Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A blueprint for murder

Much has now been said about the Trayvon Martin murder. But Charles Blow, who has been a leader in raising this issue – see here - has another powerful and sad column Monday in the Times...

If one wants to see the madness of American racism (the only thing, along with sexism and homophobia, that keeps the “Republican” Party afloat), this is it…

The Democrats are also a party of the elite and cater to such policies.

The so-called “Stand your Ground” law is a license to kill as Gene Robinson describes below (h/t Peter Minowitz). But this killer wasn’t “standing his ground.” If a man following a slim teenager – a big man armed with a gun – can get out of an SUV and shoot him down yards from his house and walk away, this country has no laws…

He was hunting; Trayvon was trying to escape him…

If the "Stand your Ground" law were other than racism, Trayvon was the one with the right to stand his ground (and to go home).

The lies of Zimmerman were, as the Martin family said, released by the police to assassinate Trayvon’s reputation after the bullet ripped his body. Charles Blow has spoken with the family because of the public outcry. Have the Sanford police?

A fiercer movement from below which connects what happened to Trayvon with the prison/probation complex (see here, here, here, and here) and how it reflects all of us and all of our children – how any of us would feel if our child were subjected to such a death, his last cry for help ringing out into the night - is very important.

A Mother’s Grace and Grieving
Published: March 25, 2012

“They called him Slimm.”

That is what Sybrina Fulton, the mother of the slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, told me people called her son because he was so thin.

I talked with her Saturday in a restaurant near her home, four weeks to the day after George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., shot Trayvon in the chest and killed him. Trayvon was unarmed, carrying nothing more than candy and a drink.

Ms. Fulton brought her own mother with her, Trayvon’s grandmother, and we talked for nearly an hour over iced tea and lukewarm coffee.

His mother lights up when she shows me pictures of Trayvon on her phone, even managing an occasional smile that lifts the shadow of grief and brightens her face. He was a gangly boy, all arms and legs but little weight, nearly six feet three inches tall but only 140 pounds and with the cherubic face of a boy years younger.

She grows distant when she talks about her loss, occasionally, seemingly involuntarily, wrapping her hands gently around her mother’s arm and resting her head on her mother’s shoulder like a young girl in need of comfort. The sorrow seems to come in waves.

She and her mother paint a portrait of an all-American boy, one anyone would be proud to call his or her own. He liked sports — playing and watching — and going to the mall with his friends. The meal his mother made that he liked most was hamburgers and French fries. “And brownies,” his grandmother chimed in, “with lots of nuts.”

He was a smart boy who had taken advanced English and math classes, and he planned to go to college.

He was a hard worker who earned extra money by painting houses, and washing cars and working in the concession of the Pee Wee football league on the weekends. He also baby-sat for his younger cousins, two adorable little girls ages 3 and 7, whom the family called the bunnies, and when he watched the girls he baked them cookies.

The only fight his mother could ever recall his having was with his own brother when Trayvon was about 4 and the brother was 8. They were fighting for her attention, and it wasn’t even a real fight. “They were wrestling. It was so funny,” she said with a smile.

This hardly fits the profile of a menacing teen who would attack a grown man unprovoked, but that is exactly what Zimmerman contends.

Zimmerman’s statement, as related by police, says he was following the boy but “he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon.”

Trayvon’s personal account of who initiated the physical encounter is forever lost to the grave, but the initiation is likely to be the central question in the case.

To believe Zimmerman’s scenario, you have to believe that Trayvon, an unarmed boy, a boy so thin that people called him Slimm, a boy whose mother said that he had not had a fight since he was a preschooler, chose that night and that man to attack. You have to believe that Trayvon chose to attack a man who outweighed him by 100 pounds and who, according to the Sanford police, was wearing his gun in a holster. You have to believe that Trayvon chose to attack even though he was less than a hundred yards from the safety of the home where he was staying.

This is possible, but hardly sounds plausible.

The key is to determine who was standing his ground and defending himself: the boy with the candy or the man with the gun. Who was winning the fight is a secondary question.

That said, we’ll have to wait for details of the investigation to be revealed to know for sure. But while we wait, it is important to not let Trayvon the person be lost to Trayvon the symbol. He was a real boy with a real family that really loved him.

