George Zimmerman

As the semester draws to a close, and as students and faculty focus on exams, grading and the pending summer break, it is important not to forget the controversy that briefly engulfed the UT campus and The Daily Texan earlier in the semester following the publication of a cartoon about the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. This seems like an appropriate moment, then, for some critical reflection concerning what insights we can glean from the incidents moving forward.

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. In response to tragic events, people often seek means to connect to the victims through “personalization.” The personalization of Trayvon’s innocence could be seen in the instant proliferation of photographs of a young, smiling Trayvon in his football uniform or in snowboarding gear or holding a baby. These pictures sought to emphasize that Trayvon was an average teenager and helped shape the outrage directed at George Zimmerman. Often, these pictures were shown side-by-side with a mugshot image of Zimmerman from a previous arrest. This was then followed by a push by supporters of Zimmerman wanting to portray Trayvon as aggressive and delinquent. These versions told of a Trayvon who allegedly got caught with marijuana at school, had tattoos and a gold “grill” and possibly had friends connected to a gang. Accompanying these stories were photos of Trayvon without a smile, holding his middle finger to the camera, tapping into cultural stereotypes of criminal black youth.

While these representational practices serve an important component in mobilizing affective responses, they also undermine our ability to discuss structural and systemic issues related to race. For example, painting Zimmerman as the racist vigilante emphasizes the actions of the individual that precludes discussion about the ways in which capitalism and racism collude in creating the circumstances in which Neighborhood Watch schemes are established to police the presence of insiders and outsiders. Inherent in this model of self-policing is the privileging of private property over human life and gun laws that, in this instance, appear to have permitted a man to wield a weapon against an unarmed youth. Rather than focusing on the alleged racist intent of particular individuals, we should understand recent events through the concept of institutional racism, namely that there are policies, practices and procedures at the institutional level that serve to promote the collective interests of whites even after the successes of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in ending overt forms of white supremacy.

What does an institutional understanding of racism point us toward? In the case of Trayvon Martin, it suggests that instead of debating whether or not Zimmerman is a racist, we should examine the ways in which the justice system puts the burden of evidence on black boys and men to prove that they are not criminals. It tells us that to understand why the death of Trayvon was seen as a departmental footnote and why Zimmerman’s vigilante zeal might have been tolerated instead of truncated, we must engage seriously with the institutional culture of the Sanford Police Department, which has a questionable past when it comes to equal application of the law in cases of violence against blacks.

Similarly, in the case of the cartoon that ran in The Daily Texan last month, an institutional approach to thinking about racism implores us to avoid painting the artist as “the bad apple,” whose de facto firing will propel the newspaper back into clear post-racial skies. Instead, we want to suggest that the discussion should be broadened to include The Daily Texan editorial board as well as the wider culture at UT, a historically white institution, wherein such a cartoon could even pass as unproblematic.

As we know, the cartoon generated noticeable nationwide controversy and sparked a prompt response at UT, with some local critics launching an online petition demanding her removal. Targeting one individual to pay for broader social dynamics, in an impulse to act quickly, is often the result when systemic or institutional issues become individualized and personalized. Elsewhere, responses focusing more intently on Zimmerman adopted similar approaches to calling for punitive measures aimed specifically at the individual actor. In addition to such petitions, social media has figured centrally in prescribing justice for Trayvon Martin — including Facebook groups that demanded Zimmerman’s arrest, blog essays and hoodie photos Tweeted in solidarity.

Anthropologist Sarah Kendzior has questioned these approaches as part of a broader political climate of “slacktivism,” a mode of expressing political discontent that takes advantage of the publicity and accessibility of digital media while incurring little cost and effort to the individual poster or tweeter. While slacktivism highlights the limitations of online social movement efficacy, it would be erroneous to discount the sincerity of people’s feelings of sympathy, anger and concern driving digital participation. However, one of the dangers of such rapid, emotionally-driven responses (in truncated form of 140 characters or fewer or in image memes) is the reification of certain tropes.

While we do not as yet know the exact circumstances that led to Zimmerman shooting Martin nor why Zimmerman was not initially arrested, what we do know is that the death of Trayvon Martin is not a singular incident. Understanding the processes of systemic oppressions that make cases like the death of Martin a common occurrence requires a more nuanced analysis than is often permitted in social media campaigns, mainstream media coverage and political cartoons (whatever the intent of the artist).

