For weeks now, in Sanford and elsewhere, crowds have rallied around the phrase "I am Trayvon Martin." But an undercurrent of controversy has surrounded a related question: Who was Trayvon Martin?
Amid reports of bad behavior at his South Florida high school, new photos of the teen have emerged online.
Since the controversy began, some bloggers and many website commenters have questioned why the primary images of Trayvon in the media have shown him younger than he was when he was killed at age 17. One new photo, which was the profile picture for a Twitter account linked to the teen, appears to show him closer to that age.
The photo was picked up this week by Yahoo! News and the Drudge Report, among others. It has also been posted to various online forums and blogs, under headings such as "the real Trayvon Martin."
The image shows the teen wearing what appears to be gold on his teeth. Others online show a pair of tattoos; one says "Sybrina," the first name of Trayvon's mother.
Supporters of Trayvon's family say the images, and reports about the teen's school misbehavior, are irrelevant to the shooting. Others, including some in the blogosphere, say the facts emerging contradict the clean-cut image of Trayvon his family has presented.
Kenny Irby, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute and an expert on visual journalism and diversity in media, said Tuesday that it is important for images used in media reports to be consistent with the subject — a story about a 17-year-old should feature a photo of the teen at that age, he said.
"I think it's fundamentally an issue of accuracy," Irby said. However, he said that those images, like individual facts, must be taken in context.
Many African American teens look up to musicians and athletes as symbols of success, he said.
"The grill," Irby says, referring to the removable metal dental jewelry popularized by hip-hop culture, "is fundamentally a part of that bad boy image."
Much like tattoos and the hoodie — a key symbol of the Trayvon Martin controversy — Irby says the grill "has been demonized in the media," and is associated with "the bad boys and the not so good guys."
"This has been a big part of how American society sees young black men," Irby said. "All of these images have assumptions."
Other images popping up on the internet show Trayvon at all stages of his life; as a child, as a Pop Warner football player, fishing with his family, etc. One, a Facebook photo which was among a batch released to local media this week, shows the teen in the embrace of his father, Tracy Martin.
Trayvon's death has sparked international outcry, and calls for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot him on Feb. 26. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense.
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