The ‘Murican Dream (A Long Trayvon Martin Rant)

“Apparently, we are now at the point when a seventeen year old boy, unarmed, must make all the correct judgments during a confrontation with a grown man in order not to be shot to death.”

-David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire

I’ve been called a nigger, to my face, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen times in my life.  Clerks have followed me around stores countless times.  I’ve been automatically put in remedial English classes on 3 occasions and told by an English teacher that I have problems writing (it salted my opinion of my ability for years).  I’ve been stopped by police dozens of times, asked what I was doing, occasionally searched, yet never given a citation or a warning.  Once a cop pulled up when I was sitting in a car outside my house talking to a friend.  He checked my driver’s license three times (never hers, of course, she was white) on the grounds that there had been a robbery at a nearby convenience store.  He admitted when he first saw me that I didn’t fit the description except that I was black.  (Couldn’t she have been the getaway driver?)  The worst was the time the police pulled me over when I was driving home from work and drew guns on me.  The 1st cop asked for my registration, when I reached for it (it was in the glove-box) he blurted Whoa!Whoa!Whoa! at me while his partner aimed his gun at my head through the passenger window.  His intent was clear: Don’t move your hand another inch or you’re gonna get shot in the face. They kept me there for two hours, repeatedly checking my driver’s license and registration.  They said, once again, that my vehicle ‘matched a description,” but considering I was driving a grey Nissan pick up with blue side panels, you can count me  skeptical.

But I digress.  My point is, most black men have stories like these.  It’s just the reality of life in America.  I typically don’t give it much thought.

But I can’t treat this stuff so lightly anymore.  I mean, I live in a world where, as a black man, if being harassed and followed around is all you get, you’re actually doing okay.  Think about it; in any of the above instances, if I had been belligerent or, God-forbid physical, I might have been killed with impunity.

I mean, what the hell is that?  This is America, right?

We’re at the point now where a 12-year-old black kid needs a completely different set of instructions from a 12-year-old white kid.  If anything happens they won’t trust you if you’re black.  If you’re black and anything less than an absolute angel, you’re guilty.  And always run, because if you defend yourself successfully, the odds are you’re going to jail; if you defend yourself and lose, you could be dead.  And it will be your fault.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just being reactionary.  It’s got nothing at all to do with race.  It’s just happenstance.  Again.

The truth is, that while many of the details in the Trayvon Martin case have nothing to do with race, at its core, it’s all about race.  Race is what made George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon in the 1st place.  Race is why people are so quick to believe that Trayvon is a thug or must have initiated the physical confrontation that lead Zimmerman to shoot him.  Of course this is all based on Zimmerman’s account, which he had a month and a half to work on before being seriously questioned about it.

But I cannot possibly believe that if Zimmerman was black and Trayvon was white that Zimmerman’s story is the one law enforcement would go with any more than I believe that Sean Hannity and Fox News would help raise money for a black Zimmerman’s defense. Or that the police would give black  Zimmerman 44 days to get his story straight before arresting him. Or that a jury of six white women from a small southern town would sympathize with an armed black man patrolling the neighborhood and shooting an unarmed white teenager. Or that a 17-year-old white teenager would get racial profiled in his father’s gated community.

Don’t get me wrong, the judge’s instructions were horrendous; Zimmerman actually rejected Stand Your Ground in favor of a standard self defense claim. Yet the judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground and Juror B37 has since admitted that Stand Your Ground factored into the acquittal.  Simultaneously, the judged failed to instruct them  that in a standard self-defense claim Zimmerman needs to prove that he didn’t initiate the confrontation.

Thus, I believe the evidence, or lack thereof, leaves room for reasonable doubt, particularly with how self-defense laws currently stand.  Moreover, I think the Dept. of Justice going after Zimmerman is de facto double jeopardy, a violation of Zimmerman’s Constitutional rights.  And I don’t think two wrongs make a right.

The fact is, this whole thing stinks.  And it hurts.  If Trayvon’s death was a punch to the gut, the verdict is a kick in the balls.

I honestly can’t help feeling…unwelcome these days. It’s somewhat familiar feeling,  unfortunately.

I know.  Everyone has to deal with racism.  But let’s be honest here.  America has one of the great atrocities of human history on its books. 400 years of the most brutal, oppressive, and dehumanizing slavery ever known followed by another 100 years of legislative, systematic, and violent oppression.

Trayvon Martin’s death is just an echo of this legacy.

Consider that at no point in American history have blacks enjoyed equal standing with whites in terms of income, wealth, education quality or access, job opportunities, corporate leadership, or representation in government.  This on top of being historically red-lined by banks denying us access to home and business loans, subjected to gentrification, stopped, frisked, arrested and charged by law enforcement with much greater frequency, and punished more severely for similar crimes.  So let’s stop pretending that there’s an equivalency, it’s ignorant if not downright duplicitous.

The problem is that we’ve allowed cowards, liars, and bigots–bullies essentially–to set the terms of the discussion.  And bullies hate a fair fight.  They have instead created an environment in which there can be no discourse on the subject of race, save for the occasional rant by Chris Rock.

When we’re not hitting each other over the head with the race card, we’re denying it outright (don’t be fooled, this is just a means of deflecting the entire argument back), focusing on minutia completely out of context as evidence of egality (a.k.a. the “see, when viewed in a vacuum, this detail isn’t racist”), or simply burying our heads in the sand and proclaiming that we’ve arrived at a post-racial America.

It’s bullshit.  And shame on all of us for accepting it as anything else.

The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are about race.  A lot of things are about race, and will continue to be, because we refuse to face the issue.

I think about Germany, another nation with a Great Atrocity on its books.  They study the Holocaust as ugly and humiliating as it is.  They look at it and seek not only answers but solutions.  And soon after World War II they came to the conclusion that their government no longer has the right to take a person’s life.  Their current constitution, ratified in 1949, abolishes capital punishment.

That’s the kind of approach we need here in the United States.  Instead of meekly slapping injustice and discrimination away whenever it pops up, we should be actively hunting it down, rooting it out, and crushing it utterly.

More importantly, we can’t keep letting the people who are indifferent, weak-minded, self-interested, or hateful keep controlling the argument. There aren’t two equal sides to the issue.  There’s right and there’s wrong. We have to be determined to be on the right side of this issue forever more.  Not to make up for slavery, which at this point is impossible, but to ensure that inequality and discrimination are completely eliminated and bigotry of every stripe is banished to the shadows where it may wallow only in tremulous fear of the light.

Of course, this is only my dream.

We don’t actually live in a post-racialist America.  Toes are going to get stepped on, nerves will be frayed.  There are blatant racists and more significantly, oblivious ones.  Having your worldview shattered is an unnerving, occasionally violent thing.  It’s unpleasant.  But we can’t let that deter us.

We can no longer afford to be tolerant of intolerance.

Free.  Thought.

And boycott Florida.

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The Real Problem In The Trayvon Martin Shooting

Trayvon Benjamin Martin (Feb. 5, 1995 – Feb. 26, 2012)

I haven’t talked too much about the Trayvon Martin shooting  because I feel like the system needs to play out.  Like everyone else, I have very strong opinions on the subject, but facts are still coming out.  Unfortunately, as the story evolves, I see the real point of this tragic tale getting lost in the debate over the legality of a child’s murder.

Predictably, it has been politicized…mainly by Republicans.  The right has initiated and perpetuated a smear campaign against Trayvon Martin, blaming him for everything from wearing a hoodie, to confronting a man who was following him (i.e. standing his ground), to having been given a 10-day suspension from school.  Meanwhile, they tsk-tsk those calling for Zimmerman’s arrest because that’s “unfairly judging him in the media.”  This is a two-fold ridiculous assertion, because of the aforementioned hypocrisy, and because trying high profile cases in the court of public opinion is something of an American pastime, from the scopes monkey trial to Casey Anthony, often engaged in by these very same right-wing pundits.