In this context we welcome what appears to be a genuine attempt by The Daily Texan editorial board to think critically about the missteps it made and to open up its pages to critical analysis and honest reflection. However, as an intellectual community, we also need to think about how we can engage in a broader dialogue that recognizes the empathetic desire to express solidarity toward those like Trayvon, but in ways that do not end up masking the structural systems that maintain inequality and racial oppression both in wider society and here on the 40 Acres.

SANFORD, Fla. — In an unusually low-key turn to a high-profile case, George Zimmerman was released without incident around midnight Sunday from a Florida county jail on $150,000 bail as he awaits his second-degree murder trial for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin.

The neighborhood watch volunteer was wearing a brown jacket and blue jeans and carrying a paper bag. He walked out following another man and didn’t look over at photographers gathered outside. He then followed the man into a white BMW vehicle and drove away.

Moments before, two Seminole County sheriff’s vehicles blocked access to the intake building parking lot where Zimmerman was being released. Zimmerman emerged after two public information officers confirmed the credentials of the photographers outside.

No questions were shouted at Zimmerman, and he gave no statement.

His ultimate destination is being kept secret for his safety and it could be outside Florida.

As with the July 2011 release of Casey Anthony, the Florida woman acquitted of murder in the death of her daughter, Zimmerman was released around midnight. But the similarities end there. Anthony was quickly whisked away by deputy sheriffs armed with semi-automatic rifles as angry protesters jeered her. While news helicopters briefly tracked her SUV through Orlando before she slipped from public view, there was no such pursuit of Zimmerman, who will have to return for trial.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said at a hearing Friday that Zimmerman cannot have any guns and must observe a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew. Zimmerman also surrendered his passport.

Zimmerman had to put up 10 percent, or $15,000, to make bail. His father had indicated he might take out a second mortgage.

Zimmerman worked at a mortgage risk-management company at the time of the shooting and his wife is in nursing school. A website was set up to collect donations for Zimmerman’s defense fund. It is unclear how much has been raised.

Bail is not unheard of in second-degree murder cases, and legal experts had predicted it would be granted for Zimmerman because of his ties to the community, because he turned himself in after he was charged last week, and because he has never been convicted of a serious crime.

Prosecutors had asked for $1 million bail, citing two previous scrapes Zimmerman had with the law, neither of which resulted in charges. In 2005, he had to take anger management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman’s friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused him of attacking her.

Zimmerman, 28, fatally shot Martin, 17, Feb. 26 inside the gated community where Zimmerman lived during an altercation. Martin was unarmed and was walking back to the home of his father’s fiancée when Zimmerman saw him, called 911 and began following him. A fight broke out — investigators say it is unknown who started it.

Zimmerman says Martin, who was visiting from Miami, attacked him. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which gives broad legal protection to anyone who says they used deadly force because they feared death or great bodily harm.

Zimmerman was not charged for over six weeks, sparking national protests led by Martin’s parents, civil rights groups and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Martin was black; Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is from Peru.

Earlier Sunday, Zimmerman’s attorney was working to secure the money for bail and a safe place for Zimmerman to stay. But residents in Sanford, where Martin was killed, didn’t expect a ruckus once Zimmerman was released.

City commissioners said they hadn’t received calls from nervous residents. Protesters didn’t show up outside the jail. And talk at one local coffee shop seldom focused on the case.

“It’s just kind of a non-issue now,” said Michele Church, a server at Mel’s Family Diner. “That’s pretty much all anybody in Sanford wanted, was an arrest, so it could be sorted out in the court system.”

On Friday, a Florida judge agreed to let Zimmerman out on $150,000 bail. Defense attorney Mark O’Mara has said there are several options for where Zimmerman should go, but would not disclose any of them. Lester on Friday indicated Zimmerman would be allowed to leave the state if arrangements with law enforcement could be made for him to be monitored. He will be fitted with an electronic device.

About a half-dozen photographers and cameramen camped outside the Sanford jail Sunday, focused on the door marked “Bonds Rooms,” where other people who had been arrested and released on bail exited. Zimmerman had entered the jail about a week earlier after more than a month of nationwide protests calling for his arrest.

“The mood in Sanford has calmed down tremendously,” said Sanford Commissioner Patty Mahany, whose district includes the neighborhood where Martin was killed. “I think now that people are able to see the justice system taking place, even though they understand it’s going to be quite slow, people are willing to just remain calm and really we’re all getting back to our daily routines.”

A spokeswoman for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office declined to release any information about whether they were increasing patrols or security.

Defense attorneys for other high-profile clients who awaited trial on bail have said Zimmerman should leave Florida and refrain from going out in public. Sanford residents say they aren’t expecting to see him around the neighborhood anytime soon.

“They’ve already said they’re going to move him to a safe place,” Church said. “Everyone has calmed down. That’s all anyone in Sanford wanted, an arrest.”

Meanwhile, Martin’s parents published a “Card of Thanks” in The Miami Herald obituary page Sunday. The note says Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin express their appreciation for all the public’s support since their son’s death. The notice includes a photograph of Trayvon Martin dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, similar to one he was wearing the evening he was killed.

“Words will never express how your love, support and prayers lifted our spirits and continue to give us the strength to march on,” the letter says.

BALTIMORE (AP) — Two brothers accused of beating a black teenager while patrolling an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood are set to go on trial Monday in a case with similarities to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

The brothers, who are white and Jewish, have claimed self-defense, saying the teen was holding a nail-studded board. Local civil rights activists hope the Martin case will draw more attention to what they believe was racial profiling by neighborhood watch vigilantes.

Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim are accused of beating a 15-year-old boy who was walking through a Baltimore neighborhood in November 2010. The brothers pulled up next to the teen in a vehicle, then got out and “surrounded him,” according to charging documents. The passenger threw the teen to the ground and the driver hit him in the head with a hand-held radio and patted him down.

The teen remembered the driver yelling, “You wanna (mess) with us, you don’t belong around here, get outta here!” according to court documents, which do not identify which brother was driving.

While the teen struggled, a third man got out of a van and kneed the teen, pinning him to the ground. The teen told police that he stopped struggling and the third man continued to search him, while the teen insisted he didn’t have anything on him.

Eliyahu Werdesheim told the Baltimore Jewish Times that he was acting in self-defense because the teen was holding the piece of wood. The teen picked up the board during the encounter, but put it back down, said J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for the teen’s family. He said the family did not want to speak publically.

After the trio left, the teen called police and was taken to a hospital with a cut on the back of his head and a broken wrist, according to court documents. Using a photo book compiled by investigators, the teen later identified Eliyahu Werdesheim, now 24, as one of the men who assaulted him. He was arrested after about 10 days; his now 21-year-old brother was charged two months later.

The brothers are charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon (the hand-held radio). The pair face up to 13 years in prison if convicted on all three counts. A third man, identified in a lawsuit brought by the teen’s family as Ronald Rosenbluth, does not face charges.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said investigators don’t believe Rosenbluth was involved in the beating. Rosenbluth said he doesn’t believe there was a third person and he was only called to the scene after the incident.

Law enforcement officials emphasize that neighborhood watchers’ responsibility is to report crime, and leave interventions to police. Most follow the rules, and confrontations are rare.

“We owe a lot of our success to communities that have stepped up and partnered with police. They help us out,” Guglielmi said. “But when they step too far, we have to hold people accountable.”

In the Florida case, authorities charged neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman this month with second-degree murder in Martin’s death Feb. 26. Zimmerman claims self-defense, but Martin’s family claims he targeted Martin mainly because he was black. Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother Hispanic.

It’s unusual to have a trial in which the allegations mirror a case so prominent in the news, said Steven Levin, a former federal prosecutor.

“Since the Trayvon Martin case, people cannot help but think about that case and draw comparisons, whether they are fair or not,” he said.

In the Werdesheim case, the six trial postponements could significantly hinder the defense’s case, Levin said. However, the charges against Zimmerman since the last postponement may mean jurors won’t feel that they need to somehow set things right through the case they are deciding.

Eliyahu Werdesheim was suspended from the neighborhood group while Avi was never a member, according to Nathan Willner, general counsel for Shomrim of Baltimore, a group that patrols neighborhoods with a large concentration of Jewish residents and institutions in the Baltimore area. Shomrim, which is Hebrew for guard, has about 30 volunteer, unarmed responders. It was founded in 2005 to provide security and gather information for police, Willner said.

While the case has not garnered the attention the Martin shooting has, Cortly C.D. Witherspoon, president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has organized protests outside the courthouse during court hearings and has been frustrated by the postponements.

“We feel that justice should have been served long ago. I would contend that the urgency for justice (in this case) is affected by the Trayvon Martin case because of the similarities,” he said.

