Trayvon Martin

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.

An excerpt from a story that ran in May 1957 after it was discovered that Barbara Smith Conrad was removed from her role as Dido in the campus rendition of Dido and Aeneas because of her race. The article does not immediately address the incident after the initial paragraph, instead the reporter chose to cover other events that were “overshadowed” by the announcement. (Photo courtesy of Dolph Briscoe Center for American History)

Editor’s note: This story is the fourth in a series exploring race, racism and diversity on the UT campus.

In March, a racially offensive cartoon commenting on the media’s coverage of the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin motivated members of the University community to picket The Daily Texan and shined a spotlight on the coverage of race by the Texan in the modern era.

Journalism professor Robert Jensen said the most recent controversy at the Texan is the latest in a long line of incidents.

“These flashpoints at the Texan seem to pop up fairly frequently,” Jensen said.

The Texan has been the student newspaper of UT since 1900 and is a quasi-independent entity of the University, overseen by both the office of the vice president of Student Affairs and the Texas Student Media Board of Trustees. The editor-in-chief is elected by students and the paper is funded by revenue from advertising and student fee allocations from the Student Services Budget Committee. The policy of a University official monitoring the paper’s content was established in 1936 and was inconsistently enforced until 1971. In 2007, this policy of prior review was abolished after 36 years of use.

For the first 30 years of the Texan’s existence, it’s difficult to find an indication of a stated political stance the University held on segregation. Laden with details of campus celebrations and ceremonies, the Texan focused more on student life than state news or major issues.

The paper gradually grew to include news of a more serious tone in the ‘30s and ‘40s. The Texan openly voiced racist sentiments, including the publishing of a January 12, 1940 guest column in The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia. In the column, the editorial board argued that pending anti-lynching legislation was a ploy by Republican lawmakers to garner more African-American supporters.

“Congress cannot legislate away the threat of mob violence with this ridiculous bill,” the editorial said. “Only education and enlightenment, directed by the thinking men of the South can wipe out the evil. It is our problem as a state, and if you look at the record, you will see we are doing a pretty good job. Let the Congressmen find some less distasteful method of garnering votes.”

Over the next 10 years, the push for integration grew stronger, and by the time Ronnie Dugger became editor of the Texan in 1950, publishing pro-integration editorials reflected the changing campus climate. Dugger, now an 81 year-old journalist in Austin, recalled the state of integration in an interview.

“The position at the University was that there would be no blacks there,” Dugger said. “This was 1950-51. Blacks were not welcome. I was, of course, for integration at The Daily Texan,” Dugger said.

Dugger said his election as a progressive editor of the Texan was a result of student support for integration on a campus where the University administration was kept from taking a pro-integration stance by ties to the legislature.

“You have to remember [the legislature was] literally for segregation at least through 1957, and therefore the administration had to be concerned about integration at UT because it would affect their appropriations,” Dugger said.

The Daily Texan supported the UT administration’s pandering to racist legislators in 1957 when Barbara Conrad Smith, who came to the University the previous fall as part of the first class of accepted African-American undergraduates, was forced to resign her part in an opera production after she won the lead role opposite a white male. State Rep. Joe Chapman insisted Smith, who had spent six months rehearsing for the opera, be removed.

The Texan criticized the selection committee that awarded Smith the part.

“Even if the girl chosen had the best voice, and we do not doubt that she did, it would have seemed only the better part of discretion and wisdom not to cast her in a romantic role opposite a white male lead,” the editorial board wrote.

Smith’s removal may have set minority students back, but change was on the horizon. In the 1960s UT saw an explosion of student activism, recalled alumna Alice Embree, who enrolled at the University in the fall of 1963 and took part in civil rights on campus.

The Texan didn’t delve into the problems driving the issues or produce much coverage of minority students’ struggles on campus, Embree said.

“The long term problem was that the Texan would ignore the problem until student activists made it an issue, and then they would cover what happened and begin to open up the dialogue,” Embree said.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the population of minority students on campus grew, and the battle for ethnic studies centers and courses allowed the contentious issue of race in higher education to continue simmering on the pages of the Texan before reaching two major flashpoints in the 1990s.

In 1991, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust submitted to The Daily Texan a full-page advertisement contending the historical accuracy of the Holocaust. A unique policy of Texas Student Publications, now called Texas Student Media, required the members of the Board of Trustees’s advertising committee to publicly debate and vote on contentious ads. Once the press got wind of the possibility of the ad running, a passionate debate erupted across the state.

“At one point we had hundreds of letters coming in from synagogues in Houston, telling us not to run the ad,” said Geoff Henley, editor of the Texan in 1992.

