Trayvon Martin cartoon causes uproar on UNC-Chapel Hill campus

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An editorial cartoon illustrating a slain Trayvon Martin caused a stir on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill March 29.

The Daily Tar Heel, the university’s daily independent newspaper, published an editorial cartoon on depicting George Zimmerman saying, “This wasn’t about race. I shot because I felt threatened. Skittles are full of high fructose corn syrup,” to a police officer while standing over a dead body representing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The picture was not drawn by editorial staff members at the Daily Tar Heel, but came from syndicated wire service Tribune Media Services. According to the Daily Tar Heel Opinion Editor, Maggie Zellner, cartoons from this service are only from the wire service; a staff cartoonist is unable to draw one. Zellner said she did not choose the cartoon and didn’t see it until after it was published.

This cartoon ran in the newspaper one day after university students, professors and other community members held a solidarity march wearing hooded sweatshirts to express disapproval of racial profiling, and the Sanford police department for what they called poor handling of the case.

The Daily Tar Heel received backlash from readers through letters to the editors, Twitter and other social media who thought the cartoon was distasteful and offensive. The Daily Tar Heel staff had a mixed reaction to the backlash.

Zellner sent an email of apology to UNC-Chapel Hill’s Black Student Movement in which she apologized for running the cartoon and took full responsibility for what she called, “a combination of bad management, poor judgment, and a breakdown in our chain of command,” and said the paper planned to address the cartoon extensively in the next few issues of the Daily Tar Heel with a letter from the Editor-in-Chief Steven Norton, a column from UNC Black Student Movement President-elect Alexis Davis and a larger than normal “Letters to the Editor” section.

Norton issued a statement to readers on the newspaper’s website standing by the publication of the cartoon. He said, “I believe it raises legitimate points on the Martin case by calling attention to the absurdity of the situation: Zimmerman’s defense, the police response (or lack thereof), and Florida’s so-called stand your ground law.”

Shortly after the publication of the editorial cartoon, students at UNC arranged a letter-writing campaign through social media to protest the publication of the depiction of Martin’s dead body next to an open bag of Skittles. Zellner attended the meeting to listen to the grievances of concerned students and apologize for the publication of the considerably offensive cartoon.