Members of the area’s Jewish community also rallied outside the courthouse when the brothers appeared in court to enter not guilty pleas in February. Jakob Lurman, the owner of a barbershop, was among them.

“I have a business in the community. Shomrim do good work,” Lurman said. “I don’t know what happened in that case, but I wanted to show support.”

Jewish neighborhood watch groups in New York City have faced accusations of unnecessary force against blacks, creating tensions between the Jewish and black communities. That hasn’t yet happened in Baltimore, according to the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. The organization of predominantly black clergy met with leaders of the area’s Jewish community to keep relationships between the two communities strong.

“We were already working with them when this came up,” Gwynn said. “It hasn’t done much damage yet.”

Baltimore is a city that’s 64 percent black, and the jury will likely have eight or nine black members. So race will be a factor, said University of Baltimore School of Law professor and practicing attorney Byron Warnken.

“What the defense has to do is completely downplay that,” he said, and show the force was necessary to prevent a crime.

Susan Green, an attorney for Avi Werdesheim, said last month that she hoped the media coverage would not create an atmosphere that would make it difficult for her client, but declined to comment further. The attorney for Eliyahu Werdesheim did not return calls for comment.

George Zimmerman appears before a judge for a bond hearing on Friday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SANFORD, Fla. — By questioning a state investigator on the witness stand during a routine bail hearing, George Zimmerman’s defense attorney showed some of the weaknesses in prosecutors’ claims that the neighborhood watch volunteer committed second-degree murder, legal experts say.

A judge ruled Friday that Zimmerman can be released on $150,000 bail while he awaits trial on murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during a Feb. 26 confrontation in a Sanford, Fla. gated community. Zimmerman apologized to Martin’s parents, who were in the courtroom for the bail hearing, in a surprise appearance on the witness stand. Zimmerman is pleading not guilty and claims self-defense.

The apology came after Zimmerman’s defense attorney, Mark O’Mara, questioned an investigator for the special prosecutor, sentence by sentence, about a probable cause affidavit the investigator signed outlining certain facts in the case.

Investigator Dale Gilbreath testified that he does not know whether Martin or Zimmerman threw the first punch and that there is no evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s contention he was walking back to his vehicle when confronted by Martin. The affidavit says “Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued.”

But Gilbreath also said Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was slamming his head against the sidewalk just before he shot the teenager was “not consistent with the evidence we found.” He gave no details.

Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda dismissed any notion that the investigator’s testimony chipped away at their case. “You have not heard all of the evidence,” de la Rionda said after the hearing. “Please be patient and wait for the trial.”

Bail is not unheard of in second-degree murder cases, and legal experts had predicted it would be granted for Zimmerman because of his ties to the community, because he turned himself in after he was charged last week, and because he has never been convicted of a serious crime.

As part of the bail hearing, Zimmerman’s family testified that he wouldn’t flee if released and would be no threat to the community.

Printed on Monday, April 23, 2012 as: Zimmerman trial heats up as judge grants $150k bail.

Hal Uhrig left, and Craig Sonner speaj during a news conference, Tuesday, April 10,2012, in Sanford Fla. The two attorneys for the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer Gerorge Zimmerman who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin said Tuesday that they have withdrawn as his counsel because they haven't heard from him in days and he is taking actions related to the case without consulting them.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SANFORD, Fla. — The neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin to death had been out of touch and, his ex-lawyer says, “a little bit over the edge” before his arrest on a second-degree murder charge.

As George Zimmerman turned himself in Wednesday in the Feb. 26 shooting of the unarmed black teen, experts offered this advice: Stop talking.

“My advice to the client would be, ‘Save it for the trial. It can’t help you,” said Roy Kahn, a Miami defense attorney.

The 28-year-old Sanford man was in custody in Florida after a puzzling disappearance that had his lawyers expressing concern for his health and announcing they couldn’t represent him anymore.

Zimmerman had called special prosecutor Angela Corey, his former lawyers said, had an off-the-record chat with a Fox News Channel host and put up a website asking supporters for money.

“It would not be in a client’s best interest to give any statement before it’s his time to testify at trial,” Kahn said. “For him to give a statement, since he already has given an interview to the police, any additional statement at the State Attorney’s Office would just create the possibility of him creating conflict with his previous statements.”

Zimmerman’s new attorney, Mark O’Mara, said after his client’s arrest Wednesday that Zimmerman “is very concerned about the charges, but he is OK.”