A version of the ad eventually ran without the editorial board’s support after advertising professor John Murphy, a member of the TSP board who still works at UT, convinced the other student members of the board that the value of free speech outweighed the potential racist tone of the advertisement.

Students distributed flyers on the West Mall labeling him a racist and a barrage of other personal and physical attacks. Murphy said these allegations were not true.
Marketing administration professor Eli Cox symbolically resigned from the TSP board after the vote to run the ad was made.

“I did not think any reputable professional newspaper would have printed that ad,” Cox said.

After receiving much criticism, Henley said controversy at the paper died down. The peace did not last.

Toni Nelson Herrera was an incoming history graduate student at UT in 1997 who arrived on campus shortly after the Hopwood v. Texas ruling of the previous year that struck down the UT law school’s affirmative action policy.

In an April 18, 1997 editorial in the Texan, current law professor Lino Graglia wrote: “The only reason we have racial preferences, of course, is the fact that blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites and Asians. Racial preferences is simply an attempt to conceal or wish away this unwelcome fact ... Racial preferences are the root cause of virtually all major problems on American campuses today.”

Herrera said she and other students of color decided to organize in response to professor Graglia’s comments. A rally of 5,000 people, including an appearance by Rev. Jesse Jackson, took place, Herrera said.

“I was targeted very specifically by The Daily Texan after I spoke up at the rally, saying something to the effect that I had low test scores,” Herrera said. “My SAT scores weren’t that great. Nevertheless I double majored and graduated from undergrad in three years. The point I was trying to make was that we should be looking at a whole range of factors to get into college.”

The Texan zeroed in on Herrera and fellow graduate student Oscar de la Torre, she said. Both student activists became the target of editorials, and de la Torre was depicted in a cartoon on horseback wearing a sombrero and carrying a rifle. After organizing demonstrations against the paper, Herrera said she and de la Torre took action against the newspaper’s racist actions.

“It was a formal complaint we filed with the newspaper,” Herrera said. “Unfortunately, not much came of it.”

Editor Colby Angus Black later received a 17-1 vote of no confidence from the staff of the Texan and was reprimanded by the Texas Student Publications board for allowing the cartoon to go to print and making personal attacks on students.

The outcome of the controversy wasn’t all bad however, Herrera said.

“The other side of it was that there was a section of students that worked for the newspaper who were more progressive and wanted to understand the movement and understand the struggles of students on campus so they could reflect that in their journalism,” Herrera said.

The Texan still faces criticism for its coverage and portrayal of race. In March 2012, the Texan once again published a racially-charged cartoon, this time labeling the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin as a “poor innocent colored boy.” The editorial board later apologized and decided it would not publish artist Stephanie Eisner’s cartoons for the rest of the semester.

Jensen said there are steps the Texan can take to improve coverage of minorities.

“To change, The Daily Texan will have to commit to the project of trying to transcend its racist past and the white supremacist culture,” Jensen said. “One thing that will have to happen is that the staff has to go through a brutal process of self-reflection,” Jensen said.

Since the cartoon’s publishing, The Daily Texan has taken steps to better address the needs and experiences of minority students on campus through its current and future coverage. A workshop with professors and local journalists, meetings with students from organizations that represent students of color and a series of stories spotlighting issues of race on campus, including this story, have been first steps.

“Hopefully, moving forward the Texan will have better coverage of the entire campus community and better representation of all of our students,” current Texan editor-in-chief Viviana Aldous said.

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.

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.

Students gather Tuesday evening to listen to speakers representing campus minorities speak about the destructive power of stereotypes in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin. The Black Student Alliance worked with Queer People of Color and Allies and other student organizations in an effort to bring multicultural awareness to the student body and break down barriers.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

Sparked by the scrutiny of stereotypes uprooted by the killing of Trayvon Martin, more than 100 students rallied against discriminatory labels at the Main Mall Tuesday night.

Despite sudden rain, students and community members listened to speakers representing various minority groups on campus who spoke about their experiences with stereotypes and how they have been affected by the judgment of others during the “Trayvon Martin Rally Against Stereotypes.”

UT sophomores X’ene Taylor and Jasmine Graham organized the rally to speak out against the stereotypes that surrounded the Feb. 26 killing of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin who was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. Taylor and Graham organized the event with help from the University’s Black Student Alliance and other student organizations.

“I am not Trayvon Martin at 17, but I can still feel the stares because of the color of my skin when I walk into a room,” said keynote speaker Bishop James Dixon. “There is still this idea of a threat instead of understanding of the warped orientations of people who assume they know you.”

Dixson led the crowd in various chants about collective power and creating a movement out of the continuing issue of racism. He also encouraged the University to join with similar movements growing at other campuses.

“You are the power and you are the people,” he said. “This is not a white cause or a black cause. This is the right cause.”

