Race and Violence, the European Way: For Every Sanford, Fla., There’s an Amsterdam, Utoya, Zwickau & Toulouse
The shooting of seventeen-year old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, a tragic loss of life, rapidly spiraled into a national spectacle involving a toxic mixture of race and violence. NBC added fuel to the flames by broadcasting an edited version of remarks by the alleged shooter, George Zimmerman, distorting his words in a way that seemed to corroborate the narrative of racial-profiling.
The White House also seized the opportunity to leap into the fray, adding a national political dimension to local crime enforcement, presumably to rally the Democratic base in the upcoming presidential election. The responses to the killing, whether in the media, politics, or the general public, have played out against the backdrop of our persistent anxieties about race, a legacy of the American past of slavery.
As American as the Martin shooting was, it is worthwhile to look across the Atlantic and to consider the growing frequency and virulence of parallel events there. Race and violence—and their politicization—are by no means exclusively U.S. phenomena. On the contrary, contemporary European societies display similar troubling tendencies, marked by the fragmentation of ethnically-mixed populations, the spread of extremist ideologies, a growing willingness among radicals to engage in violence, and the propensity of politicians to instrumentalize racial and ethnic anxieties for electoral purposes.