“I’m not concerned about his mental well being,” O’Mara said. Leslie Garfield, a Pace University law professor in New York, said Zimmerman’s behavior over the last 48 hours should not affect
his prosecution.

“Whatever else goes on behind the scenes before charges aren’t really a factor,” she said. “All that should matter is what his intentions were at the time of the shooting.”

Zimmerman showed the strain in his own words on his website, bearing the American flag.

“As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life,” he wrote. “This website’s sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries.”

Kahn said anything Zimmerman says now, to Corey or the public, could be taken the wrong way.

“The only thing he can do is make the case worse for himself if he says something stupid,” he said. “It may not be incriminating, but if it’s stupid, even if it’s an insignificant fact that shows it’s something he lied about, that’s enough for them to say, ‘Well, he’s lying.’”

“You’re better off not saying anything at this point in the game.”

SANFORD, Fla. — Tensions are rising in Sanford as a special prosecutor nears a decision on whether to charge George Zimmerman with killing Trayvon Martin.

Someone shot up an unoccupied police car Monday night as it sat outside the neighborhood where Martin was killed.

And a demonstration by college students closed the town’s police station earlier in the day.

Some residents Tuesday said they worry there will be violence if prosecutor Angela Corey accepts Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and decides not to charge the neighborhood watch captain with a crime. Corey has not said when she will announce her decision, but many in town believe it will be soon.

The case took a bizarre turn Tuesday as Zimmerman’s attorneys stood outside the courthouse and announced they were dropping him as their client for ignoring their advice in contacting the prosecutor. But they said they still believe his claim of self-defense.

While tensions are high, some think this city of about 53,000 — around 57 percent white and 30 percent black — will come through the crisis without violence, as it did during similar uproars.

George Zimmerman, in red jacket, is escorted into the Sanford police station in handcuffs on Monday, the night he shot Trayvon Martin.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MIAMI — Newly released police video of a handcuffed George Zimmerman may be important for what it doesn’t show: No obvious cuts, scrapes, blood or bandages. No clearly broken nose. No plainly visible evidence of a life-and-death struggle with Trayvon Martin.

As the furor over race and self-defense raged on in Florida and around the U.S. on Thursday, Martin’s family and supporters seized on the footage to dispute Zimmerman’s claim that he shot and killed the unarmed black teenager after the young man attacked him.

While cautioning that the video is grainy and far from conclusive, some legal experts agreed it does raise questions about Zimmerman’s story. The video was made about a half-hour after the shooting Feb. 26.

“It could be very significant,” said Daniel Lurvey, a former Miami-Dade County homicide prosecutor. “If I were the prosecutor, it would certainly be Exhibit A that he did not suffer any major injury as a result of a confrontation with Trayvon Martin.”

Zimmerman attorney Craig Sonner said on NBC’s “Today” show that the footage appears to support his client’s story in some respects.

“It’s a very grainy video. ... However, if you watch, you’ll see one of the officers, as he’s walking in, looking at something on the back of his head,” Sonner said. “Clearly the report shows he was cleaned up before he was taken in the squad car.”

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in the town of Sanford, told police he shot the 17-year-old Martin after the young man punched him in the nose, knocked him down and repeatedly slammed his head against a sidewalk.

The Sanford Police Department video begins at 7:52 p.m., about 35 minutes after the shooting, as Zimmerman arrives at the station. It shows Zimmerman’s head and face as he gets out of a police car.

There is no obvious wound on his head or blood on his clothing, and there are no indications of a broken nose — which Zimmerman’s lawyer has insisted he suffered. “The explanation he is relying on is that there was a physical altercation,” said Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney in Miami. “The intensity of the physical conflict is critical to his self-defense claim.”

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, said the footage directly contradicts Zimmerman’s story: “There are no marks on his face. There is no blood on his face. It’s not like he’s dazed or he has been injured.”

Ron Martinelli, founder of a California forensic consulting firm, said that Zimmerman was probably cleaned up when he was treated by paramedics at the scene and that in many cases there is no significant visual evidence of an injury.

“It really depends on how did the head strike the concrete? Did he get hit straight on in the face? Did he get hit with a fist or a backhand?” Martinelli said. “The video proves absolutely nothing.”

Investigators have not released any paramedic or hospital records on the gunman. The video, as well as a photo of Zimmerman on the website of a company where he worked, show a slim man, a sharp contrast from the widely used 2005 booking photo from an arrest in Miami Dade County.