The reason Republicans have been so staunch in their apparent support of George Zimmerman actually has nothing to do with Zimmerman at all.  They are defending Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which is the main culprit in this case.

George Zimmerman, 2005 mugshot (left) and more recently.

It makes sense to lay this all at George Zimmerman’s feet.  But, from what I can tell, Zimmerman is a paranoid kook who grabbed a gun and appointed himself defender of the neighborhood (Neighborhood Watch has come out and said he is in no way affiliated with them is not in accordance with their practices or philosophy).  There are paranoid kooks all over the world and sometimes they kill people because of that paranoia.  This is not to minimize Zimmerman’s actions.  If he is guilty, he should pay to the fullest extent of the law.

Others will charge that racism is the main culprit here, but I disagree.  Obviously, it is a significant factor.  If Zimmerman had shot a 17-year old, blonde-haired, white girl, I doubt Zimmerman’s defenders would find his self-defense excuse so credible.  That is to say nothing of the fact that Zimmerman would likely never have even followed a blonde-haired white girl in the first place.

Even the botched investigation by the primary officer on the scene and the apparent obstruction by the chief of police aren’t the core problems.  The interrogating officer wanted to arrest Zimmerman for murder.  There were people in the department doing their jobs that night.

Racism is a significant element but not the central issue of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

The real problem is that Florida has a law that changes the nature of  justifiable homicide.  Self defense is traditionally (and logically) an active defense where the burden of proof falls on the defendant, not the prosecution.   The presumption of innocence applies when someone denies committing the crime for which they are accused.  We don’t presume that person is guilty; it has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  When someone admits to committing a crime–as Zimmerman has admitted to killing Trayvon Martin–there is no presumption of innocence.  Zimmerman must prove he was defending himself–as he would have to prove his defense if he said chemicals from a toxic corn dog had rendered him temporarily insane.

Stand Your Ground turns all that on its head.  Under this preposterous law, if two guys get into a drunken brawl  and one guy pulls out a gun and shoots the other, he is now justified in doing so because he “felt threatened.”  In other words, the last man standing is presumed justified so long as he claims self defense.  He can’t even be charged–hence the furor.  If Zimmerman had been arrested and was due to stand trial, the outrage over this shooting would be greatly diminished.

April 26, 2005, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer (in red) makes sure Gov. Jeb Bush signs SB-436 (Stand Your Ground) into law as instructed.

Now, the reason Republicans will do anything–even smear the reputation of a 17-year old murder victim–to divert attention away from Stand Your Ground is because it’s their law.  In 2005, Florida’s Republican-led state legislature passed the bill and Republican governor Jeb Bush signed it into law (with an NRA lobbyist looking over his shoulder as he did).  And as usual, rather than admit that the law is poorly written or (gulp) poorly conceived, or even that the Trayvon Martin shooting goes outside of the law’s intent, the GOP doubles down on their support for the law no matter how heinous a position it puts them in.

This is because versions of Stand Your Ground laws currently exist in 21 states–all Republican-controlled at the time of passage–and ALEC, a particularly vile conservative PAC, is currently trying to make the law federal.  Statistics show that Stand Your Ground has led to a 200% increase in “legally” justifiable homicides in Florida.  The other Stand Your Ground states have seen a similar increase.

However, the facts are irrelevant.  The Republicans are not going to back down.  They can’t.  Otherwise, the NRA will eviscerate them, as the powerful lobbying group will not be derailed from their goal–in cooperation with the gun manufacturers–of ensuring that as many Americans as possible own and use as many guns as can be put out into the world.

For Sale SOLD.

This goes back to the corruption of our system, where the political parties cannot act in the interests of their constituents, much less their conscience.  They have an obligation to their campaign benefactors.  If they buck, or get out of line, they will be put down and replaced by someone who plays ball.  In that sense, it’s unfair to overly politicize the Republican position.  They got caught on the ugly end of this, the system gives them no room to move.  If not these Republicans, then those who will; only the names would change; the outcome would remain the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a single tear for any of these bought out lawmakers.

I just don’t want the point to get lost.

The real tragedy, of course,  is the death of Trayvon Martin.  In a sense, there can be no justice because their is no equivalent or recompense for the loss of his life.   But the underlying problem is that his killer may never even have to defend his actions in a court of law because of a corrupt political system that does not work for, represent, or even care about the people it is supposed t0 protect.

What I Hate About Republicans — Intro (Part 2)

So I’m coming back to this series of blogs discussing what I hate about Republicans discussing one point in each blog.  At some point, I plan to move on to what I hate about Democrats, politics in general, and the media (probably sometime in the fall of 2071 at this rate :().  What I initially expected to be 3 or 4 subjects quickly expanded as I started giving the topic some thought.    I limited it to 10:

  1. Bigotry
  2. Voter Suppression
  3. Edification of Greed
  4. Anti-Americanism
  5. Dominionism
  6. Anti-Intellectualism
  7. Objectivism
  8. Extreme Nationalism
  9. Discrimination
  10. Austerity

Obviously, I could write a book on each and every topic–and maybe that’s something I will ultimately do.   The problem with blogging in such a partitioned way is the loss of context which I think is crucial to understanding what Republicans are trying to do.

A good example of this is an element of social conservative philosophy I–and others on the left–call the Fall From Grace theory.  For many social conservatives, the Founding Fathers are, like Christ and the Disciples (or Adam and Eve), fetishized archetypes representing the purity and apex of an ideal–an ideal from which, according to conservatives, we have strayed.  Having fallen from grace we need to “get back to our core values” in order to right the ship.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  It should.  This is a key tenet of fundamentalism.

Obviously this is a nonsensical concept since America’s values have been evolving constantly since our nation’s inception (see slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, etc.).  Nor were our founding Fathers of one unified mind.  Their greatness lies in their ability to bring such strong willed and brilliant men of wildly disparate opinions not only to accord but  an accord that still stands among the great achievements in political thought.   But Republicans don’t overly concern themselves about being historically accurate (I’m looking at you, Newt).  In fact, they outright oppose it.  Tea Party Republicans in Tennessee are fighting to have slavery–and the fact that many Founding Fathers owned them–removed from history books (And don’t even think about mentioning Thomas Jefferson’s jungle fever).  They don’t want anything that makes America ‘look bad’ being taught to children.

This is Orwellian propaganda at its unmitigated worst.

Yet the reasoning behind this philosophy is synergistic.   It incorporates several Republican/conservative ideologies that I am critical of including anti-Americanism, extreme nationalism, and Christian fundamentalism.  This is a crystal clear snapshot of their vision for America.  But when you break the actions down into parts, you can lose the image of the whole.

The Republican party needs to be exposed for what it is: a party of fear and hate.

Force conservatives to either admit to that fear and hatred or distance themselves from it.  And if you want make the argument that the Democratic party has titanic problems as well, I’ll be the first to agree with you.  But the Democrats aren’t pushing for more war in Iran and Palestine.  Democrats aren’t legislating against LGBT Americans’ right to marry.   Democrats aren’t trying to take reproductive and contraceptive rights away from women.    Democrats aren’t pushing stupid laws like Florida’s stand-your-ground self-defense law, which let Trayvon Martin’s killer walk away from the scene of the crime without arrest, murder weapon in hand.  Democrats aren’t trying to re-segregate schools in North Carolina, or take the truth out of American history classes, or science out of education.  Democrats aren’t trying to prevent Muslims from building mosques and practice their religion freely.

These are things we should be talking about.  I don’t want to lose the general idea of Republican lunacy because I keep fixing my nose to each little point.

‘Cause there is a lot to hate about today’s Republican party.