“Ask Yourself”

A frequent commenter on this blog has written a couple of comments (here and here and here) regarding my opinion on the Martin-Zimmerman case. I thought I’d share with you, those of you who don’t regularly read the comment section, my latest response, which I will use as probably my last word on the subject for a while:

I have ignored some of your comments because, well, you only know a lot of what you know about what happened at the trial from watching excerpts or reading news reports about it. Nothing against that, it’s the way most of us usually get our news, but it leaves at least a few holes in your knowledge of what happened at the trial.

An important and crucial example is when you said “the evidence” showed that,

MARTIN was seen atop Zimmerman banging his head into the sidewalk.

Except that there wasn’t anyone who saw any such thing. There wasn’t any evidence, apart from Zimmerman’s self-serving account, of Trayvon Martin “banging” Zimmerman’s head into anything, much less the sidewalk. The only witness who claimed to see Martin “atop Zimmerman” was John Good, and if you had watched the trial, you would know that Good explicitly testified that he did not see the guy on top slamming the other guy’s head into concrete.

You therefore have to ask yourself why it is that you believe someone actually saw Trayvon Martin “atop Zimmerman banging his head into the sidewalk” when it clearly isn’t true. I mean that. Ask yourself why it is that you believe something, something extraordinarily important about this case, that is patently false. Perhaps that is an important clue as to why you and I differ.

Having said that, you concluded in one comment that “Two young men acted ‘stupidly.” First, Zimmerman was twenty-eight and Martin was barely seventeen, having been so about a month. One was a man and one wasn’t, but the fact that you see them both as “young men” is part of the problem. It’s what Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele were trying to say. Martin was a high-school kid and Zimmerman was the one who had the responsibility of an adult, an adult with a deadly weapon, an adult with mixed martial arts training, an adult with some knowledge of criminal law (even though he lied about it), particularly self-defense and Stand Your Ground laws.

Moreover, there was exactly no evidence that Trayvon Martin acted “stupidly.” The only account of how he acted at all at the end of the event came from a man who, if he wanted to remain free, had to portray Martin as the aggressor who acted for who knows what reason. Martin could have reacted, for all we know, because Zimmerman flashed his gun at him or otherwise threatened him with it. We don’t know, but some of us are very quick to think we do. Some of us are very quick to think that Martin was the aggressor. Why is that? Could it possibly be because he was a black kid in a hoodie? Isn’t that possible? Again, ask yourself.

We know that Zimmerman thought Martin was up to no good for essentially no other reason than he was an unknown black kid in a hoodie. He labeled him, among other things, a “fucking punk” and an “asshole” and later identified him as a “suspect.” It is because of the reactions of the George Zimmermans of this world that people like Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele have to tell their kids-becoming-adults about the special rules that govern how they should, potentially as a matter of life or death, act in public. That’s the point you don’t get and I suppose never will. You are blind to that separate reality, a reality that is true for even famous and relatively well-off black folks.

I can’t argue about what kind of kid Trayvon Martin was. He had some problems in school like a lot of kids do, a lot of white kids included. Is that how we want to finally evaluate the character of people? How much or what kind of trouble they got into in school? I can’t argue that Martin didn’t attack Zimmerman after he perceived him as some kind of threat. I can’t argue that he didn’t do something that night that contributed to his death. I wasn’t there.

But what I can fervently argue is that George Zimmerman was an adult and Trayvon Martin wasn’t. What I can vigorously contend is that Zimmerman, given his training and standing as a neighborhood watcher, should have acted like an adult, even if Trayvon Martin didn’t. What I can confidently assert is that Zimmerman, even if his suspicions were justified, still had the responsibility of identifying himself and telling Martin what he was doing, if not simply remaining in his car and waiting for the police, who were only minutes away. That’s what I can say. And that means Zimmerman bears some amount of responsibility for killing an innocent—I repeat: innocent—kid.

As far as your comment that there is no difference between raising “a black boy instead of a white one,” I’m afraid that is the problem. You refuse to acknowledge what it might be like to be a black teenager in this culture. Suppose your kids were evangelical Christians. Suppose you were raising them in a Islam-dominated culture that didn’t look too kindly on “aggressive” Christians, especially those who called themselves “evangelicals.” My guess is that you would have enough sense to offer them wise advise about how to behave out in public, in front of law enforcement officials, in all the various social situations. In short, you would raise them with a different set of rules, in terms of how to interact with those around them, than Muslim parents would raise their kids. And you would be right to do so. But that has nothing at all to do with teaching them “the basics” of other social behavior. Muslims and Christians both teach their children “right and wrong.” But a Christian in certain Muslim nations had better be aware that some kinds of behavior can get you in trouble in a hurry. Blacks, in this white-dominated culture, feel the same way, despite the fact that they too teach their kids right from wrong.

Next, I am not “furious” over anything. It sounds like fury to you because you can’t accept the fact that your lily-white reality is not the same reality as the one Trayvon Martin or his family experience, at least in some ways, on a daily basis. Sure, we all need to do what is right and follow the rules. But for some of us, doing all the right things and following the rules isn’t always enough. For some folks, teenagers who are black for instance, merely wandering home after a visit to a 7-Eleven is enough to get you killed and your killer allowed to soon go on his way. You tell me what “rule” Martin broke that night and how you know he broke that rule. And then tell me how it was that the man who killed him got to go to work the next day.

Finally, what upsets me as much as anything about this case is the outrage that many white people expressed over the demand for at least a trial in this case. The system was predisposed to believe Zimmerman, and some of us think that was the case because Martin was a black teenager. Thus, some of us believed that a trial was necessary to sort out the facts. That outraged many in the white community, and the defense attorneys expressed as much after the trial was over. They were indignant that their client was even accused of any type of crime. It was open and shut as far as they, and other white people, were concerned. That attitude is why a lot of people of color don’t trust the system. It is why a lot of black folks are marching in the streets.

And you, and others, can ignore them, you can pretend they are completely wrong and you are completely right, you can tell yourself that this kid deserved what he got. But the frustration and, in some cases, outrage, they feel won’t go away. We all have to live together in this country, like it or not, and we best get on with the business of trying to understand each other. I can think of no better way of doing so than trying to understand why black folks like Eugene Robinson, one of the calmest, most thoughtful columnists in the business, and Michael Steele, a very conservative Republican who defends right-wingers at nearly every turn, are both upset today.

Duane

12 Comments

  1. middlechildwoman

     /  July 16, 2013

    Amen.

    Like

  2. Jane Reaction

     /  July 16, 2013

    That is a very accurate reading of the trial, and an excellent summation Randy.
    Zimmerman should be doing 30 years.

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    • I appreciate it, Jane. But 30 years? I dunno about that. Manslaughter seemed the appropriate penalty given the evidence presented at trial, and I don’t know what that would mean in terms of sentencing.

      Duane

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  3. King Beauregard

     /  July 16, 2013

    Well said, Duane.

    Here’s Cenk Uygur on the subject, I recommend you watch it:

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  4. Michael D. Gaden, BSNE, MBA

     /  July 16, 2013

    Very cogently argued, sir. I heartily agree with your conclusions.

    I have said before and staunchly maintain, based on my experience, that a defining characteristic of conservatives is they lack empathy, the ability to understand what others might or could experience without having experienced that same event themselves. They simply cannot understand what it must feel like to be black in this country, especially in the south, to have to be constantly alert for situations that are dangerous, even deadly. They cannot understand what it must be like to have to perform 10% more efficiently to get 20% less pay at the same job because you’re female.

    They don’t understand it so strongly that they essentially deny that it’s true, which is what I believe you are experiencing with the comments on your writing.

    They really believe that a person discriminated against can overcome that by working harder, trying more. They believe it because that strategy worked for them, not for a moment understanding how uneven the “playing field” really is, or just how much more effort is required.

    At heart, they don’t want to believe it, because believing it would undermine their own achievements, take away from their own sense of self-worth.

    They are inherently focused on material wealth, things, and achievement.

    Not happiness, understanding, and love of our fellow humans.

    But they don’t understand that.

    They’ve never experienced it.

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    • Michael,

      Thank you very much. I agree with you that white conservatives find it difficult, if not impossible, to “understand what it must feel like to be black in this country.” And I agree that their tendency to rely on that old “just work harder” mantra, as a strategy to overcome discrimination, is partly necessary for them to justify their own achievements, achievements most of them enjoy without having had to endure structural discrimination, not to mention the everyday personal experience of being a criminal “suspect” of one kind or another.

      I do, though, think it goes a bit too far to paint with a broad brush all conservatives as being “inherently focused on material wealth, things, and achievement.” Certainly there are a lot who are so focused. But a lot of liberals are focused on those things, too.

      And I think it doesn’t necessarily help our cause to insist that the other side is devoid of “love of our fellow humans,” although you and I may see their policy choices as reflecting such a sentiment. However, I have found that it hurts more than helps to demonize the other guy as lacking in basic human instincts, even though we can, and must, label as corrupt a philosophy that, in practice, tends to undermine those instincts.

      Duane

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  5. ansonburlingame

     /  July 17, 2013

    Duane,

    You or anyone else COULD have interpreted the evidence as you explain above. But 6 jurors failed to do so and interpreted it differently. So whose fault is that? My “default” position is to support the jury verdict particularly because I (nor you) were sitting in that box and having the ulitmate responsibility to make such a judgment. Had Zimmerman been found guilty, I would have supported that decision as well, believe it or not, just as I supported the OJ verdict. You see according to our system of justice the JURY has the final say in such matters, like it or not.

    In a previous string of comments on this subject I note that King B flat out called Herb a racist. That is simply disgusting to me but some of your supporters do so many times when someone attempts to discuss racial issues with some sense to their point of view.

    Thank you for NOT calling me a racist above. Instead you mentioned my “lily white reality” and my supposed inablility to understand the Martin side of the case. If I have such a view of reality, I suppose one could as well call me a racist, only looking at matters with the perspective of race. Believe what you like, but that is not a reflection of how I have “operated” for decades, in positions of leadership and authority where I was required to make value judgments of people’s actions many time, sometimes even legally.

    I will mildly “retry” the case but only to a degree. Yes, Zimmerman profiled Martin, but not racially according to the evidence presented. As to what was in Zimmerman’s mind, or Martin’s mind cannot be determined for sure. But I assert that Martin ACTED like a very angry young man, “standing his ground” if you will, in the face of being followed. Zimmerman acted as well like an angry young man, following what he thought might be a “punk”. How does anyone write a law to outlaw “profiling”, which happens only in the hearts and minds of people, all people to some degree. If I see a homeless man I think to myself “there is a homeless man”. If I see a rich fat cat in a limo, I think to myself
    there is a rich fat cat”.

    The rest, well the jury decided, just like the jury decided in the case of OJ.

    My own blog had a good, but “tense” exchange between a conservative commenter and a self described “moderate”. I offered the following comment “over there” and like you leave that as my “last words” on this matter in blogs.

    “For some 44 days the police in fact investigated the shooting and only brought charges after politics entered the fray.

    And of course the charges brought failed to result in a conviction in a court of law.

    So was the LAW wrong? Did the prosecution do a lousy job? Did the defense team lie or intentionally misrepresent their side of the story? Did the judge misinterpret the law and allow untruth to be presented to the jury?

    People profile other people all the time. Now go figure out how to write a law to prevent such from happening.

    We will never know for sure, BUT, if the roles had been reversed, Martin shot Zimmerman because Zimmerman was walking home at night and other Martin-like actions taken by Zimmerman happened, would THAT case have been prosecuted and would Martin have been convicted of murder?

    Rather than attempting to retry the case in blogs, why not discuss what new laws might be needed to prevent recurrence of such events in the future?”

    Anson

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    • King Beauregard

       /  July 17, 2013

      “In a previous string of comments on this subject I note that King B flat out called Herb a racist. That is simply disgusting to me”

      Some people are racist; Herb flat-out showed that he is racist. I was certainly impolite by calling him out on it, but I was also dead right. If that is disgusting to you, I submit that your sense of disgust has gotten broken so it detects only impoliteness — which is probably the only way you can swim in conservative channels and not recoil from the people around you.

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  6. RDG,

    The lack of remorse from George Zimmerman has always bothered me. In an interview with Sean Hannity Zimmerman said he would have done nothing different that tragic evening. Even more disturbing is his belief that the killing of an unarmed teenager was “part of God’s plan.” Apparently, Zimmerman was not only the Retreat at Twin Lakes’ in-house cop, but also the gated communities Angel of Death executing “God’s plan.”

    Zimmerman could have done things differently that night, like obey police instructions to stop following the seventeen year old. