After several days of a nicely controlled media narrative depicting George Zimmerman as a cold-blooded vigilante killer who executed an innocent teenager in cold blood, the intrusion of facts made the Trayvon Martin case a lot more complicated this week.
First, Zimmerman's side of the story started leaking out of the Sanford, Fla., police department, and it was that Martin attacked the neighborhood watchman, breaking his nose and banging his head on the pavement. Parts of his account were backed up by eyewitnesses.
It also came out that Martin was on suspension for a marijuana-related offense at his Miami-area school, and had previously had other minor scrapes with authority. While the first photo commonly released showed Martin as a young teenager, later pictures showed the 6-foot, 3-inch young man who encountered Zimmerman.
Martin's mother trademarked slogans related to his name, presumably in preparation for licensing them to makers of T-shirts and other memorabilia.
To the surprise of no one, Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson turned up to support the Martin family and agitate for the arrest of Zimmerman. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg predictably used the occasion to call for more repressive gun laws.
The New Black Panthers offered a $10,000 bounty for Zimmerman, "dead or alive." The watchman is now quite understandably in hiding.
Zimmerman is now apparently the first bearer of a new ethnic designation, "white Hispanic." While the fact that people of Latin ancestry come in color schemes from Salma Hayek to Sammy Sosa is obvious to anyone with eyesight, that notion apparently has not been useful to the mainstream media before now. "White Hispanic" implies that Zimmerman was somehow more in the wrong than he would have been had he been from the Sosa end of the color spectrum, and I find that idea very pernicious.
One would have hoped we had cashiered the sort of 1890s thinking that gave us designations like octoroon, quadroon, mulatto, etc., but clearly we have not. Some figures of the 21 century are clearly as invested in minutely detailed racial division as Theodore Bilbo or J.B. Stoner were in the last one.
The President wisely took what I regard as a statesmanlike approach to the issue, perhaps with a weather eye to the very sort of developments that have come up since he spoke. Newt Gingrich took a non-statesmanlike approach, and wound up looking like a bonehead.
So now we have all the required elements for a full-blown media and political circus, with positions hardening on all sides. What was a tragedy with many nuances has become a Punch-and-Judy show where human beings are reduced to caricatures. What a pity.
My guess is that Zimmerman comes out of this with no jail time, but with ruinous legal expenses and the need to look over his shoulder for months, if not years. If there's anything to be gained from this case, it will be as a cautionary tale for some of our most exuberant concealed-carry advocates.
The lesson: we still haven't invented a gun that can be unfired. When you pull that trigger, a whole lot of unforeseen consequences are about to unfold, "stand your ground" laws or not. I don't doubt that whatever CCW class George Zimmerman attended emphasized the point, and he's now better qualified than anyone to teach it himself.