My EMA colleague, Trese Myers, noted the news yesterday that George Zimmerman, fresh from seven days out of the public eye after his acquittal for killing Trayvon Martin, stopped on a Florida highway with another passerby to help four accident victims in an overturned SUV. No one was injured, but the car caught fire.
Trese is whip smart and a little skeptical — though she’s not yet a full-grown cynic. She smells a PR stunt and, if it’s found out, a major crisis.
Her view is, Zimmerman was in the wrong place at the wrong time and shot an unarmed teen-ager to death. Now, following the not-guilty verdict and a week in hiding, he just happens to be in the right place at the right time to help a family of four? “Will he next be helping old ladies cross the street and rescuing stray cats from trees,” she asked?
Would someone concoct a drama like this to rehabilitate an individual’s reputation? Wilder things have been tried, for sure. You can bet that reporters are digging into this one.
Zimmerman probably has enormous legal bills, and he still faces a civil trial — during which he will have to testify. He may end up paying Trayvon Martin’s family a great deal of money. He also probably has a book deal and maybe a docudrama pending.
Only a rank amateur would risk exposure with such a strategy. It would involve at least six people, two of them children. And the sacrifice of a car. Nonetheless, these are the questions we ask because of the relentless racial issues our nation faces.
We don’t trust George Zimmerman, just as he didn’t trust Trayvon Martin, just as millions of people, many of them black Americans, don’t trust “the justice system” to give them and their children a fair shake.
President Obama broke his silence Friday in a heartfelt and personal assessment of the case and the state of race in our country. Sean Kirst, the outstanding Syracuse-based newspaper columnist, has a fascinating take on all of this. Obama and Kirst are thought-provoking, and we need our leaders to challenge us.
Last week on WBEN radio Brenda McDuffie of the Buffalo Urban League [of which I am board chair], Buffalo Common Council member the Rev. Darius Pridgen, the Rev. Kinzer Pointer, pastor at Agape Fellowship, and Dr. Henry Louis Taylor Jr., head of the Urban Studies Department at the University at Buffalo spoke clearly to these issues. Leaders, all.
Demonstrations continued over the weekend in score of cities. And credit the media, mainstream and otherwise, for keeping this debate in the forefront. The only way to move these divergent crisis points of view forward toward better understanding, if not resolution, is to talk about them; to listen and think and walk in another person’s shoes. Both of them.
It’s hard not to sympathize with the president when he says he is Trayvon Martin. People wearing hoodies and t-shirts with “I am Trayvon Martin” printed on them are expressing more than support for the Florida teen-ager and his family, they’re showing how we typecast by race and skin color and fail to see people as individuals.
This is an age-old crisis that even a dramatic PR stunt can’t end for George Zimmerman, even if he were misguided enough to try it.
We all have a stake in trying to ease this crisis — through communication. As Gandhi is frequently quoted as saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.