Government sophomore Cortney Sanders told the crowd that the rally sought to show students that the groups people are part of should not label them as individuals.

The speakers identified themselves as a Chicano/a transgender student, a multiracial lesbian, a black Christian woman and a Latina who said she has been racially profiled as white because her skin color does not resemble what individuals assume Latinos look like.

UT alumna Audrea Diaz represented the disabled community. Diaz said labels affected her so much that she tried to kill herself twice because of it.

“I didn’t want to be known as ‘the disabled girl,’” she said. “But change starts from within, and I am a woman in recovery.”

Stereotypes make the gap between cultures wider, said vocal music performance sophomore Archana Narasimhan who also spoke at the event. When individuals look at “brown people” they automatically make assumptions of whom they are, she said.

“When people see me they assume I’m a science or engineering major or even that I am a terrorist,” she said. “The truth is I’m from West Virginia.”

Another speaker Roddrick West, architecture senior and president of Omega Psi Phi, said Texas is undergoing a demographic change, and it must appreciate the importance of diversity instead of allowing institutional racism to continue.

“[Trayvon’s killing] could’ve happened to any black male; for it was not the hoodie but the color of skin that led him to be profiled,” he said. “A person is still judged by the color of the skin and not the content of their character.”

A previous rally organized to raise awareness about the Martin case and institutional racism was held at the Capitol on March 27 in which more than 1,000 Austinites marched down Congress Avenue.

Regardless of how anyone feels about Martin’s death, stereotypes never leave a positive trail behind, said rally organizer Taylor.

“Is it worth thinking that every black person is going to steal my purse and every white person is going to hate me?” Taylor said. “At the end of the day, we need to stop creating George Zimmermans and stop killing Trayvon Martins.”

As public outrage grows toward the racist violence that African-Americans and people of color live with on a daily basis, the public is learning that incidents such as the murder of Trayvon Martin are not isolated or random occurrences. Trayvon’s murder is another example of the institutionalized racism that is alive and well in our society and often goes unchallenged—but no longer at the University of Texas.

On March 27 during the silent rally for Trayvon at the state Capitol, an extra current of antagonism ran through the crowd of nearly 500 people. A large contingent of UT students were talking about a racist cartoon that was published by The Daily Texan, the University’s official student newspaper, that same day.

Former UT student Chas Moore addressed the crowd, and soon after they took the streets of Congress, marching to City Hall, reminiscent of past Occupy Austin marches. Moore addressed the crowd at the end of the march and called upon them to link up the struggle of police brutality with LGBT and women’s rights. Michelle Uche, UT student and member of the International Socialist Organization on campus, led the crowd in a mic-check and said, “If there are any UT students who want to organize against this cartoon and other racist issues on campus, come over here!” Nearly 100 students stepped forward, and Uche’s friends quickly went to work handing out clipboards to collect contact information and facilitate the discussion with the large crowd using grassroots organizing skills they honed during months of participating in Occupy Austin.

Uche and fellow students called for a picket of The Daily Texan office the next day, and nearly 100 students and faculty members rallied outside to demand the editorial board publicly apologize for publishing the cartoon, denounce the cartoonist by refusing to publish future comics and open up the editorial section to African-American studies professors and students. The conversation with the editorial board at the rally and comments from the online version of the newspaper revealed that board members as well as a large portion of students are not aware of the oppression that African-Americans, Latinos, Arabs, Asians or any person of color has to live with daily and the kinds of privileges that white people can take advantage of and abuse.

A few hours later, the editorial board published an apology, in which it said the cartoonist “no longer works for The Daily Texan.” Now some individuals on campus are trying to rally around re-instating the cartoonist under the guise of protecting free speech, going so far as to create an online petition that states that students are offended because of a “perceived racism within the cartoon itself.”

The cartoon is racist because it perpetuates the idea that anti-black racism is merely a myth or a bedtime story, when the reality is African-American males live in a color-blind society that overwhelmingly targets people of color and leaves them the victims of excessive force, false accusation and unfair sentencing. Allowing speech or imagery that depicts these kinds of ideologies puts people of color into a different class, a class below the white man, and allows for mistreatment, discrimination and oppression of one group onto another.

For those who say we should be patient for all the facts to come out, that we shouldn’t rush to conclusions: Tell me how many more Trayvons will be slain before we challenge the institutionalized racism that infects our society? How many more African-American men will die as victims of the system that steals their dignity day after day? The change isn’t going to come from above; it’s going to come from the bottom up, like with the students who fought to restore Trayvon’s name at UT, and the collective voices of those who are rising up to ensure we never have another Emmett Louis Till, Byron Elliott Carter or Trayvon Martin fall victim to the system.

Villaseñor is a Mexican-American studies senior.

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 Tuesday’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