George Zimmerman has been charged with second degree murder in the Trayvon Martin case.  Now perhaps the trial will take place in a court of law rather than in the media and at community rallies across the country.  Whether a jury will decide on the evidence, of which there is very little, or give in to political pressure is anybody’s guess.  But regardless of how the trial eventually turns out, there are several individuals, as well as the mainstream media, who have behaved badly in this case.

Prominent among these individuals who have behaved badly are President Obama, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Spike Lee, and the New Black Panthers, all of whom have contributed in their own way to exacerbating a tragic situation that has the potential to get ugly before it is over.  What is unconscionable about the behavior of these individuals is that they appear to be exploiting the Martin case to advance personal agendas rather than out of sincere concern for the Martin family.

America is such a diverse country that racial relations remain our Achilles Heel from a socio-cultural perspective.  Consequently, when situations such as the Trayvon Martin tragedy occur—situations with potential racial overtones—it is incumbent on leaders to act in ways that calm racial unrest rather than stir it up.  Unfortunately, that has not happened in this case.  Even before George Zimmerman had been charged and with little or no evidence to go on, President Obama made comments that could only encourage racial unrest; and this from a president who ran for office on platform that included bridging the racial divide in America.

In its handling of the Trayvon Martin case, the mainstream media has been more than irresponsible, it has been unconscionable.  Rather than gather the facts and present them, the mainstream media has completely disregarded any concern for journalistic ethics and reported innuendo, distortions, and inaccuracies as a matter of course.  As facts have been revealed that refute various aspects of the media’s coverage, liberal journalists have simply continued to distort and deceive by omission and commission.  Worse yet, they have simply ignored aspects of the case that should be major news stories—facts such as the “dead or alive” bounty placed on George Zimmerman by the New Black Panthers.

For an example of the media’s complicity in distorting the facts, consider the photograph of Trayvon Martin that is displayed on mainstream news programs every night.   From the outset of this case, the media has consistently displayed a photograph of the cute, young Trayvon Martin in his football uniform—a photograph of a harmless little boy viewers just want to hug, a photograph sure to garner sympathy.  One can only wonder if there is a potential juror in Florida who won’t have this photograph in his mind throughout the trial rather than one of a strong young man of 17 who was able to overpower George Zimmerman and slam his head repeatedly into the pavement. This grownup image does not mean that Trayvon Martin’s shooting was justified—a jury will decide that—but it is at least a more accurate image than the one being portrayed by the media.

Although it was predictable, it was still disappointing to watch Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Spike Lee insert themselves into this powder-keg situation in ways that could only be meant to ignite the fuse.  These three individuals have authority and influence in the black community.  Unfortunately, they used it to stir up racial discord rather than calm it.  Their involvement—by now well documented in the media—smacks of racial exploitation rather than leadership.

Students of history will recall that it was John Adams who risked his life and livelihood to tell angry colonists who wanted to lynch the British soldiers involved to stay calm and wait for the facts to come out in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre.  It was not a popular stand to take for the man who would become America’s second president, but it was the right stand as the eventual trial proved. Jackson, Sharpton, and Lee had an opportunity to take a similarly courageous stand with angry black citizens in Sanford, Florida, but they chose a different route.

Their demand for a trial was understandable and appropriate.  Even sworn law enforcement officers have to undergo careful scrutiny of their actions in the aftermath of a shooting.  Their demand for a review of the Florida law that is at the heart of this case was also understandable and appropriate.  Man-made laws are imperfect at best.  But these things could have been done without turning the situation into a racial powder keg that, in the long run, helps no Americans—black or white.  President Obama, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Spike Lee had an opportunity to show some real leadership in responding to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, courageous leadership in the mold of John Adams.  Instead, they resorted to behaving badly.  It is a shame.