Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Suspect Was Black and Looked Suspicious

Trayvon Martin was 17. On February 26, he walked to the store and then headed back home with his Skittles and a can of ice tea. George Zimmerman, captain of the neighborhood watch,(an unofficial group as it was not properly registered), followed Martin, declaring to the 911 operator, "This guy looks like he's up to no good, or he's on drugs or something."

Zimmerman never said what there was about Trayvon Martin that made him deem Trayvon to look suspicious. The operator told Zimmerman that there was no need for him to continue to follow Martin as law enforcement was being dispatched to check out the suspicious looking person. 

We know that Trayvon was aware of Zimmerman following him because he told a female friend with whom e was chatting on the phone that there was a guy following him. At some point, Zimmerman and Martin interacted. Trayvon Martin, 6' 4" tall and 140 pounds, died from a gunshot wound inflicted by Zimmerman,who said that he killed Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman outweighed Trayvon by at least 80 pounds and Trayvon Martin was unarmed. 

The investigating police officer said that Zimmerman had a bloody nose. Zimmerman was treated at the scene but said that he didn't need to go to a hospital. Zimmerman was allowed to go home. So far, there has been no arrest.

I don't know that Zimmerman is guilty of murder but neither do I know that he is not. Local law enforcement did not treat the site of Trayvon's death as a crime scene and didn't conduct the usual forensic tests that help determine if a crime has taken place. The Sanford police chief said that Zimmerman had the right to defend himself under Florida's Stand Your Ground law. The section upon which Zimmerman's claim of self-defense apparently relies is subsection (3):
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be 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 to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
As many Americans clamor for Zimmerman's arrest, an effort to paint Trayvon as a juvenile delinquent has arisen among Zimmerman's supporters. No matter what offenses are attributed to Trayvon Martin, none of them are relevant to the events that resulted in his death. This type of character assassination of the victim reminds me of the efforts often made to discredit rape victims by insisting that it was the victim's clothing or behavior that made her a target of the rapist. It doesn't matter what Trayvon wore or his school suspensions. It wouldn't matter if he was a gangsta selling pot. The issue is did Zimmerman have a reasonable fear for his life that justified his taking of Trayvon's life?

To answer that question, a jury needs to examine evidence of all of the events of that evening. Was Zimmerman justified in following Trayvon? Who initiated the confrontation? What about Trayvon's state of mind? He realized that he was being followed, he told his girlfriend that there was someone following him. Would it be reasonable for Trayvon to fear for his own safety? Did he not have a right to defend himself based on a reasonable fear that the stranger who approached him meant to do him bodily harm? Would there have been any type of altercation if Zimmerman had not continued to follow Trayvon after the 911 operator expressly advised him not to do so?

Are we to accept that Florida's Stand Your Ground law only applied to Zimmerman, that only he was allowed to act based on a reasonable fear of imminent death or bodily harm? Martin was approached by a stranger who was following him and that stranger had a gun. Isn't it reasonable that Martin would defend himself and try to take the gun? If this did indeed occur, then it was Martin who was threatened and who was fighting for his life. Martin didn't bring the gun to the fight. Seems plausible that Trayvon Martin was perfectly justified in attempting to disarm Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was not a law enforcement officer. Martin had no reason to follow any command that Zimmerman gave him. According to Zimmerman's own account, he must have drawn his gun at some point, otherwise how did Martin know that he had a gun and attempt to take it? It is a valid argument that Martin was the one with a reasonable fear that his life was in danger and any damage that he did to Zimmerman was in self-defense.

I cannot declare Zimmerman guilty or not guilty, that is a task for a jury. However, I do know that it is unacceptable that black men are viewed as suspicious and a threat simply for walking through a neighborhood wearing a hoodie. Black parents should not have to warn their children not to wear certain clothing and to be careful when walking on a public street not to frighten white people with their very presence. When I was a child, my mother taught us rules. We knew not to try and sit down at the lunch counter at Woolworths or Roses. We knew better than to look a white person directly in the eye and to always step aside if a white person wanted to use the sidewalk even if it meant stepping into the rain filled gutter next to the curb. Any black person over the age of 50 who grew up in the south is likely to have had similar experiences. 

President Obama said that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. Newt Gingrich, raised in the south, went stupid and declared that the President's observation was racist. Gingrich is a fool who intentionally pretends to have forgotten the past. If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon. What frightens and angers me is that to people like George Zimmerman, my son would also look suspicious and deserving of killing. I have no doubt that was the point of the president's observation.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Limbaugh, Santorum, and that Palin Woman

There is so much going on in the world that it is difficult to settle on one thing to write about. 

Some topics have already had more than enough attention. Rush Limbaugh for example--how many ways are there to say that he is reprehensible and shouldn't be allowed on the airwaves without a keeper?  Of course, Ms. Fluke isn't the only object of Limbaugh's derision. I see no evidence that he has learned anything from the unfavorable critiques of his sexist and vulgar attacks on Ms. Fluke. 

For the last three years Rush has delighted in referring to President Obama as a man-child, and on this past Thursday's show (03/08/12), Rush called the President a boy.  Limbaugh is 61-years-old, definitely old enough to have direct knowledge of Jim Crow laws. Boy is a racist term used in the Jim Crow era to belittle black men and Rush knows this. 

Limbaugh was up to his        usual shtick, mocking the  way he thinks that liberals regard Republicans, "You notice how everything Republicans do is venal? Everything is calculated for political advantage? Everything is done to try to harm our little boy  president, Barack Obama." Ironically, as Rush has lost a lot of his paying sponsors, he insulted the President in between playing PSAs for the United Negro College Fund. The entire text may be found at the Hinterland Gazette. For the full Limbaugh effect, listen to the clip from his show.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum could also use someone to whisper,"Hush,"every time he attempts to share his views on anything to do with women, sex, or contraception. Unless Santorum has a revelation to make, I assume that he does not have a womb and I can think of no valid reason for him to attempt to regulate mine or any other woman's.

Santorum is not alone in his fixation on women's reproductive health and rights. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 19 states (number may have gone up, the Institute's report was released while 10 state legislatures were still in session) passed a total of 80 laws restricting abortions, more than double the number of restrictive abortion laws passed in 2005 the second highest year with 34 laws passed.  All total, in 2011, states enacted 162 new provisions related to reproductive health and rights. In addition to imposing new restrictions to limit access to legal abortions, the new laws also reduce or eliminate family planning funding to such organizations as planned parenthood,and attempt to prohibit private insurers from provide coverage for reproductive health issues such as contraceptives.

All of the candidates need to be forbidden from invoking the name of God or Jesus as a campaign strategy. No more talk of religious freedom and contraception or abortion in the same sentence. Religious freedom has nothing to do with imposing one set of religious beliefs on everyone. You believe what you want and I get to believe what I want and that may mean that I don't believe in anything. Freedom means that we all are free to make our own choices not that some people get to dictate which road that we must all follow. 

Then there's Sarah Palin who has announced that President Obama wants to return the days before the Civil War. Sarah, you need to use your brain for something other than occupying that space between your ears. Your ignorance is astounding and it is revealed every time that you open your mouth. No this is not libel. Libel consists of publishing untruthful statements defamatory to the character of another to a third party. Prove to me that her brain functions.