Thursday, July 18. 2013
Special Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman edition links:
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice:
Takes "a very hard look" at the applicable law, especially as formulated
in the judge's instructions to the jury, and concludes that Zimmerman's
"not guilty" verdict was pretty much what the system ordained.
I have seen nothing within the actual case presented by the prosecution
that would allow for a stable and unvacillating belief that George
Zimmerman was guilty.
That conclusion should not offer you security or comfort. It should
not leave you secure in the wisdom of our laws. On the contrary, it
should greatly trouble you. But if you are simply focusing on what
happened in the court-room, then you have been head-faked by history
and bought into a idea of fairness which can not possibly exist.
The injustice inherent in the killing of Trayvon Martin by George
Zimmerman was not authored by a jury given a weak case. The jury's
performance may be the least disturbing aspect of this entire affair.
The injustice was authored by a country which has taken as its policy,
for the lionshare of its history, to erect a pariah class. The killing
of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is not an error in programming.
It is the correct result of forces we set in motion years ago and have
done very little to arrest.
One need only look the criminalization of Martin across the country.
Perhaps you have been lucky enough to not receive the above "portrait"
of Trayvon Martin and its accompanying text. The portrait is actually
of a 32-year old man. Perhaps you were lucky enough to not see the
Trayvon Martin imagery used for target practice (by law enforcement,
no less.) Perhaps you did not see the iPhone games. Or maybe you missed
the theory presently being floated by Zimmerman's family that Martin
was a gun-runner and drug-dealer in training, that texts and tweets
he sent mark him as a criminal in waiting. Or the theory floated that
the mere donning of a hoodie marks you a thug, leaving one wondering
why this guy is a criminal and this one is not.
[ . . . ]
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of
American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system
malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our
juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this,
is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter
and wonder why we couldn't come back from twenty-four down.
I don't know that the verdict itself was racist, but the examples
in the next-to-last paragraph -- go to the article to get all the
links -- really are racist. Moreover, I think there is probable cause
to think that anyone who argues that Zimmerman was fully justified
or did the right thing and celebrates him as some sort of hero is
racist. Also that you will be able to get a good sense of how racist
Zimmerman is by whether he embraces or distances himself from those
people. (One sign is
this report on TPM: "Quite telling that in the immediate aftermath
of the Zimmerman verdict, Zimmerman's lawyer is going off about reverse
racism and his brother is suggesting that Martin was a drug dealer and
Jason Gubbels: Burned Baby Burned: The Riots That Weren't: Quotes
from right-wing hacks Pat Buchanan, Paul Huebl, Paul Joseph Watson,
Rush Limbaugh, and gullible journalist Adam Nagourney predicting
massive black rioting if Zimmerman is acquitted. Most people have a
tendency to project their own character flaws onto others, and that's
a big chunk of what's going on here: these right-wingers are bitter,
violent, paranoid minds, so they assume everyone else; moreover, they
subconsciously understand that blacks have good reason to be bitter
and paranoid, but don't get that violence only plays into the hands
of the forces capable of the most violence -- the state. Or maybe
they just hope they can change the story away from self-appointed
vigilante acosts and murders harmless black teenager and gets away
with it, as whites have done for hundreds of years down South.
David Weigel: Who's Disappointed About the Lack of Mass Zimmerman
Verdict Riots?, which focuses on the Drudge Report.
Ed Kilgore: Cohen Goes All Archie Bunker: That's Richard Cohen,
Washington Post columnist, past winner of (and perennial
contender in) Alex Pareene's Hackathon, whose column on the Zimmerman
verdict amounts to a defense brief of racial profiling, both by
police and by self-appointed vigilantes like Zimmerman. Kilgore:
You'd think that in cogitating so hard on this situation it might
have occurred to Cohen that in the equation -- vigilante + gun +
black hoodie-wearing teenager + fight = "tragic" but not culpable
slaying -- the first two items might have stood out to him as a
problem. But no, we are left to infer, the danger posed by these
savage young black men justifies not just racial profiling and
deadly force deployed by trained and sworn public authorities,
but by anyone "understandably" suspecting young black men of
Let's be clear about this much: racial profiling is racist,
and for the most part it is illegal. Police can get away with it,
to a point, because they're police, and also because pretty much
everyone recognizes that they have to submit to the police, even
when it's clearly unwarranted harrassment. Maybe, once you're
cleared and released, you can go file a complaint and argue that
the cop harrassed you solely on the basis of your race, but you
can't do that on the spot, and for most people it's not worth
the trouble. So the police to a large extent can get away with
racial profiling. But George Zimmerman wasn't police. He had no
authority to follow and accost Martin, and Martin had no reason
or obligation to submit to Zimmerman. In fact, had Martin been
armed and shot and killed Zimmerman after the latter accosted
him, he most likely would also have been acquitted on grounds
of self-defense, if indeed he was charged (he would have had a
much better case than Zimmerman did).
