Named

Rebecca Carroll, New York Observer: Black Men Who Matter: Malcolm, My Birthfather and Trayvon

Michael H. Cottman, Black America Web: Obama is Right to Speak About the Sting of Racism

Michael H. Cottman, Black America Web: Tavis Smiley: Obama’s Race Remarks Are ‘Weak as Pre-Sweetened Kool-Aid’

Mary C. Curtis, Washington Post: In conversations on race, everyone has to listen

Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times: Reaction to President Obama’s speech on race shows how Zimmerman verdict has emboldened prejudice

Roxane Gay, Salon: How America profiled Trayvon Martin and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Keli Goff, the Root: Obama Fails Black America and Trayvon

James Harper, Florida Courier: In this Reporter’s Opinion, Hope Must Prevail

Clyde Hughes, Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Ind.: What you’ll do if you care for Trayvon Martin

Andrew Kirell, Mediaite: Limbaugh: ‘White Guilt’ Unjustified Because Whites Have ‘Done More To End’ Slavery Than ‘‘Any Other Race’

Joseph Lamour, Racialicious: The Racialicious Links Roundup 7.18.13: Baby Veronica, Zimmerman’s Race; His Lawyers

Demetria Lucas, the Grio: ‘‘We Are Not Trayvon Martin’ Tumblr springs up as space for whites to share sympathy with Martin supporters

Matthew McKnight, New Yorker: Before and After Trayvon Martin: How Power Flattens Humanity

Teresa Puente, ChicagoNow: Hispanics Can Be Victims and Perpetrators of Racism

Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press: Obama’s frank talk on race, Trayvon Martin wasn’t politics, it was personal

Geraldo Rivera, Fox News Latino: White Hispanic, Yellow Journalism

Noah Rothman, Mediaite: MSNBC’s Al Sharpton: ‘I Helped Organize A Lot Of The Outrage Around’ Zimmerman Trial

Noah Rothman, Mediaite: Cornel West, Tavis Smiley: Al Sharpton Can’t Criticize President, He’s ‘Still On The Obama Plantation’

Staff, the Shadow League: Please Jam: Where Are The Hip-Hop Zimmerman-Protest Songs?

Annie-Rose Strasser, Conservative Paper Invokes Lynching In Anti-Sharpton Editorial Cartoon

Georgiana Vines, Society of Professional Journalists: Zimmerman Trial Activism: A Political Reporter Offers Coverage Tips

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Obama race talk: Chuck Todd blasts ‘some portions of cable news’ (not MSNBC)