Monthly Archives: July 2013

An American Tragedy

I would not submit yet another commentary on the Zimmerman-Martin controversy were it not that midst a maelstrom of comments about the case, the root of prejudice remains unexamined.
On the heels of that case, we have people screaming at each other without having followed the details of the trial; NBC temporarily getting away with severe editing of a spoken transcript by simply deleting a word or two, thereby leading us to believe that Mr. Zimmerman was unquestionably prejudiced; and the President making an inflammatory statement to the effect of, “Thirty-five years ago, I could have been Trayvon Martin,” later adjusted to “Tayvon Martin could have been my son.”
These instances are just a few samples of a lynch mob mentality that rivals the infamy of the KKK. Add to that the Black Panther bounty of $10,000 for George Zimmerman, “dead or alive,” and you have a literal, modern lynch mob.
There is nothing exceptional about people screaming at each other without sufficient information about what they believe to be controversial. In fact, that has been and remains the rule rather than the exception for every issue, especially now that everyone has a global platform for grievances—real or imagined—in this Information Age.
The phony NBC transcript incited unwarranted hatred for Zimmerman. The amateur tactic of deleting a word or two from the transcript was eventually exposed, but not before its goal to profile Zimmerman had been accomplished.
The President’s statement doesn’t ring true. At the risk of seeming unsympathetic to Mr. Martin’s death, I think that President Obama would have handled that encounter in the dark quite differently than Mr. Martin did. He might have simply told his imagined Zimmerman, “I’m with my dad just down that block.”  I’m sure President Obama knows that that’s what he would do even when he was seventeen years old. That is not to say that Mr. Martin was not “stalked” as a potential criminal, or even that he should not have taken offense at being followed. But tragedies often begin with trifles, including short fuses.
Ironically, prejudice is not rooted in racial differences, as is widely believed, but rather in the mistaken belief in the interchangeability, or sameness, of individuals of a race or ethnic group. Despite the overwhelming evidence that we are not all the same, communal  ‘idealism’ prevails over individualism.
In this age of diversity, I’m stunned when I observe pigeonholing on the rise in most walks of life! There is no evidence that Mr. Zimmerman is prejudiced against black people. In fact, his race relationships prove that he is not at all prejudicial. Despite that, many continue to portray him as prejudiced even though he would have had to pay the price for that lie with at least ten years in prison had he been found guilty. Yet, having failed to get a verdict of guilty, essentially based on prejudice, they are already calling for a civil trial.
Reduced to essentials, the elevation of this tragic incident to the status of criminal intent to kill or even manslaughter was a terrible miscalculation. I believe the results of that miscalculation will be compounded by the civil trial, should there be one. Lowering the bar for a civil case conviction may make a difference legally, but morally the issue remains a matter of judgment between prejudicial malice or self-defense. This case simply does not fit the pattern of prejudicial behavior, at least on the part of Zimmerman. Accusing him of prejudice is, in itself, racial profiling—Hispanic, white, or otherwise.
All that speculation about color combinations, e.g., “If Martin and been white,” or “If Zimmerman had been black,” is inapplicable to this specific case. Rejecting that fact is a function of unconscious prejudice. Fortunately, the jurors knew that and realized that self-defense was Mr. Zimmerman’s only motivation for using his gun against an overpowering and enraged youth who might have severely injured of killed him.
Unfortunately, political figures are threatening to push for legislation to raise the bar for self-defense when dealing with violence. I understand that the prevention of violence can be codified up to a point, and those codes should be subject to constant scrutiny. But once in the heat of violence, instinct trumps codes. It should not be left to panels to focus on hypothetical scenarios rather than the unpredictable reality of life or death situations. Responsible elimination of lawful injustice (!) that targets young black men (or others) should be totally eliminated, but not at an increased risk of injury or death for white, black, or purple lawmen doing their dangerous jobs. The same is true for jurors.
Yet, the tragedy lives on in the ugly spectacle of jurors having to speak through distorted images and sound on television, and the Zimmerman family live in fear of their lives. The worst of it all, apart from Trayvon’s death, is that the profound shame and cruel oppression of slavery and its lingering injustice is rearing its ugly head at the expense of good-natured black or white individuals of reason, not race.
The root of prejudice is nourished by the muddied soil of an unhealthy sense of community or sameness. History is crammed with examples of its timeless grip: the slave class in ancient and modern societies; the untouchables; the wholesale slaughter of the noble class in the French and Russian revolutions; the Nazi holocaust; countless genocides in every corner of the world—to name a few. The examples vary on their surfaces, but their source is identical.
Put your ear to the topsoil of American society and you’ll hear the root of prejudice crunching its way beneath the surface. You may also hear it above the surface if you listen carefully. I hear it when thugs self-righteously beat someone—anyone—and add the words, “That’s for Trayvon!”

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A Counterfeit Trial

In the Middle Ages, travelers understood that if they encountered a stranger who kept his visor up, he was friendly; if he closed it, that signaled enmity. Other signals were primarily communicated by dress and banners. The “attitude” of strangers on the open road was instantly recognized.