And now he is gone from his mother forever, only able to stare out at her as a shining face on a cellphone. She has no home videos of Trayvon. She doesn’t even have voicemail messages from him saved. The only way that she could now hear Trayvon’s voice would be to call his phone and listen to his answering message, but she dare not do it. “If I hear his voice, I think I’m going to scream.”

Every night she says she dreams of him. Every morning she says she thinks he’s going to walk through the door and say, “Mom, I’m here. You were dreaming. It’s not true. I’m not dead. I’m here,” and give her a hug and a kiss.

And the bunnies — they still don’t understand where he is. They’re still asking for Trayvon, the cousin who came over and baked them cookies.

Repeal the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, Published: March 26

The “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and other states should all be repealed. At best, they are redundant. At worst, as in the Trayvon Martin killing, they are nothing but a license to kill.

Police in Sanford, Fla., cited the statute as grounds for their decision not to file charges against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. Martin, 17, was strolling home from a convenience store, armed with an iced tea and a bag of Skittles, when Zimmerman — a neighborhood watch volunteer and wannabe police officer — spotted him and decided he looked suspicious.

Zimmerman, who is 28, happened to be armed with a handgun. He followed Martin, despite instructions from a 911 operator not to do so. They had an encounter that left Zimmerman suffering from minor injuries and Martin dead on the ground from a gunshot wound. While we don’t know exactly what happened, we know that Zimmerman initiated the contact by stalking a young man who had done nothing more sinister than walk down the street wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

Police decided to release Zimmerman without charges because of the Stand Your Ground law. The relevant part of the statute says that “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked . . . has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.”

Zimmerman claimed self-defense, was given the benefit of the doubt required by law and released.

This was a shocking travesty, as we now know. The “person who [was] not engaged in an unlawful activity and who [was] attacked” was Martin. Under the Florida law, as I read it, he had every right to feel he was in “imminent peril of death or great bodily harm” from the stranger who was following him. He had every right to confront Zimmerman — to stand his ground — and even to use deadly force, if necessary, to defend himself.

Imagine that Martin, not Zimmerman, had been carrying a legal handgun — and that it was Zimmerman who ended up dead. The law should have compelled police to release Martin, a young African American in a hoodie, without charges.

Somehow, I doubt that would have happened.

The consensus view, which I’ve heard expressed by supporters of Stand Your Ground, is that police were wrong to extend the law’s self-defense immunity to Zimmerman so quickly without a more thorough investigation — and that, given what we have learned about Zimmerman’s pursuit of Martin, the law does not seem to apply.

But why does Florida, or any other state, need this statute? State laws already allowed the use of deadly force in self-defense. By making explicit that the person who feels threatened has no obligation to retreat, all the state Legislature accomplished was to lessen the odds that a hot-tempered confrontation would be allowed to cool down without violence.

The Florida law took effect in 2005. Five years later, the Tampa Bay Times said that reports of justifiable homicide across the state had tripled. The newspaper found cases in which the protection of Stand Your Ground had been invoked by persons who felt — perhaps with good reason, perhaps not — that they faced imminent attack in their homes. Those incidents were at least in keeping with the intent of the legislation. But the newspaper also found the law being used to excuse violence committed during fights at house parties, disputes between neighbors and disagreements in public parks.

“Gangsters are using this law to have gunfights,” state’s attorney Willie Meggs told the Times.

Following Florida’s lead, about 20 states have enacted similar legislation. I doubt you will be surprised to hear that the National Rifle Association has lobbied hard to get these dangerous and unnecessary statutes approved.

These laws encourage hotheads to go into potential confrontations with loaded firearms. They give permission to shoot first and ask questions later. This may be good for gun manufacturers, funeral homes and the NRA, but it’s tragic for justice in America.


Anonymous said...

Very well written & comprehensive...poignant quotes from the interview with Trayvon's Mother....this is as tragic and sad as it gets! I keep thinking that racism (and as I see it this is just blatant racism at work in this case!) is going to improve with the passing of each older generation....but oh my goodness....what a powerful thing hatred is!!(whether founded in truth or totally false!) Thank you for the good read here!!

Alan Gilbert said...

Al, thank you very much. The huge fight against racism did result in the election of Obama, but of course, there is the prison/probation system and the racist countercurrent (listen to the "Republican" candidates talk about Obama as a foreigner...) all the way down to this murder. Hatred is a powerful thing. But a movement that fights on the Trayvon - we are all Trayvon - can make a difference.

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