A Very Racist Halloween

A Trayvon Martin blackface costume shows Internet culture at its worst.

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The holidays are often a time of stress and conflict, even as people engage in celebration. It's always at Thanksgiving or Christmas that someone reveals a family secret, or when someone gets drunk and tells someone else in the family exactly what he/she thinks of him, resulting in the excising of said drunken relative from the will.

But who knew Halloween could also bring out the worst in people?

Two adult men in Florida apparently thought it would be just a scream if they dressed up as slain African-American teenager Trayvon Martin and the man who shot him, George Zimmerman. The Trayvon costume featured a hooded sweatshirt with a bloody fake bullet hole in it, and the man who portrayed Martin, William Filene, 25, was in blackface. Meanwhile, a 22-year-old, identified by The Smoking Gun as Greg Cimeno, was wearing a sweatshirt that said "Neighborhood Watch" on it.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Trayvon Martin tragedy.]

The woman who posted the photo on her Facebook page (before making her social media sites private) is Caitlin Cimeno, and she is shown standing between the men. Cimeno, smiling, is fashioning a gun with his hand and pointing it at the faux-Trayvon's head.

The bigger question – what is wrong with people? – cannot be answered easily. But one has to wonder what has happened to modern culture that people are willing to expose their racism and appalling insensitivity as some sort of joke for everyone with access to the Internet to see. It's bad enough that they did it; the lack of any shame over it is even worse.

But then, Zimmerman himself seems to have trouble equating fame with notoriety. His lawyers convinced a jury that Zimmerman had acted in self-defense, so he paid no price for taking Martin's life. Even if that were true, wouldn't the decent thing to do be to spend some time reflecting on the terrible tragedy of it all? To spend some time each day thinking about the profound loss Martin's parents suffered? To examine one's own presumptions and suspicions, asking why Trayvon – wearing a hoodie and carrying candy and iced tea – appeared so suspicious?

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the Justice Department Pursue a Civil Rights Case Against George Zimmerman?]

Instead, Zimmerman has done a little victory lap of his own, visiting a gun manufacturer and posing there among the firearms. He helped a family get out of an overturned SUV. And he was pulled over for speeding in Texas, where he asked the officer who stopped him whether he recognized him.

We are sadly in an era when people are willing to debase and degrade themselves for attention. (Count up the number of versions of "Real Housewives" to get the picture). But debasing and disrespecting the victim of a terrible tragedy – whether it was a crime or not – is beneath any standard of humanity. One wonders what Cimeno and Filene have planned for New Year's.

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