Dr. Boyce Watkins has been actively involved in racial commentary for a long time. He's been on CNN, he's written books, he runs a constantly updated website called Your Black World. That, combined with his status as a "scholar in residence" at Syracuse University, lends a lot of credibility to his column that the Huffington Post published Monday under the headline "Student Becomes Violent Over Trayvon Martin: Why This Is a Warning Sign to All of Us."
Unfortunately, the initial premise of the column is... wrong.
Almost certainly not an intentional lie, but certainly a fact that more than 15 seconds of digging would have shot down. Watkins, whose website declares him "the people's scholar," says Jonatha Carr, the FAU student who threatened to kill her teacher and hit a man during a class last week, "became violent in class during a discussion on the death of the late Trayvon Martin." He then spends 500-plus words explaining how Carr's outburst is indicative of a larger anger felt by African-Americans.
But, according to the professor teaching the evolution class, "a discussion on the death of the late Trayvon Martin" isn't even close to what happened.
"We did not mention anything about Trayvon Martin in class," Professor Stephen Kajiura said yesterday. "We were talking about sexual selection in peacocks."
Ah. Well, that's close enough, right?
Kajiura said he had just explained a tendency for female peacocks to pick mates with longer tail feathers when Carr asked "something to the effect of, 'Does evolution kill all people, or just black people?'"
"As I said, we discussed nothing of the sort, so I was a little confused by the question," Kajiura said.
I was likewise confused by the connection between Carr and Martin and why Watkins showed so little of his work when writing, "Punishing Jonatha without pursuing justice against the man who killed Trayvon Martin is yet another reminder of the polite oppression we've been forced to endure for the last 400 years... It's time for something to change, and it's time for that change to come by any means necessary."
Watkins did respond to an email request for comment but didn't say where he got the information about a class discussion.
"The reason I drew the connection with the case in Florida is because it was reported to me by my editors at news one that the day before the incident took place she was interviewed about the shooting," Watkins wrote in a email to the Pulp.
Carr was interviewed by CBS 12, but that's a lot different from a student freaking out during a class discussion about the case -- which is what Watkins said happened in the column.
"I don't think it's a stretch to connect her anger about racism to the standard anger that many African-Americans feel about racism in America which led them to respond the way they did to the shooting," Watkins said.
"Anger about racism"? Check out the video -- or better yet, the police report. There's no discernible mention of Trayvon Martin but plenty of references to phrases like "I will kill the fuck out of you" and "Jewish people who think this world is theirs which it's not, I will fucking kill you at the Holocaust events all over the world." Does it sound like anger about racism to you?
HuffPo (and NewsOne), I know "Trayvon Martin" is Google-search gold right now. As, in South Florida, is "Jonatha Carr." Hell, I put them both in the headline of this blog post because that's what people are searching for. But who's being helped by drawing conclusions under false pretenses?