Recently divulged information about Trayvon Martin's checkered academic history has added a new dimension to the very public discussion about the deceased teenager's month-old shooting.
As it turns out, Martin was suspended a number of times from Krop Senior High School in Miami Gardens for infractions ranging from tardiness and truancy up to possession of marijuana and a screwdriver that the school's security staff described as a "burglary tool."
The troubling incidents date back to October 2011, when Martin was allegedly caught with a horde of women's jewelry and the aforementioned screwdriver, according the Miami Herald. According to a report issued by Trayvon's school district, on October 21, security camera footage showed Trayvon Martin and two other students writing "W.T.F." on a hallway locker. A security guard saw the footage, detained Trayvon and searched his bag for the offending marker. In the process of the search, the guard uncovered 12 pieces of women's jewelry, a watch and the screwdriver.
Trayvon claimed at the time that an unnamed friend furnished him with the jewelry and temporarily avoided disciplinary action -- only to be subsequently suspended for the graffiti.
School police impounded the jewelry and sent photographs of the items to local police, according the district's own report. Martin was then suspended, warned and dismissed.
The Martin family's attorney confirmed that Trayvon had been suspended for graffiti, but insisted that the the family knew nothing about the jewelry or alleged "burglary tool" mentioned in the school district's report. Both the Martin family and their attorney suggested that the report about Trayvon's disciplinary history was disingenuous and may even have been intended to "demonize" the deceased youth.
"We think everybody is trying to demonize him," said attorney Ben Crump, reacting to the school district's report. "Trayvon, who was 17 when he died, had never been arrested."
Trayvon's mother paints her son as a typical teenage boy, mischievous perhaps but never involved with gangs or violence. She says that when she had to transfer Trayvon out of his previous school in Carol City, high school officials begged her to let him remain because Trayvon was such a model student.
It's hard not to sympathize with Trayvon's mother. The real question everyone should be asking is: Does any of this matter?
Even if everything the school district alleges in their report is true, does it really shed any evidentiary light on the events of February 26? Does it somehow justify the shooting of an unarmed boy?
Trayvon Martin's "graffiti" was not some violent alleyway gang tag, but rather a vulgar, childish scrawl on a school locker. And to suggest that the screwdriver in his backpack was more than a screwdriver may be unduly prejudicial -- and at worst intentionally misleading. Of course, Zimmerman's defenders will argue that it proves a pattern of criminal behavior.
But Trayvon's supposed pattern of misbehavior and serial suspensions doesn't prove he was "up to no good" on that tragic night.
Trayvon's mother's outrage is warranted.
Ever since her young son was shot by a (potentially bigoted) neighborhood watchman, the powers-that-be, whether they be police officers or school officials, have thus-far vindicated George Zimmerman and shifted national attention away from Sanford, Florida.
This latest question about Trayvon's character and academic record may complicate this case -- but it may also provide point a garish spotlight directly at the most troubling American attitudes about race, youth and justice.
On one hand, Zimmerman will argue that that Trayvon's suspensions, magic marker graffiti and screwdriver/burglary tool prove he was dealing with a criminal thug -- but they may just obfuscate the real questions that Trayvon's shooting has unearthed -- questions about how our society views young, black men and how the media jumps at half-formed reports pertaining to ongoing investigations.
As Trayvon Martin's grieving mother so eloquently puts it: “They killed my son and now they are trying to kill his reputation."
She may be right.