At last night’s peaceful Trayvon Martin protest in LA's Leimert Park, I was not only bombarded with appeals to continue fighting the good fight by demanding justice on Trayvon’s behalf, but also to take home a collectible keepsake of the tragedy.
Tuesday’s gathering was far more manageable than the confrontation that erupted late on Sunday and early on Monday morning, when stores were smashed up and news crews attacked. When protests cease to be violent, often times the anger gives way to an atmosphere that can best be described as “carnival-like”.
People play music, dance, barbeque and commiserate. Parents bring their kids, who invariably use the opportunity to run around the park and enjoy themselves away from the mass social movement. The notion that those kids are in danger of suffering at the hands of a violent world in the same way that Trayvon did lingered in my mind the entire time I was among the protesters, but for many people in the park that night, the mood was more pleasant.
Like a real carnival, there was plenty to spend your money on. Merchandising tragedies is not a new phenomenon, but that doesn't make it any less unsettling to see people peddling t-shirts with a dead boy’s face on it. A case can be made that it’s all a part of the effort to keep people from forgetting the life that was lost, but it’s also terribly macabre.
I passed on the large Trayvon painting that the artist was proudly displaying on the periphery of the protest. I didn’t get a price quote, but I can say with confidence that this particular piece is not the “conversation starter” I want in my living room.
For those who arrived without a T-shirt, there was a station set up to quickly crank out custom spray-painted Trayvon “swag”.
Others took matters into their own hands and went for a more DIY approach.
I don’t think this one was for sale, but I didn’t ask after being told in no uncertain terms to not take this man’s photo. He did not appear to have an ETSY account.
The merchandising of this particular incident goes beyond the protest environment. Pro-Trayvon merchandise is all over the internet, but unfortunately there’s also a plethora of pro-George Zimmerman gear for the discerning, fashion-forward racist.
Woe to the individual who walks into a coffee shop wearing a T-shirt bearing Zimmerman’s face and the all-caps inscription, “YOU MAD BRO?” It’s one thing to be actively antagonistic through the medium of clothing, but it’s another more horrible thing to also invoke an ancient meme in the process. To answer this T-shirt’s question, “Yes, I am mad. Thanks for asking.”
You can also purchase a bumper sticker that says, “I Believe George Zimmerman.” If you put that on your car, I can assure you that there will be quite a few neighbourhoods that you should not park your car in.
Another bumper sticker that’s available to alienate nearly everyone you know sports the acronym “WWGZD”. If this is a question you ask yourself on a regular basis, I advise you to consider a new role model. May I suggest someone who didn’t shoot a child in the chest?
The creator of the auction titled: “Trayvon Martin Parody T-shirt Anti Obama T-shirt Very Funny T-shirt Cool Shirt” isn’t just incapable of brevity – he or she also needs a refresher course on the meaning of the word “funny”.
Not everyone selling Trayvon/Zimmerman merchandise has an agenda, as evidenced by the person selling both “Guilty” and “Not Guilty” shirts. The title of the page does ask the buyer to “pick one”, so don’t even think about trying to buy both. The seller doesn’t want to bother taking a position on this issue, but you certainly have to.
Whether the merchandise is being sold at a protest or online, the practice of exchanging currency for novelty items commemorating a child’s murder that are often inflammatory in nature serves only to further widen the cultural divide that this incident has brought back to the surface. If you wear a “George Zimmerman: Wanted Dead or Alive” shirt or turn Zimmerman into some kind of vigilante folk hero through a sticker, you reinforce the idea that violence is acceptable in American society, and that justice only comes from a loaded gun. The peaceful, orderly protests in LA last night are hopefully one of the ways that we can start to move past all that.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @dave_schilling
More Trayvon Martin coverage: