I’ve been following closely the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing. Judging by the heat being generated by public outrage, George Zimmerman should get ready for an arrest and homicide trial. At the least he’s facing a manslaughter/negligent homicide charge. And a separate federal civil rights violation charge is not out of the question.
Several things about what happened that fateful night on February 26 intrigue me. But the one that towers over the rest is whether at one point George utters a barely audible racial epithet during his conversation with the police dispatcher. Those who have listened to the tape before and after it was digitally enhanced have reached no consensus on whether he did. I have listened to the tape unenhanced and believe George did utter a racial epithet. What’s more, even his “friend,” Joe Oliver, does not rule out this possibility.
So, let’s start with Joe Oliver’s perspective and go from there. Joe says that he’s listened to the 911 tape several times, and that he sometimes hears a hard “g” and sometimes a hard “c.” Either way, Joe implies the word George used rhymes with “noon.” Thus Joe is on record as concluding that either George said “fucking goon” or “fucking coon.” Curiously Joe never stated in the TV interview I saw that he (Joe) ultimately concluded the word George in fact uttered was “goon.” What a friend!
Is it likely that George called Trayvon a goon? I don’t think so. The American Heritage Dictionary, College Edition, 1976, defines a goon as “a thug hired to commit acts of intimidation or violence.” It also states the term is used as slang for a “stupid or oafish person.” On the internet a goon has several other, more comtemporary meanings as defined by the Urban Dictionary: 1. a real man or nigga; 2. low-level gang member; 3. cheap wine; 4. someone hired to rough someone up; 5. a mind-numbing annoyingly irritating person; and 6. a slow-witted or goofy person.
None of these definitions appears to fit the context of George’s state of mind at the time he uttered his nearly inaudible phrase on the tape. He didn’t know Trayvon, so it’s unlikely he was passing judgment on Trayvon’s intelligence—unless he thought the so-called suspicious young male was stupid for trying to get away from him by running. But George had already conceded on the tape that “they always get away.” So, I would think that George would have thought that Trayvon’s running away from him could prove successful, not a stupid, futile act. Nowhere does George indicate that he thinks Trayvon was a paid enforcer or intimidator and, therefore, the classic “goon” as defined in most dictionaries. Moreover George never indicates in his conversation with the SPD that he thought Trayvon was a gang member, irritatingly annoying, or goofy. Finally, it’s hard to imagine that George thought of Trayvon as a “real man” in the machismo sense. So, in light of George’s likely state of mind as he stalked Trayvon, it defies logic that he would have used the word goon to describe Trayvon or his actions that fateful evening of February 26.
That then leaves the c-word, a derogatory term for a black person. As I previously stated, George’s friend, Joe Oliver, is on record as having said he hears George utter it or the g-word on the tape. If it ain’t the g-word, which defies logic, Joe, it has to be the c-word. Right?
N.B. Does uttering a racial epithet make George a racist? Not necessarily. President Obama explained this possible dichotomy using his white, Kansas-bred grandmother, Virginia Dunham, as an example. In a speech during his 2008 presidential campaign he described her as “…a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or etnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”