News Column

What Trayvon Martin's Tweets Say About Him

April 9, 2012

Deborah Acosta

Trayvon Martin liked girls, hated high school and was planning for college.

He loved rap music and enjoyed cracking jokes on Twitter about street culture.

The 17-year-old high school junior known as "Slimm" tweeted thousands of times over a period of months. His last 140-character message came just two days before he was gunned down in a gated townhouse community in Sanford.

But in the racially divisive media hype that has followed the teenager's controversial killing, pages of nonsensical Twitter updates written back when Trayvon's biggest concerns were getting a call back from a girl are now being examined and scrutinized by bloggers around the nation.

Critics call attention to his tattoos, an empty marijuana bag found in his school book bag, and a photo that purports to show him with gold teeth -- "grills," in hip-hop parlance -- to show that he had a violent nature and that his family deliberately tried to keep this image from the public. His email accounts were hacked by white supremacists and his tweets were exposed by the conservative website The Daily Caller.

But friends say Trayvon wasn't into violence.

"When I heard about the tragedy and the initial story, I knew it wasn't true," said Ricaysha Milton, 17, who knew Trayvon from Carol City High School, and corresponded with him over Twitter. "Trayvon is the 'walk away' type of guy. He'd rather walk away than fight.''

By cross-referencing tweets from his account with those of people mentioned throughout, The Miami Herald was able to show the account was, in fact, Trayvon Martin's.

A review of the account, which has since been taken down, portrays a typical teenager with a sense of humor and a preoccupation with girls. He is sometimes vulgar when discussing sex, and he often quotes explicit song lyrics.

At times it's difficult to discern what's a song lyric and what's not. How many of Trayvon's tweets can be taken as literal is up for grabs.

There are certain things that can be gleaned about Trayvon from his tweets:

He loved the films Friday, starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, and Next Friday, both of which poke fun at street culture. He posted YouTube clips from the films.

He often made fun of street culture, such as the time he retweeted this joke: "If you use kool-aid as hair dye #youghetto."

He frequently retweeted viral jokes such as, "DOG, Y U NO EAT MY HOMEWORK?" and "GHETTO GIRL NAMED SHANEKAQUELA, Y U NO GET NORMAL NAME?"

He loved Tupac, DMX and Mystikal, all popular rap artists.

He often stayed up late at night waiting for girls to call or text. In one exchange, he singles out a girl to say he stayed up until 1 a.m. waiting for her call, to which she replied, "I did too call u at 12:18 !!!!!!"

Most of his tweets revolved around girls and sex.

"I'm READY for a REAL relationship I'm talking mama meetin and all," he said on Jan. 8, almost two months before his death.

He often retweeted Twitter account @iTeachSEXOLOGY, with tips on the physical acts of sex.

It's clear he wasn't happy at his high school, Dr. Michael D. Krop Senior High in Northeast Miami-Dade:

"Wuld I miss Krop?? Hell na f*--da skool, f*--da lunch, nd most of all f*--da faculty..... Ima miss sum of da students, mainly da babies ;)"

Despite the fixation with sex and girls, many of his postings reveal a childish side. He tweeted a picture of Scooby Doo gummy snacks and said he loved them so much he ate them constantly for lunch.

Mundane postings included references to Krispy Kreme doughnuts, ice cream, going to the movies and pulling all-nighters.

"He'd do anything to make you smile," Laquavia Smith, 17, told The Herald over Twitter. "He was the funny guy."

She had known him since the seventh grade, when they were in Highland Oaks Middle School together, and says she viewed him like a brother.

Once in eighth grade, he climbed atop a table and started dancing, just to make everyone laugh, she said.

"He was just a funny, goofy person who liked to joke around and make people laugh," said Courtnie Lee, another friend who corresponded with Trayvon over Twitter. Like Laquavia, Courtnie, 17, also met Trayvon in middle school.

Trayvon's Gmail account also surfaced briefly. The website Gawker was able to obtain a screen shot of what his inbox looked like before the account was deleted. The inbox showed almost every email was in reference to upcoming SAT exams, scholarship opportunities, and invitations to an open house at Saint Leo University, a Catholic liberal-arts school between Tampa and Orlando.

The question is whether Trayvon's digital footprint on sites such as Facebook and Twitter may factor into a potential case against his shooter, George Zimmerman.

Some experts say it does.

"Basically what it boils down to is... whether or not [Zimmerman's] conduct is reasonable,'' said University of Florida criminal law professor Kenneth Nunn.

"In order to determine that, you'd want to look at what [Trayvon's] behavior traits have been, or may have been over time. When I'm trying a case and I'm concerned about a person's character, I'm looking at anything."

But Lyrissa Lidsky, a professor of media law at the University of Florida, cautions that a person's online persona may not offer a true picture of who they are, especially among young people.

"I think you have to take these social media posts with a grain of salt, because they don't necessarily tell you what this teenager was like in person," she said.

One example: Trayvon's purported "grills." In his Twitter avatar, he appears to be wearing some, but friends say they'd never seen them before.

"I didn't know he had those until I saw the picture on the news," said Ricaysha Milton. "Every time I see him in public he never has them on."

Trayvon family representative Ryan Julison told The Miami Herald that Trayvon did not have permanent grills on his teeth.

"The persona you have online is not necessarily the same as the persona you have offline," Lidsky said.

"It's an artificial reality... It's almost like make-believe."



Source: (c)2012 The Miami Herald


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