The police report said that Zimmerman was found bleeding from the nose and the back of his head, and his back was wet and covered in grass, as if he had been lying on the ground. He was given first aid at the scene. According to his lawyer, he also went to the hospital the next day.

Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic and whose father is white, has not been arrested, despite demands from black leaders and others that he be charged with murder or manslaughter. But a special prosecutor appointed by the governor is investigating, along with state and federal authorities.

David O. Markus, a prominent Miami defense attorney, said that an actual fight does not need to take place for someone to claim self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which gives wide leeway to use deadly force and eliminates a person’s duty to retreat in the face of danger.

The video is yet another forensic challenge for investigators trying to unravel the case. Other key pieces of evidence include:

—The 911 call made by a woman who told a police dispatcher she could hear someone screaming for help, followed by a gunshot. The screaming voice can also be heard on the recording. Zimmerman told investigators it is his voice, but Martin’s parents believe it is their son’s. Martinelli said that investigators could do voice comparisons but that screaming is difficult to duplicate and match.

—A 911 call made by Zimmerman in which, to some people, he seemed to utter a racial slur while following Martin in his SUV. If an enhanced recording shows so, that could be evidence of racial bias and lead to federal hate-crime charges.

— The autopsy report, which has not been released. That could shed light on whether the angle of the bullet wound in Martin’s body is consistent with Zimmerman’s account of the confrontation.

Printed on Friday, March 30, 2012 as: Video appears to discount Zimmerman's claim of self-defense

A crowd assembled Wednesday in the CMA plaza to protest The Daily Texan in response to the controversial editorial cartoon published in TuesdayÂ’s paper.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

The Daily Texan editorial board apologized for a cartoon published in Tuesday’s Daily Texan at a Wednesday protest by students and Austinities who said the illustration reflected ignorance and racism.

The five members of the editorial board signed off on the cartoon before it ran, said Daily Texan editor-in-chief Viviana Aldous, Plan II and philosophy senior. In an official apology published in today’s Texan, Aldous said the board should not have approved the cartoon. Stephanie Eisner, the editorial cartoonist who drew the illustration, is no longer working at The Daily Texan and has apologized in a separate statement.

The cartoon depicts a mother reading to her child the following words: “And then the big bad ‘white’ man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent ‘colored’ boy.” The mother reads from a book entitled “Treyvon (sic) Martin and the case of yellow journalism.”

Many were upset with the use of the word “colored” and timing of the comic, which was released the same day as a large downtown rally for Trayvon, said Black Student Alliance member Jasmine Kyles, journalism junior.

“A lot of people don’t realize how insensitive this comic is, and this affects the recruitment of African-American students to the University by making the campus look bad,” Kyles said. “When they see things like this, they think the University is racist even though that hasn’t been everyone’s experience here.”

Eisner said she created the work to criticize the media’s attempt to simplify and sensationalize news stories.

“Our intent was not to offend anyone, and we are sorry that it happened,” the board said in its apology. “There was clear oversight that happened in allowing this cartoon to be published.”

The usage of the word “colored” also tied the cartoon directly to racist sentiments deeply embedded in U.S. history, said journalism professor Robert Jensen, who teaches a class on media law and ethics.

“Any cartoon that uses an overtly racist term such as ‘colored boy’ expresses a racist sentiment,” Jensen said. “The evidence is clear that in a white-supremacist society, we white people who do not endorse a racist ideology are not free of racist sentiments at an unconscious level.”

Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African-American, was allegedly shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman while walking through a gated community to his father’s fiance’s home in Sandford, Fla. last month.

Zimmerman has claimed the killing was in self-defense, and because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law he has not been taken into custody. Following a slow build of awareness through a number of articles published in The New York Times and discussions in online forums, the killing rose to national awareness and clamor has grown for Zimmerman’s arrest.

Occupy UT members Lucian Villasenor and Michelle Uche, who is also a member of the International Socialist Organization at UT, created the protest that began outside The Daily Texan’s office at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. They also drafted a petition to censure the cartoonist who created the illustration, replace the editorial board and open The Daily Texan to commentary and guest editors from the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies to raise awareness about racial issues, Villasenor said.

Daily Texan Managing Editor Audrey White and the editorial board spoke and answered questions from members of the protest.

“We have not done enough to try and explore how racism affects this campus,” White said. “You deserve a paper that reflects the interests of everyone at UT.”