Dress, deliberately or otherwise, has always been something of a message. Despite the fact that dress can be deceptive at first sight, most people judge strangers by the way they dress. There are several misapprehensions about people at first sight, among which are the notion that a shirt and tie guarantee that the wearer is a gentleman and that a lady’s dress signals the degree to which she’s ‘open to sexual advances.’

In a larger context, dress indicates ‘peer identity,’ ‘rebellion,’ and ‘individuality’ (a blatant contradiction in terms, of course). Dress codes are in effect in almost every walk of life: military, commercial, and social. Nowhere are codes more rigid than with teenagers who proclaim their non-conformity by conforming to their peers.

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog about the Zimmerman-Martin incident titled, Justice, Prejudice, and Testosterone, April 9, 2012). Seemingly simplistic, my article partially but significantly attributed that tragic incident to testosterone. I didn’t stress the hood Martin wore, an article of dress that is now regarded as the ‘visor’ down. Given the current resurgence of attention on that fateful meeting between two men in the dark, I want to add the following.

Prejudice is not limited to ordinary minds. Even Aristotle and Plato had serious prejudicial notions that rationalized the justification of slavery. We know that Martin was prejudiced against white people, and for the sake of argument, allow me to assume that the same is true of Zimmerman even though there is no evidence of that, and that Zimmerman is regarded as free from prejudice.

I also don’t question Martin’s reason for being where he was or why he was there. And, of course, his wearing a hood is basically irrelevant other than as a possible status symbol. If Zimmerman is a wannabe cop, Martin was a wannabe ‘tough guy.’ The two men had their fatal encounter primarily because of those attitudes, exacerbated in part by undertones of prejudice at least on the part of Martin. In any case, I maintain that the principal trigger for the fatal conflict was unbridled testosterone.

Although little is known about the incident, lots of people are opinionated about what actually happened that night. Conclusions about the encounter are mainly defined by inference.

Apart from the testosterone factor, I have little to say about the incident itself. It is the post speculation about it that disturbs me. A major example of this is the notion that Zimmerman should not have shot Martin because Zimmerman’s head injuries were not life-threatening. They claim this in the safety of their living rooms or television panel appearances or syndicated newspaper columns or on the Internet.

I was prompted to write this article when I read a blog on the Internet in which the author actually said that Zimmerman did not shoot Martin because he had to shoot him, but because he wanted to shoot him! (exclamation point, mine) That is the voice of prejudice, not reason. Zimmerman may have made mistakes prior (or even leading up to the deadly encounter), but it takes blind prejudice to accuse him of wanting to kill Martin.

But there is another factor, not prejudicial, that impedes objective judgment about the incident: lack of imagination. There are people who genuinely think that Zimmerman did not have to shoot Martin when he did. They cite the superficial wounds to Zimmerman’s head as proof of that. At best, they claim, Zimmerman should not have shot Martin at all. Or, at least, he should have waited longer before he might have done so. Most of them say that Zimmerman’s head injuries were not serious enough to warrant shooting Martin at all. Would that have been true if Martin had continued to pound Zimmerman’s head against concrete? Would any of us risk waiting for a concussion or brain damage before defending ourselves with a gun? I know I wouldn’t wait even though it would break my heart to kill a young man, however ruthless he might be. Anyone who claims otherwise is indulging in armchair nobility

At a time of life and death conflict, survival instincts take over, not legal procedural manuals on violence management. It is tragic that Zimmerman’s body position was such that the only shot he had available to him was to Martin’s chest where so many vital organs are located. Any one of us would have done the same thing.

Severe physical fights are always fought with the intent to kill even if the opponents are not aware of that. Consequences are the furthest thought from their minds when engaged in violence. That’s why there are (and should be) degrees of murder, from pre-meditated murder, a felony, to involuntary manslaughter. The Zimmerman-Martin case is being tried according to legal definitions. However, outside the court, the media are prone to use the word ‘murder’ instead of ‘killing’ because murder has a more negative connotation. I hear people say, Zimmerman did not kill in self-defense. Well, if that’s true and he’s not prejudiced, why did he kill Martin?

The difference in age and physical power of the two men heavily favored the young man in their street fight. Predictably, Martin could easily—even unintentionally—have killed Zimmerman without meaning to do so. There must have been a terrible moment when Zimmerman knew that instinctively and pulled the trigger. This is the nature of tragedy. Nobody wins.

I believe that a million hooded-men march is being planned. Others are preparing for riots should Zimmerman be acquitted. I learned of this when a prominent city official claimed that preparing for that contingency is in itself prejudicial. Yet, we have repeatedly witnessed rioting and looting when a mob disagrees with a verdict. So, storekeepers and others prepare for riots in the likely event that there will be one if Zimmerman is acquitted.

Again, no distinction is being made between prejudice and past experience. It would not surprise me if some people are hoping for Zimmerman’s acquittal so that they can have an excuse to loot, breaking windows and grabbing appliances as though their anger motivates them to do so. Tragically, that diminishes the dignity of a genuine protest whether or not the verdict is the right or wrong one. It also reinforces racial discord over a complex case that has nothing to do with prejudice and everything to do with politics.

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