Last week, in several ironic, divisive and divergent ways, America once again showed itself as a nation of many features. One of these features was the White face of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; the other, the Black face of Trayvon Martin.
Briefly, who are these two, these two young Americans whose faces now crowd the billboards of the global news cycles; one who murdered and why; and one who was murdered and how.
So, who is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? His full name is Dzhokhar Anzorovich Tsarnaev; he was born July 22, 1993 in the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Along with his older brother, Tamerlan, they perpetrated the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings.
The bombings killed three people and injured more than 200 innocent victims. Investigated later by the FBI, these two reportedly had also killed an MIT police officer, carjacked an SUV, and engaged in a shootout with the police in the Boston suburb of Watertown. During this showdown, Tamerlan was killed and an MBTA police officer was critically injured.
Dzhokhar, the younger brother, was injured but escaped. An unprecedented manhunt ensued, with thousands of police involved. On April 19, he was found unarmed, hiding in a boat on a trailer. He and his deceased brother were later linked to an earlier unsolved triple homicide that had occurred on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Dzhokar’s portrait would subsequently grace the cover of the August 2013 edition of the Rolling Stone magazine. This portrayal sparked a national sense of outrage in the U.S. His were not the expected features of a terrorist; his was not the face America associates with someone to be feared and loathed. Instead, his was the face – White and male – that America finds traditionally and pre-eminently desirable. Did the outrage erupt because of how very American Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looks?
Would Dzhokar Tsarnaev have looked more the terrorist if he was wearing a hoodie?!
A White male, he was thereby the natural beneficiary of the best America had to offer. He, his older brother, Tamerlane, and their parents Asnor and Zubiedat had emigrated to America in 2002 as refugees from Russia. Dzhokhar then became a student at the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School. He later attended the prestigious University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. On September 11, 2012 the family were naturalized as American citizens. Seven months on, the two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon.
No ancestors of theirs had, from enforced labour, enriched America. None of their ancestors had fought in wars abroad for the Republic and, if remaining alive, had returned to ‘White only’ and ‘Negro only’ anti-Black inequities.
America had nonetheless welcomed this family with open arms. America had offered its most prestigious schools of learning to them. America had opened widest for them, its doors of opportunity to realizing the American Dream.
And, who was Trayvon Martin? He was born February 5, 1995 in the state of Florida. He was the son of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and a junior at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School in Miami Gardens, Florida. His English teacher had once described him as an A and B student who majored in cheerfulness.
On the day Martin was fatally shot, he and his father were visiting his father’s fiancée and her son at their townhome in the Florida county of Sanford, a multi-ethnic gated community, where the shooting occurred. At the time of his death, he had been suspended from school. He had been suspended twice before. One suspension was for tardiness and truancy; the other was for graffiti. He was never charged with any crime, and did not have a juvenile record.
Thus it was on February 26, 2012, 12 days after his 17th birthday, that he was killed, and by a 27-year-old White man, George Zimmerman. Trayvon, on his way home from a convenience store, had been followed by Zimmerman. Zimmerman did this under the racialized assumption that people like Trayvon were automatically suspect, and needed to be watched. As a result of Zimmerman following him, a confrontation occurred between them. Trayvon, unarmed, was shot in the heart. Zimmerman, older and armed, and the one who precipitated the occurrence was acquitted by a jury: self-defence
This acquittal exposed, once again, the historic fault line of racial antagonism and divisions in America.
However, this is not about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. It is about Trayvon Benjamin Martin and Dzhokhar Anzorovich Tsarnaev. It is an attempt to consider the different lens through which America sees the two communities to which each of these two young men belong.
Two young Americans, one who murdered in the name of Jihadist radicalism; the other who was murdered in the name of American vigilanteeism. One’s conviction for murder stands for a moment; the murder of the other stands for a movement. One comes from a community in which, standing before the law and in society at large, he is considered innocent until proven guilty; the other is however considered guilty until proven, not-guilty.
One is not to be feared despite disproportionately representing Americans who are serial killers; the other is to be feared for disproportionately representing those who kill others for sneakers.
The former comes from communities in which household median incomes are 18 times that of the other; and from communities in which incarceration rates are nine times less than for the other; and from communities in which unemployment rates are at seven per cent, while for the other these rates are at 15 per cent: the American Nightmare.
One comes from a community in which Americans, now knowing why he bombed their country, deem him to be loathsome. The other comes from a community in which, following the acquittal of his murderer, like an earlier Emmet Till, the Civil Rights Movement is being re-activated.
For one of them, his skin colour and gender are historically the wind at his back; for the other, his skin colour and gender are historically the gale forcing him back.
Finally, the former is the White Jihadist, Dzhokhar Anzorovich Tsarnaev, now despised by Americans as an ingrate and traitor. The latter was Trayvon Benjamin Martin, who on his way home, was murdered simply for Walking While Black, and whose acquitted killer, George Zimmerman, is hailed as an American patriot.
For what? For killing a child.