Many members of the protest were unhappy with just a simple apology, such as anthropology graduate student Elvia Mendoza, who said UT needs action about racism and not just discussions about diversity.

“We need to do more than just talk about race and diversity, we need to talk about how racism continues to affect this campus, and that means having more than just forums and meetings,” Mendoza said.

A large number of Daily Texan and UT alumni were also unhappy with the publication of the cartoon, including those who published comments on The Daily Texan website.

Journalism graduate student Tara Haelle, who taught journalism for four years at Sam Houston High School in Arlington, said she was disappointed by the “knee-jerk” reaction of the alumni and believes the board should not have apologized.

“I would expect the alumni to recognize the importance of free speech and not to chastise and patronize the editorial board,” Haelle said. “I don’t happen to agree with the opinion of the cartoonist, but if nothing else, that cartoon encourages a discussion about race.”

Journalism professor Maggie Rodriguez, who teaches a class on Hispanics in the media, said journalists could not use professional practices as a substitute for sensitivity.

She also said that while The Daily Texan was not being intentionally racist, more diversity in the staff was needed.

“By diversity I don’t mean people of the same race, but people who can be anyone and have special sensitivity to ethnicity,” Rodriguez said. “Just filling The Daily Texan with people of different races wouldn’t work, because you can have a person of a special race who is not aware of certain issues in our country.”

Rodriguez said she hopes The Daily Texan is able to grow from the oversight involved in publishing the cartoon.

“I hope people don’t just get fired,” Rodriguez said. “If people can come out of a mistake on race related issues and learn from it, then you can become a huge advocate for looking at race in a more nuanced way.”

In the board’s apology, it offers steps to improve the Texan’s coverage of race and racism, including requiring education about race and media for Texan staff and seeking submissions from a wider range of columnists.

“We understand these are only small steps in the much larger transformation we must undergo,” the board said. “We sincerely apologize for publishing the offensive cartoon and for the harm that decision caused.”

Printed on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as: Protesters: racism still affects campus

Dylan Hill, 12, marches down South Congress Avenue Tuesday afternoon during a rally held to protest the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin last month.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Echoing national outcry surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin, more than 1,000 Austinites of different races and creeds marched down Congress Avenue to protest what they described as continuing institutional racism Tuesday evening.

Beginning at 5 p.m,, organizers and Austinites began to congregate before the Texas Capitol gates to rally against the Feb. 26 killing. As the crowd began to grow larger to include local politicians and UT groups including the Black Student Alliance and University Democrats, the initially silent protesters began to wave their signs and gather in a circle to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

A 17-year-old African-American, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., while walking through a gated community to his father’s fiance’s home, allegedly by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman.

Following the example of other rallies across the nation calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and awareness about racial tensions in the United States, Tuesday’s rally was created to raise awareness about institutional racism and senseless suspicion, said organizer James Nortey.

Nortey created the Facebook group for the event, along with former Texas House member Glen Maxey and three others.

“I think this resonates particularly in Austin, with its history of minority shootings,” Nortey said. “People are shocked this is still happening when it has been going on for decades. We need to be proactive about making sure this doesn’t happen to a 17 year old in Austin.”

Though Martin was unarmed, Zimmerman described Martin as suspicious and claimed the killing was in self-defense.

Because of Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, Zimmerman was not taken into custody and nationwide clamor for his arrest ensued after tensions grew online through Facebook and Twitter. Zimmerman has not yet been charged with a crime, although state and federal investigations are ongoing.

According to a pamphlet from the Austin Center for Peace and Justice distributed at the rally, there have been 11 killings of unarmed African-Americans and Hipsanics in Austin since 1980. The most recent is the shooting of Byron Carter last year by the Austin Police Department, after the on-duty officer claimed his partner’s life was in danger.

Following the lead of a group of rally members and Chas Moore, a former UT student and participant in the rally, a large number of the protestors began to march down Congress Avenue to City Hall, chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”

“The fight for racial equality is continuing,” Moore said. “It’s not just a black, white thing anymore. It’s minorities fighting against the judicial and economic system. How long are we going to sit here and take this injustice?”

Over a hundred members of the UT BSA were present at the rally and march, said BSA secretary Reva Davis.

“We are here to support Trayvon Martin and his family,” Davis said. “This march is confirmation for what we want, but this is not enough at all. This is just the start of something that we hope will grow bigger.”

Other marchers included Austinite and UT alumnus Rudy Malveaux, who said that the killing of an African-American teenager in 2012 is absurd.

