Introduction

Introduction

Two photographs show people holding signs at public events in response to Trayvon Martin’s death. The signs include words and messages such as, “Justice,” “Wearing a hoodie is not a crime,” “Hoodies don’t kill people; guns kill people,” and, “Do I look suspicious?”
Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot to death at the hands of George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman, in 2012. Was his death the result of self-defense or racial bias? That question drew hundreds of people to rally on each side of this heated debate. (credit “signs”: modification of work by David Shankbone; credit “walk”: modification of work by "Fibonacci Blue"/Flickr)

Humans are diverse, and sometimes our differences make it challenging for us to get along with one another. A poignant example is that of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in a predominantly White neighborhood in 2012. Zimmerman grew suspicious of the boy dressed in a hoodie and pursued Martin. A physical altercation ended with Zimmerman fatally shooting Martin. Zimmerman claimed that he acted in self-defense; Martin was unarmed. A Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder nor of manslaughter.

Several groups protested what they deemed racial profiling and brutality against an unarmed Black male. Zimmerman, who has a Peruvian mother and a German father, was accused of being racist. Some media coverage was criticized for inflaming racial politics in their coverage. In spite of conflicts such as these, people also to work together to create positive change. For example, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, people rallied together and charitable donations skyrocket (Brown & Minty, 2006). This chapter explores how the presence of other people influences the behavior of individuals, dyads, and groups. Social factors can determine whether human behavior tends toward conflict or harmony.

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