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Monday, April 09, 2012

Justice is not blind 

Why the murders of Trayvon Martin and Eve Carson cannot be compared.

by: Alicia Towler

Today when I logged into my favorite news site, I saw the headline: “Poll: Trayvon Martin case divides U.S. by race, age, wealth, and politics.” The poll taken by the Christian Scientist Monitor reports that the country is split in its perceptions of the handling of the case and whether or not the crime was racially motivated.

When I logged into Facebook, I saw that yet another friend had shared this poorly reasoned blog post asking why people were so outraged at the shooting of Trayvon Martin but not the Eve Carson murder four years ago in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The author argues that Carson was similarly racially targeted for being “a rich, blue-eyed, blonde haired, white girl” when she was kidnapped, robbed, and killed.

There are many differences between the two cases, but here are the core issues that make the comparison irrelevant:

When Carson was murdered, police worked quickly to identify her, find her car, phone, laptop, and wallet, and develop leads to identify her killers. Within days, police SWAT teams had stormed houses in Durham looking for the two identified men, Atwater and Lovette, and shortly after, both men were arrested, charged with 1st Degree murder, and imprisoned to await trial.

When Martin was killed, police did not use his cellphone, which was at the scene, to try to identify him or canvass the neighborhood where they would have found Martin’s father. There was no need for a manhunt - the killer was at the scene when police arrived. George Zimmerman was questioned and released that evening, and Zimmerman returned home.

And there is the problem – we were able to move on from Carson’s death without marches or phone calls from the president because justice was served. In Martin’s case, without the attention of the national media, there is no indication that there would have been any further investigation into the murder. Zimmerman would have been able to quietly return to his neighborhood watch with his concealed weapons permit and would have remained a threat to any “suspicious” persons who crossed his path.

So to the blogger who asked why there was no outrage over Carson’s death - hundreds of students showed up for a vigil on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus just hours after Carson’s body was identified. There was so much interest in the case and so much tension in the area that Lovette's attorneys had to request that his trial be moved to another district because they didn't think they could find an impartial jury in Orange County. But this outrage was channeled into remembering the contributions Carson made to the community and finding constructive ways to keep her legacy alive. The community was able to move on because it had closure.

At the time Carson was murdered, I was living in the same neighborhood, I had recently graduated from the same university, and I, too, felt safe on the streets of Chapel Hill alone at 3am. It’s been four years, and the town has never been the same to me. Personally, I am angry that two cruel young men took my sense of safety along with Carson’s life.

In the past few weeks since the news of Martin’s murder caught fire in the national media, I have read articles from black parents whose sense of safety has also been taken. These parents fear that their children may be perceived as suspicious, as dangerous, as criminal because of the color of their skin, and worse yet, that if a neighborhood watch captain gunned down their unarmed child on a residential sidewalk in the middle of the night, no one would even care.

The unnerving issue in this case is that police were immediately willing to believe that Zimmerman needed to use deadly force against an unarmed teenager. The unanswered question is whether Zimmerman would have been released without charges or further investigation if the races of the two men had been reversed.

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