“We’ve gotten desensitized toward violence against black males to the point where boys can be killed for absolutely nothing,” Malveaux said. “The people in this crowd aren’t just black, they’re Americans. This is American family, and we can’t kill the kids in the family.”

Many protesters also held copies of the Daily Texan after assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi distributed them to the rally.

Shingavi said an editorial cartoon published in Tuesday’s Daily Texan was racist and inappropriate, and asked for protesters to support a petition to “censure Stephanie Eisner,” the cartoonist who drew the illustration in question, and “open The Daily Texan to staff and students to hold discussions about portraying racism.”

BSA member Ken Nwankwo said many African-American students at UT and members of the rally were disappointed by the cartoon, which depicts a mother reading to her child a statement about a “white man killing an innocent, handsome colored boy.”

“Clearly the cartoon is satire in the most wrong point, but it had to come out today on the rally for Trayvon Martin?” Nwankwo said. “There’s a lot in here in terms of rhetoric and syntax that’s incorrect. The cartoon downplays the whole issue.”

Ending their march at city hall, protesters listened attentively to the speakers’ messages.

“What we did was something they say doesn’t work anymore,” Moore said. “We are fighting for the rights of everyone, and we have to pressure the justice system and the education system to make it work. Don’t just go home and think the battle is over.” 

Editor's note: (03/28/12 at 9:22 a.m.) changed "censor" to "censure."

Printed on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 as: Protesters rally against racism

An editorial cartoon about the Trayvon Martin case published on Tuesday’s Daily Texan Opinion page sparked controversy both on and off campus.

The cartoon shows a mother reading to her child the following words: “And then ... the big bad white man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent colored boy.” She is also holding a book with the title “Treyvon (sic) Martin and the case of yellow journalism.” The cartoon misspells Martin’s first name.

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old, African-American teenager from Sanford, Fla., who was killed last month allegedly by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who claims the shooting was in self-defense. The case has sparked a heated, national discussion on the nature of contemporary racism.

Several organizations on campus and local media outlets contacted the Texan via email, phone and social networks to seek an explanation of the intention behind the cartoon. National and local media, including Gawker and Huffington Post, reported about the cartoon.

Ashley Robinson, president of the Black Student Alliance on campus, said she finds the word “colored” problematic.

“It [the word] is associated with the time of segregation, and I was surprised to see it printed in The Daily Texan,” Robinson said.

She said she recognizes that editorial cartoons are meant to start a conversation, but it was bad timing since it aligned with a rally held at the Capitol Tuesday evening, called “Justice for Trayvon.”

Stephanie Eisner, political cartoonist for The Texan and the author of the cartoon, said she drew the cartoon in an attempt to criticize the media’s portrayal of the issue. She said some of the media seems to be sensationalizing the facts and making race the more prominent aspect of the case.

“I feel the news should be unbiased. And in the retelling of this particular event, I felt that that was not the case,” Eisner said. “My story compared this situation to yellow journalism in the past, where aspects of news stories were blown out of proportion with the intention of selling papers and enticing emotions.”

She said she understands people can misinterpret her message, and in the future she will be mindful of trying to get her message across more successfully.

Assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi attended the Justice for Trayvon rally and march in Austin Tuesday and started a petition urging the Texan to censure Eisner’s work. He said the petition also asks for open discussions with The Texan’s staff on racial bias.

Viviana Aldous, editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan, said the editorial board does not agree with the perceived message of the cartoon. The editorial board approves all content on the opinion page.

“As an editorial board, our job is to allow the Opinion page to serve as a forum for people across campus,” Aldous said.

On March 22, the Texan ran a syndicated illustration on the Opinion page, criticizing the “stand your ground” law in Florida, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is a perceived threat. Some have used the law to justify Zimmerman’s actions.

She said publishing responses to Tuesday’s controversial cartoon, which appear in today’s paper, ensures that Opinion page remains an open forum for the Texan’s readers.

Graduate advertising student Amber Chenevert, the vice president of the Black Graduate Students Association, said she understands editorial cartoons have a degree of satire, but something that alludes to racial profiling being a myth is troubling.

“We have to question whether we are perpetuating ignorance or excellence on campus,” Chenevert said. 

Editor's note: (03/28/12 at 9:23 a.m.) changed "censor" to "censure."

Printed on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 as: Trayvon Martin editorial cartoon causes backlash