How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Readers sound off on race and ethnicity in the Trayvon Martin story

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At a protest demanding justice in the killing of Trayvon Martin, March 19, 2012

The role of race in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in Florida last month, has been a critical part of the story since the beginning. But it became even bigger in recent days, after it became known that the shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, did not fit as neatly into the "white" category as initially reported. Late last week, Zimmerman's father identified his son as Latino to a Florida newspaper.

It doesn't change much in that, as a federal investigation starts, a boy who was merely visiting in the neighborhood with his father is dead, and the adult who shot him claiming self-defense (though a 911 tape suggests otherwise) remains free. But the news of shooter George Zimmerman being half Latino - and his father's suggestion that such, he could not be racist - triggered a curious reaction among some, including non-Latino whites who had felt scapegoated.

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With shooter's ethnicity, race becomes an even bigger part of the Trayvon Martin story

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George Zimmerman, left, and Trayvon Martin, right.

If race is already a major part of the story involving the shooting death of 17-year-year-old Trayvon Martin last month in Florida, it's becoming even bigger. Media reports have increasingly begun to identify the shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, not as "white" as he was originally identified, but as Latino after his father identified him as such to a Florida newspaper.

It doesn't change much in the sense that an unarmed teenager, who was visiting the neighborhood with his dad and had stepped out to a convenience store for snacks, is now dead. But news of the ethnic identity of Zimmerman, who apparently pursued the boy and has yet to be arrested, has set off a curious reaction.

One story related to the ethnic-label switch headlined "Media Labels Hispanic Man White in Shooting of Black Teen," on the late Andrew Breitbart's conservative Brietbart website, has drawn some angry/cynical comments. Here's one, from Dougragan:

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Why the Trayvon Martin case isn't exclusively 'a black story'

Photo by werthmedia/Flickr (Creative Commons)

At a protest demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, March 19, 2012

The Atlantic's James Fallows has a short, incisive piece on why he's going to be writing about the case of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teenager shot to death in Florida last month by a neighborhood watch captain in a Florida gated community.

The boy had been on his way back to a family friend's home after purchasing Skittles and iced tea from a nearby convenience store. A recently released 911 tape indicates that the admitted shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, pursued the boy because he deemed him "real suspicious."

Fallows writes about how "since I have no special standing to talk about police activity, crime stories, or anything involving Florida, this is a subject I would normally leave alone." But:

Here's why I think it is worth making an exception and talking about something outside "my" realm. The Trayvon Martin case involves the shooting of a young black man by a young white man, and the failure of the white-run Southern police department to take any action against the killer. The more evidence comes out, the less defensible and more bigoted the police department's attitude seems. Ta-Nehisi Coates has done a very effective job of following this case -- but since he is the only black "Voice" on the Atlantic's site, and since many (though not all) of the leading writers about the case elsewhere also have been black, leaving it to him could give the impression that we think of this as a "black" story.

My feeling is the same as when I wrote about the Troy Davis execution last fall: this case is obviously about race, and is important on those grounds. Race relations are after all the original and ongoing tension in U.S. history.

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