By Luke Visconti
* UPDATE: Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on April 11,2012.
In case you missed it, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman as he walked down a street to a friend's home in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, on a "neighborhood watch" patrol, called the police to report Trayvon as a "real suspicious guy" and "up to no good, or he's on drugs or something." Trayvon was wearing a hoodie; it was raining. The dispatcher asked, "Are you following him?" When Zimmerman said "Yeah," the dispatcher said, "OK, we don't need you doing that." Zimmerman was armed with a Kel-Tec 9mm pistol. It took one shot to kill Trayvon.
When I first read of the news, Trayvon's picture was in the story, and I was struck by how handsome and open he looked—in contrast to his murderer.
But chances are you've heard of Trayvon. As of this morning, there are almost 1 million electronic signatures on the change.org petition demanding that Zimmerman be arrested. Spike Lee and Wyclef Jean started the ball rolling with tweets. The press picked it up. Anderson Cooper was all about Trayvon last night. Because of the Internet, you can hear the 911 tapes, see Trayvon's pictures and hear his mom say that he was killed because of "the color of his skin."
As hard as it is to imagine, George Zimmerman has not been arrested. The law in Florida, a "Shall Issue" state where one is entitled to carry a concealed weapon, does not call for people to back down from confrontations because Gov. Jeb Bush signed the "Stand Your Ground" law in 2005. Prosecutors in Florida have apparently decided that prosecuting shootings in this case is not worth it as judges can dismiss the case before the trial begins under the concept of "true immunity" based on a "Stand Your Ground" assertion.
But there's a lot of pressure on Sanford, a place that ran Jackie Robinson out of town during spring training. The city commissioners voted to demand that the police chief resign. If you do a little digging on the Sanford police, you'll see that there's been a history; the NAACP is collecting stories to deliver to the Department of Justice. In a larger context, this "Stand Your Ground" law, which has been passed in 21 states, needs very close examination. I am a fan of the Second Amendment, but this reads a little to me like "Shoot the Black guy first, ask questions later" law.
What can we learn here from a business context? History matters. Having a trajectory of good practices—or bad—is public knowledge these days, especially when something goes wrong and people have a little time to dig around the web. Many companies I visit still have a policy of being "modest." It's old fashioned and doesn't serve your customers, employees or shareholders. Websites should have clarity and focus; today, hundreds of millions of people tell their own story on Facebook and Twitter. Your company must tell its own story on its website, yet most corporate websites are soulless (many look like they're designed by soulless ad agencies and vetted by attorneys who don't get out much).
I've been discussing strategic philanthropy with several companies, a program that has a theme, reflects the company's values and can be integrated with the general business. There is nothing self-serving about building a pipeline of educated professionals and talented technicians by serving poor and underrepresented young people in a nationwide education mentoring program (the Rutgers Future Scholars program could be adopted nationwide, and Rutgers is an AAU research institution, so it is doing the research to understand how).
The kind of pressure that took years to create during the civil-rights era now takes days. What I've observed is that furtive and hateful things burrow underground, while the opposite struggles for sunlight. But what I've also found is that, although evil is not sustainable, it is well organized—while forces for the good often devolve their conversations into arguments over jargon. (Is it "I&D"? "D&I"? "DNI"? Just "I"?) Trayvon was murdered by a man with a troubled background who was empowered by a law that needs to be repealed. The force of the social media has taken the lead and traditional media is following. The lessons here for business are clear.
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