It was the Associated Press that first inserted racial division into the story of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin with their March 8, 2012 declaration that, “The neighborhood watch leader is white.”
That this false declaration about George Zimmerman’s race is still being repeated by major news sources evidences the deplorable state of the American media. But if the AP originated the racial tensions in the case, it was professional race provocateur Al Sharpton who fanned the small spark into the flames that followed.
From his unique perch as both anchor of his own show on a major news network and political activist, Sharpton was able to both create news and then report on it.
On his March 22, 2013 broadcast of PoliticsNation, Sharpton presented himself as a newsman while reporting on himself as both a representative of the Martin family and organizer of the “Justice for Trayvon” rally. Reported Sharpton, “Earlier today, Trayvon’s parents, attorney and I met with the Justice Department here. And later tonight, we rally for justice for Trayvon.”
Of course, it’s only a conflict of interest if the mainstream media says it’s a conflict of interest. And MSNBC maintained throughout that Sharpton's activities were just dandy; according to the Associated Press, MSNBC President Phil Griffin "said he hadn't seen any conflict with Sharpton's role on and off the air in the Martin case. He said Sharpton had fulfilled his requirement to be honest and upfront about his activities, and credited PoliticsNation with helping to make it a national story."
At the rally that evening, Sharpton used the us/them, we/you language that is the race-baiter’s trade, declaring, "We are tired of going to jail for nothing and others going home for something. Zimmerman should have been arrested that night...you cannot defend yourself against a pack of Skittles and iced tea. Don't talk to us like we're stupid! Don't talk to us like we're ignorant! We love our children like you love yours."
But Sharpton’s most memorable line of the evening was easily, "Trayvon could have been any one of our sons," because with the power of his own news network carrying forth his message, this sentiment found its way, only one day later, into remarks by the President of the United States.
"If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon," echoed Barack Obama.
Just like that, the race baiter who brought the nation the false accusations of Tawana Brawley found himself wielding, if only by proxy, one of the most powerful bully pulpits in the world.
Despite the fact that local investigators found no evidence to suggest George Zimmerman had committed a crime in the shooting of Martin, he would find himself arrested and on trial for murder within a month of the rally.
For most of the next year, Sharpton engaged regularly in the sort of race hustling that first made him a household name in the 1980s, but this time with the credibility of a major news network behind him. He ensured that race was at the heart of the national conversation over the shooting and subsequent trial.
Even after Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury on July 13, 2013, Sharpton continued to grandstand on the grave of Martin, and to insist that racism was at the heart of the shooting. On Meet the Press the following day, Sharpton declared, “Clearly there are grounds for a civil rights charges.” He even bragged, “I helped organize a lot of the outrage around this.”
Through his National Action Network, he organized rallies in a hundred cities to demand justice for Trayvon, and through his national television show, he promoted those rallies. In both roles, he kept race central to the discussion.
"Out of the multiple phone calls that Mr. Zimmerman made identifying suspects, people [who were] 'suspicious,' they were all black," said Sharpton at one rally.
"There is...a blatant civil rights question of: does Trayvon Martin and Trayvon Martins of this country have the civil right to go home?"
The FBI had already investigated Zimmerman for civil rights violations and found no evidence of racism. But false accusations have never slowed Al Sharpton down.