Is Image of Trayvon’s Dead Body Fit for Public?

Watch Video

(Image source: Orlando Sentinel / Gary W. Green)






As a jury decides the fate of George Zimmerman in his highly publicized murder trial, a graphic image sent the Internet abuzz Friday. In the image: Trayvon Martin moments after his death. 


Gawker writer Adam Weinstein posted a screenshot of Martin — which we won’t show — taken from MSNBC’s broadcast of the trial. A momentary shot on MSNBC inadvertently showed the Sanford, Fla., teen without a yellow tarp covering his body; he’s in a gray hoodie, arms by his sides, eyes wide open and mouth agape. 


The photo was shown in court and not intended for the public to see. In the accompanying text, Weinstein apologizes, then explains his rationale. Good old-fashioned rage that this kid is dead because my home state empowered a dullard aficionado of Van Damme and Seagal movie cliches to choose his own adventure.” (Via Gawker)


Although Weinstein prefaced his post with an apology to Martin’s parents, that did little to keep him from being attacked on all sides for his editorial judgement. 


For starters, Weinstein took some heat on Twitter and even retweeted some of the criticism by Twitter users claiming he was going for click bait and asking if he was trying to incite a riot. 


A writer for PJ Media, a conservative website, railed against Weinstein for preserving so-called agenda-driven journalism and ratcheting up anger against Zimmerman: “With justice must come reconciliation and writers like Weinstein are making it impossible to achieve either.”


Likewise, a writer for The Root, an outlet highlighting African-American culture, said, “Just about anyone paying attention has shared your ‘good old-fashioned rage that this kid is dead’ for a while now. None of it  none of it at all  required a visual.”


But then commentary on the image of Martin’s dead body shifted from “Why would you show the photo?” to “Why shouldn’t people see the photo?” 


Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall said the photo goes against his journalistic standards, but that it is a picture worth sharing: “Seeing it, for all the tabloid coverage and endless CNN cable news coverage of the case, a big part of me feels like the real story here has been glossed over. Whatever the ins and outs of the legalities here, the odds of this happening to a white kid are just very slim. … I felt it was wrong in a way that people not see it.”


Some compared the reactions of the Martin photo to the overwhelming response to Emmett Till’s murder. Following his hate-fueled killing in Mississippi, Till’s mother, Mamie, decided to hold an open-casket funeral so that others could see what had been done to her son. (Via The Biography Channel)


A writer for Uptown Magazine commented on the light-footed approach American media takes to showing viewers disturbing images: “We know bad things happen in the world, but not actually seeing them explicitly helps many of us to refrain from becoming uncomfortably familiar with them. Unfortunately, avoiding that discomfort has directly resulted in many of us becoming desensitized. … Mamie Till made us NEVER forget.”


But there’s one glaring difference between Till’s image and Martin’s: Weinstein didn’t have permission from Martin’s family to share the image. 


On his personal website, Weinstein revealed a letter from a reader who agreed along with his intent however no longer his execution: “You must have requested permission from Trayvon’s oldsters. They will have to have had that proper. … Bravo, for … trying to power the picture on folks that couldn’t see his humanity. However how extremely inhumane to re-traumatize these of us who really feel this deeply each time we take into consideration the trial.”


Weinstein later wrote that he agreed with that critique, pronouncing he surely indulged my non-public anger” and “unintentionally … co-opted Trayvon as an object to focal point my anger.”