Update: It didn’t take long for this post to attract those that are unable to behave in public. I’ve allowed one drooling illiterate troll’s comment to remain posted as written since it serves my purpose and abjectly proves the exact point I was making with this essay. However, one such comment is enough. As is clearly stated in the commenting rules, and as I’ve said repeatedly, if you’re not housebroken, if you can’t help but piss all over yourself and the furniture like a drunken frat boy, then you’ll have to stay outside with the other droolers. It’s not my job, expressed or implied, to humor your obnoxious asshattery. Commenting moderation is now on //Jim
I started getting letters the day they let George Zimmerman go.
Many were filled with various degrees of outrage: Can you believe this racist bullshit?!
Some were taunting missives full of smug amusement: Ha ha, believe it, Libtards!
And some were simply lost and in shock: WTF? I just don’t know what to think about this.
I suspect that my email is a reasonably representative sample of America’s reaction to the Zimmerman verdict.
I waited a week to write this.
I don’t claim that I have any profound insights into this horrible tragedy, but I figured there was more than enough knee-jerk reactions immediately after the verdict, I thought I’d wait to see how things shook out.
A week on, you may, if you like, color me not particularly surprised.
So far as I can tell, something less than than half the country is firmly convinced that George Zimmerman was wrongly acquitted by a broken and racist legal system, an equal portion of the population seems to think that Zimmerman is some kind of hero and that justice was properly served, and the remainder aren’t quite sure what to think and have largely decided to blame the media.
Predictably, oh so very predictably, those opinions largely align with the political divisions of the US population.
Liberals generally think the verdict was utterly wrong, conservatives generally think it was perfectly right, and independents/libertarians think it’s all a big conspiracy to keep the idiot masses under the jackbooted heel of some shadowy cabal bent on world domination.
Unless science invents a magic time-viewing device*, I doubt that anybody will ever really know what happened that night.
Certainly none of us can know for sure what was really in the minds of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, since one is conveniently dead and the other has edited and sanitized his own recollection in an effort to make himself into the hero and the victim of his own narrative – just as any human being in his position would do (which is the primary reason why eye-witness testimony usually isn’t worth spit). There are no other real witnesses. There’s no video. The forensic evidence, such as it is, lends clear support to no particular position and only bears out the portions of the story that aren’t really in dispute.
And so where does that leave us?
Stuck with speculation and our own perception of the event as filtered through layers of tainted media and our own various biases.
But, for me, one fact stands out.
One simple fact, one simple fact that we can all agree on, one simple fact that is not in dispute, and that is this: a seventeen year old kid is dead.
A seventeen year old kid is dead.
Strip off everything else, strip off race, strip off profiling and bigotry and the confirmation bias of our own secret fears, strip off stand-your-ground and self-defense laws, strip off guns and the endlessly unending gun-control debate, strip away liberals and conservatives and political agendas, strip away hoodies and the notion of what constitutes thuggery, strip away the American Dream versus ethnic subculture, strip away the question of who called for help, strip away who started it, strip away media bias, strip off everything and you are left with one simple bald-faced fact: a seventeen year old kid is dead.
A seventeen year old kid is dead.
This, in and of itself, this is a tragedy.
The reason doesn’t matter, the loss matters, a young life cut short is what matters.
And it should damned well matter to all of us.
In the end, at the fundamental core of our humanity, when we strip away all of the bullshit that divides us, we, each and every single one of us, should lament the death of our children, any of our children.
But, of course, we can’t just strip it all away, can we?
If we could, we wouldn’t be having this debate in the first place, would we?
We Americans, none of us, can look at this case dispassionately.
We can’t look at this case the way we look at white-on-white crime or black-on-black crime or even black-on-white crime. We can’t look at this death the way we look at other deaths.
We can’t, can we? Res ipsa loquitur, just saying.
Otherwise this case would have been lost in the dozens, hundreds, of other deaths that have happened since the night Zimmerman confronted Martin on the streets of Sanford, Florida (or Martin confronted Zimmerman, depending on your point of view. We’ll get to that, be patient).
And that too is a tragedy.
It’s a tragedy, because it speaks directly to centuries of division, of politics and anger and bias and hatred and suspicion and fear, a division that each and every American drags along clanking and jangling like chains behind us every single day.
We Americans might be able to avoid acknowledging our history, but we can not avoid the consequences of it.
And that, right there, is what this dead kid is, a tragic consequence of our history.
George Zimmerman says that he is not a racist.
Those who know him, his family, his friends, say that he is not a racist.
Zimmerman’s lawyers say that the shooting was not racially motivated, and the jury believed this to be the case.
It is unlikely that the US Department of Justice will find sufficient evidence to prosecute Zimmerman for a racially motivated federal hate crime.
Perhaps it’s true. Perhaps Zimmerman was not a racist.
Perhaps the shooting wasn’t, per se, motivated directly by race.
And yet this case is fundamentally, inevitably, inescapably about race.
It was always about race.
It was about race from the moment Zimmerman spotted Martin walking down the street.
It was about race the moment this story broke across the national news and we, all of us, immediately and automatically chose sides.
It’s always been about race.
And that too is a tragedy.
Some of us look at Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and see centuries of bias and inequality, we see our violent past and our violent present and our violent future – and we automatically see racism, we can’t not see it. We see a dead kid, all his dreams, all of his passion, all of his loves and all of his hopes, all of his potential, all that he could have been, all that his parents and loved ones ever wished for him gone, erased, lost forever. We look into the seventeen year old face of Trayvon Martin and we see an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a congressman or a president, we see a Hank Aaron, a Jackie Robinson, an Alex Haley, a Medgar Evers, a Martin Luther King, a Bill Cosby, a Will Smith, a Thurgood Marshall. We look into his face and we see the eyes of our own seventeen year old children looking back. Now, certainly, Trayvon Martin was no saint, something Zimmerman’s defense and Martin’s sneering detractors have taken great pains to point out – but the simple truth of the matter, the inescapable truth of the matter, is that he was a seventeen year old kid. Sure, he’d gotten into trouble, what kid hasn’t? Sure he smoked a little pot, but c’mon, have some perspective, we’ve got congressmen tweeting dirty pictures to women on the internet, we’ve got Wall Street executives stealing billions, we’ve a guy who kept three women as his sex slaves chained in the basement of his house for decades. You never attended a kegger as an underage teen? You never got into a fight? You never smoked a little pot? Please. Sure, his girlfriend was a ditz, so what? When did that become a crime? Jesus Haploid Christ, folks, if those things are worthy of the death sentence we’re lucky any of our kids survive to adulthood. You know how many kids in America are just like Trayvon Martin? A hell of a lot more than not. I can’t count the number of kids just like Trayvon Martin that I met over twenty years of military service. Young kids from backgrounds just like Martin’s, kids who just needed direction and guidance and purpose, like any kid. Kids who grew into honorable men and women, solid citizens, responsible leaders.
Some of us, we look at Trayvon Martin and we see ourselves, ten, twenty, thirty years ago.
But some of us, we look at Trayvon Martin and we see a thug in a hooded sweatshirt, we see his violent past and his violent present and no future, violent or otherwise. We know who is to blame and it sure isn’t us. It’s those who cry racism and inequality and refuse to better themselves, it’s those who won’t integrate into American society, who won’t avail themselves of the land of opportunity. It’s the fault of those who embrace the thug culture and the violence glorified in rap and hip hop. We look into the eyes of Trayvon Martin and we see every mugger who ever ripped us off at knife point. We see every shiftless loser that ever robbed a gas station or stole a car or broke into our houses. We look into Trayvon Martin’s face and we see a punk who’ll grow up into yet another gangster, a criminal who pissed away his potential and his future, who lives in the moment with no regard for the future, who glories in violence and idolizes the hoodie wearing thug life. Sure, Trayvon Martin wasn’t doing anything wrong that night. That night. But that doesn’t make him an innocent. Sure he was just on his way home from the store with a bag of candy and a drink, that night. But nits make lice, right? Isn’t that what they used to say? We look into his face and we don’t see our children looking back, we see the face of our children’s killer, the barbarian at the gate, the other. We see a kid already embarked on the short brutal life that will define him and those just like him, a drug addict, a brawler, a criminal. Of course he’d gotten himself into trouble, of course he used drugs, of course his girlfriend was a, well, whatever she was. Of course, of course. Obviously, those thing only confirm our impression of Trayvon Martin.
Some of us, we look at Trayvon Martin, and we can’t imagine ourselves in his shoes, not now, not ever.
Some of us look at the body of Trayvon Martin and we think, My God, how? Why?.
Some of us look at the body of Trayvon Martin and we nod and say, well, what did you expect?
Some of us look at the death of Trayvon Martin and say, well, you know he brought this on himself, if he wasn’t looking like thug, if he wasn’t acting like a punk, none of this would have happened. He had it coming, sooner or later it would have ended just like this. He deserved it.
Some of us look at the death of Trayvon Martin and say, damnit, he had every right to be there, he had every right to walk down that street unmolested and without being profiled. He had every right to confront Zimmerman. Nobody deserves this, nobody.
This case may not have been about racism per se, but how we, each one of us, sees Trayvon Martin, well, that has everything to do with race, with more than two centuries of racial inequality in this country.
And that is a tragedy, maybe the greatest tragedy of all, because until we do something about that we’ll have to live with more and more dead kids.
This case may not have been about stand-your-ground or concealed-carry, but how we, each one of us, sees George Zimmerman has everything to do with our bizarre infatuation with gun culture. A seventeen year old kid was shot to death and there are no legal consequences for the man who killed him. He’s free to strap on a gun and patrol your neighborhood. How does that make sense? Folks, this isn’t about the Second Amendment, this isn’t about defending yourself from tyranny or oppression or even from enemies foreign and domestic, Stand-your-ground and concealed-carry give wannabe heroes like George Zimmerman the courage and bravado to trade reason for confrontation.
And that too is a tragedy, because until we do something about that, until we can speak reasonably about the gun culture in this country, about the bizarre Wild West idea that we can solve our problems with guns, we’ll have to live with the continuous stream of dead kids that we see day in and day out here in America.
A seventeen year old kid is dead.
He is one of many.
Whether he, and all the other dead kids, would have turned out a saint or a sinner, a citizen or a thug, a good person or bad man, we will never know.
It isn’t for us, left or right, liberal or conservative, black or white to decide who Trayvon Martin was to be. It was his and his choice alone. His right to find out, his right to define himself, his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all of that was taken from him before he ever had the opportunity to figure out who he was.
And that is the real tragedy.
For so many reasons.
* Magic Government Time-Viewing Device: regarding this, yes, I am indeed fully aware that a certain segment of the under-medicated bleary-eyed sleeve-chewing fringe believes that such a device actually does exist and that the New World Order, who acquired it from a crashed UFO piloted by Bigfoot, is using it to control the future. I get letters from these people. I wish to hell that I didn’t, but I do. Inevitably, should I mention such a thing, tongue in cheek or otherwise, I attract the attention of this spittle-flecked lunacy. If you are one such believer, take note: should you attempt to comment here on your pet Time-Viewer conspiracy, I will immediately respond with ridicule, mockery, and sarcastic derision in the megaton range. Then I’ll pull your dirty sweat-soaked skid-marked underpants over your head and Facebook the resulting picture. Probably best for everybody, you especially, if you just turn and quietly go back to your rusty run-down trailer and continue your “research” into cold fusion. Say hi to Bigfoot for me.