That Cohen justifies what Zimmerman did as "racial profiling"
shows that he assumes that Zimmerman had a right to police his
claimed turf. The only explanation for such an assumption is
racism. If the DoJ decides to charge Zimmerman with violating
Martin's civil rights, they can use Cohen's testimony.
For more on Cohen, see
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Banality of Richard Cohen and Racial Profiling:
What you must understand is that when the individual lives of those
freighted by racism are deemed less than those who are not, all other
inhumanities follow. That is the logic of Richard Cohen. It is the
logic of Barack Obama's potential head of the DHS [Ray Kelly, NYC
police commissioner, "the most prominent advocate of profile our
current pariah classes -- black people and Muslim Americans"]. This
logic is not new, original or especially egregious. It is the logic
of the country's largest city. It is the logic of the American state.
It is the logic scribbled across the lion's share of our history.
And it is the logic that killed Trayvon Martin.
Richard Florida: It's Not Just Zimmerman: Race Matters a Lot in
'Stand Your Ground' Verdicts: It makes perfect sense to me that
had Martin as well as Zimmerman been armed, and had Martin managed
to shoot Zimmerman first, he would have been justified under the
self-defense doctrine, with or without the "Stand Your Ground" law.
Of course, I'm assuming the law is neutral regarding race, but lots
of people think race makes a difference, and I'm as aware as any
of you that's been the case in the past -- indeed, we can cite many
cases where white murderers far more premeditated than Zimmerman
have gotten off scot free. Florida provides some statistics and
charts that show that race still does matter:
Based on this new analysis, Roman tells me via email that: "The
criminal justice system is rife with racial disparities. From
searches of motor vehicles during traffic stops, to stop-and-frisk
encounters and arrests, to sentencing and parole decisions, black
Americans -- especially young black males -- come in contact with
the police and courts far more often than their share of the
population would predict. The chasm in justifiable homicide
rulings, however, is vastly larger than other disparities and
deserves intense scrutiny."
The Zimmerman verdict is clearly not an isolated incident. It
instead reflects the deep and enduring ways that race has become
entangled with how America views, treats, and prosecutes crime --
a problem that is not going away.
William Saletan: You Are Not Trayvon Martin: Almost didn't bother
with this one -- Saletan was a Hackathon finalist, although he did
lose to Cohen -- and it starts out: "His death wasn't about race,
guns, or your pet issue. It was about misjudgment and overreaction --
exactly what we're doing now to the verdict." Maybe, but those "pet
issues" are real issues, and are more important than this specific
case. Still, this much is worth adding to the record:
Zimmerman is guilty, morally if not legally, of precipitating the
confrontation that led to Martin's death. He did many things wrong.
Mistake No. 1 was inferring that Martin was a burglar. In his 911
call, Zimmerman cited Martin's behavior. "It's raining, and he's
just walking around" looking at houses, Zimmerman said. He warned
the dispatcher, "He's got his hand in his waistband." He described
Martin's race and clothing only after the dispatcher asked about
them. Whatever its basis, the inference was false.
Mistake No. 2 was pursuing Martin on foot. Zimmerman had already
done what the neighborhood watch rules advised: He had called the
police. They would have arrived, questioned Martin, and ascertained
that he was innocent. Instead, Zimmerman, packing a concealed firearm,
got out and started walking after Martin. Zimmerman's initial story,
that he was trying to check the name of the street, was so laughable
that his attorneys abandoned it. He was afraid Martin would get away.
So he followed Martin, hoping to update the cops.
Mistake No. 3 was Zimmerman's utter failure to imagine how his
behavior looked to Martin. You're a black kid walking home from a
convenience store with Skittles and a fruit drink. Some dude in a
car is watching and trailing you. God knows what he wants. You run
away. He gets out of the car and follows you. What are you supposed
to do? In Zimmerman's initial interrogation, the police expressed
surprise that he hadn't identified himself to Martin as a neighborhood
watch volunteer. They suggested that Martin might have been alarmed
when Zimmerman reached for an object that Zimmerman, but not Martin,
knew was a phone. Zimmerman seemed baffled. He was so convinced of
Martin's criminal intent that he hadn't considered how Martin, if
he were innocent, would perceive his stalker.
This inability to understand what other people are thinking is
one of the great problems of our (or probably any) time. Saletan
then goes on to blame Martin for referring to Zimmerman as a
"creepy-ass cracker," arguing that both were in the wrong for
"racial profiling." Maybe, but only one of the two had a gun and
an itchy trigger finger, and only one presumed the right to poke
his nose into the other's business.
Steve M: I'm Not Sure Zimmerman Will Become a Full-Fledged Right-Wing
Zimmerman is already a hero of a sort to a certain segment of the public,
which thinks he did absolutely the right thing and got crucified for it.
But for him to become a real right-wing rock star, I think he's going to
have to own his hatred of Trayvon Martin. He's going to have to go out
in public and boast of what he did. He's going to have to do things like
show up at Ted Nugent shows waving his gun in sync with Ted waving one
of his, in a sort of NRA version of the twin-guitar attack. He's going
to have to be defiant.
He hasn't looked that way through the trial. He's looked sheepish.
Yeah, he won, and the wingnut population of America likes the fact that
liberals' and African-Americans' faces were rubbed in the verdict, but
he doesn't come off as having rubbed our faces in it, just because he
looked cowed during the trial. Right-wingers want him to seem
angry. [ . . . ]
I think that's Zimmerman's future -- being a sad man who briefly
became a hero to angry people for doing a horrible thing, but who,
fortunately, will never fully exploit the situation.
M. makes a comparison to Bernhard Goetz, "the 1980s vigilante
who shot four young men he said were attempting to mug him on the
New York subway in 1984." He was acquitted of attempted murder,
and was lauded as a hero for a while, but has scarcely been heard
from since then. Zimmerman certainly has reason to lie low now:
the possibility that the feds will bring civil rights charges
against him, and the greater likelihood that he will be sued in
civil court for wrongful death damages. But several things make
him less likely to crawl under a rock than Goetz (who did some
jail time for having the gun, whereas Zimmerman gets his back):
the political climate, for one. Good chance he'll brush up with
the law in the future, and he's unlikely to be as lucky next
Other links of some interest:
Finally, there's this
Dexter/Zimmerman image. If you don't immediately get the joke,
you probably don't know Dexter, a TV show now in its eighth
season where the hero is a psychopathic serial killer who's not
such a bad guy because he's been programmed only kill other serial
killers who otherwise can't be brought to justice. Some debate as
to whether Zimmerman is really worth Dexter's attention -- after
all, he isn't really a serial killer . . . yet!
Dexter, whose hero, by the way, works as a cop, is one of
many examples of how far US popular culture has gone toward embracing
real criminality. I date this back to a 1968 television series called
It Takes a Thief -- I recall especially that the hero there
used to describe prison time as "graduate school." He was released
from jail to steal things for US government "secret intelligence
agency." Of course, by then characters in I Spy (1965-68) and
Mission Impossible (1966-73), not to mention the real life CIA,
were doing similar things (admittedly, the CIA not as competently). It
wasn't long after (1974) until Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson in Death
Wish) was roaming the streets of New York hoping to get mugged so
he could "defend himself" and kill the malefactors. I don't recall the
first time I saw a movie where clearly identified good guys managed
to get rich by ripping off drug dealers -- there must have been dozens
of them, with some coming undone and others living happily ever after.
Eventually you get to something like Breaking Bad where it
ceases to even matter whether the hero is evil, except insofar as
you wonder how evil can he really get, and how much of it you can
stand. (I gave up on that one after the first season.)
I don't blame popular culture. Rather, I think it reflects the
nation's declining moral state, as exemplified by the CIA, the FBI,
the Vietnam War, Watergate, the War on Drugs, Iran-Contra, the War
on Terror, Obama's drone war and secrecy prosecutions, alongside
which we've allowed and encouraged business to be ever more greedy
and rapacious, while the vast expansion of gambling shows how we've
come to view money as a plaything rather than a measure of work --
a confluence of greed and violence that an earlier America strived
against, but which are celebrated today.
And that's the world that made George Zimmerman, and some people --
I've already lost that Ann Coulter link, but you know she's one --
regard him as a hero. I'd worry more about them than Zimmerman.