You know some folks are asking this.
What’s the President going to say about the Trayvon Martin case?
Not a template White House statement of condolences. But, an actual in-the-flesh statement from big man himself. Because that question is popping up randomly in Twitter feeds and obscure blogs, maybe a talk show or two. Some supporters are going to say, rather predictably, that he’s answered already: there’s that White House statement. And, as of Monday evening, the Obama Administration’s Justice Department decided to finally probe the situation. This raises the stakes for the Sanford, FL police department and could finally mean needed re-evaluation of Florida’s somewhat loose self-defense law.
But, maybe a prominent commentator or two said something about what the President himself is going to say about it and we just haven’t noticed. But, notice how that question was phrased – I didn’t say what’s the President have to say about it? Because at some point, you just know he’s going to say something, right?
It’s risky, however. The White House making a statement might not be enough, but as far as his advisors are concerned, it probably is. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says that he can’t directly interfere in or comment on local criminal “matters.” In terms of the political calculus, he starts saying something at the press conference dais and he’s likely to get blowback from conservatives who’ll begin screaming “states’ rights.” Sanford police chief Bill Lee could use it as an opportunity to play political victim, perhaps getting activists on the right to rally behind him. And the last thing the President wants is another open front in the culture war. So, if you’re the President, you’ve got to be really careful how you jump on this if you jump on it at all. It’s easier to give a campaign stump sermon about Black boys wearing baggy jeans than it is to publicly question their murder for carrying nothing more than a bag of Skittles and iced tea.
There are, really, no judgments here. Just the question, because it raises some interesting dynamics at play as we gear up for another heated election. Someone has got to ask it. It deserves some reflection. Perhaps it’s on the way, stuck between the prying eyes and listening ears of DOJ investigators.
But, the President never had any problem with commenting on local matters before. He jumped with quickness to the aid of celebrity Ivy League Black studies professor Henry “Skip” Gates, Jr. Yet, beyond the DOJ announcement, there is an enduring silence from the White House regarding the Trayvon Martin case. There’s a scent of political calculation in that, carefully watching what secrets polls might reveal. Strategists must assess the battleground state without tipping the apple cart.
That’s understandable given the tension in the air unleashed by racial code and vitriol in the Republican primaries. There are too many indicators, too many red flags and trip-wires on the re-election road to the White House that say this will be a tight race – even if the other half of the country doesn’t much care for the GOP nominee they pick.
Of course, he’s still going to win over the vast majority of Black voters even if he refuses to comment on an issue they’re growing increasingly anxious about. But, there is noticeable contrast between his willingness to speak openly about the actions of a local cop who cuffs a friend in the Black Elite circuit, yet nothing when it comes to what appears to be the senseless killing of your everyday average Black teen from a working middle class Black family. You know you’ve got to say and do something when CNN’s Soledad O’Brien vigorously and publicly defends the reputation of her good buddy “Skip.”
Some of that same class dynamic contrast appeared in the Shirley Sherrod case before he finally fessed up and made a personal phone call to the fired Agricultural Department employee. But, wouldn’t an invitation to the White House for tea and an apology would have been more appropriate? Gates got a Beer summit; Sherrod got a call. What’s the difference between the two?
Even Kanye West got a reprimand from the Commander-in-Chief after blasting Taylor Swift. Personally, I would’ve said something about Chris Brown’s vicious beating of Rihanna since we’re talking about celebrities and their twisted ways – but, if you’re the President trapped in daily political and racial conundrums, what do you do? Taylor vs. Rihanna. Sherrod vs. Sandra Fluke.
Maybe it depends on whether or not Trayvon Martin shows up as a top listing in Google Trends, being the first very digital President that he is. So, maybe that comment is on the way, coming shortly … at a press conference or stump near you.
Or, maybe – and some are asking – some Black people just have more clout (money, fame, access, etc.) than others. No one is saying it’s intentional. But some are saying that, sometimes, it shows.