Consider this scenario: Aroused by an attractive teenager in a halter top walking through his neighborhood, a Sanford, Fla., man was instructed to stand down by police, but instead he provoked an encounter that ended tragically with the assault and rape of the 17-year-old girl.
After showing authorities scratches on his face and arms that he claimed were inflicted by the rape victim, the pursuer was promptly released by the local police chief that night after discussions with the detained man's father, who is a retired judge.
This scenario, minus the complicating race factor, approximates the rough outline of what we've learned about George Zimmerman's encounter with Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26. Contrary to distracting media accounts, the "Stand your ground" law is clearly not applicable to Zimmerman here because he ignored police instructions and advanced on Trayvon's ground. The ordinance may well apply instead to the victim's reaction to a man moving toward him with a Kel-Tec PF-9 9 mm pistol.
Though the hypothetical rape tragedy described here is not lethal, as it was in Trayvon's case, the "arousal" motive is similar, the execution approximate; and the behavior by officials should be no less troubling to those concerned about judicial fairness in a civil society.
Cops in both the real and hypothetical cases gave the aroused pursuer the benefit of every doubt and, in the Trayvon incident, initially dismissed the victim's defenders as frivolous petitioners, lacking the attacker's connection to city hall and police headquarters.
In the Trayvon case the local media also failed flat out in their responsibility to inform the citizenry in sufficient detail — or in any detail during the first few weeks — so that residents could reach a sovereign decision. It was instead left to Trayvon's parents and supporters, over a period of weeks, to energize residents, and social media to protest the official whitewash by blackout.
"She was wearing a halter top and tight jeans, very provocative," would, in our hypothetical rape, match the sentiments actually voiced by Geraldo Rivera, the has-been who never was much of a reporter.
"Slut gear" is likely how Rivera would describe her clothing as "probable cause" in justifying the rape of the mature-looking-for-her-age victim.
"I think what's far more significant is what Trayvon Martin looked like on that night, Bill," is how Rivera actually attributed blame to Trayvon for his own death in a recent discussion with Bill O'Reilly on his TV show. During the same discussion, he accused Trayvon of dressing in "thug wear" (read: slut gear) on the night of his killing and not looking like the kid that he was.
Zimmerman also floated the excuse in court that he thought the teenager was older, as if, upon being followed, Trayvon bore some responsibility to get himself carded or risk getting shot to death.
While it is clear to all that the journalism of Geraldo Rivera, long beneath the dignity of satire, has sunk even further down the rabbit hole than it had been in 1986, when he pried open Al Capone's empty safe on live TV, the rest of the mainstream media have not earned the right in the Trayvon Martin case to criticize this mustachioed Inspector Clouseau of what passes for TV reporting.
Again, it was not the mainstream but rather the social media that gave the Zimmerman-Martin story legs and made it dance out of the crypt to the tune of some 2 million hits on Change.org. Along the way, the slumbering civil liberties crowd gained their national voice with new converts of opposition to an unfair criminal-justice system.
So now, after failing to inform the public, the media are wading in knee-deep with polls, alibis and disinformation. Forty percent of the woefully misinformed public — if we are to accept Rasmussen Reports polling — believe that Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense, while only 24 percent believe that it was murder.
And why should they not believe Zimmerman's defense?
Their heads have been spinning like Poltergeist recently with media drippings of "newly released evidence" depicting Zimmerman's head gashes and alleged broken nose. This slideshow is being hawked as proof positive that the hunter was justified in tracking down Trayvon like a doe in the forest and finally shooting him in the chest.
Instead of justification for murder, Zimmerman's small gashes and Trayvon's bruised knuckles likely carry no more significance than the scratches on the face and arms of the rapist in the opening hypothetical — and his skin under the victim's fingernails.
The polls and sinister, leaked photographs of Zimmerman be damned!
Where, pray tell, are the media photos of the blasted-open chest of young Trayvon that night? What about the death stare on his baby face? The eyes rolled back? The scattering of the Skittles? The blood, Geraldo, splattered on his teenager's hoodie?
Les Payne is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to The Root.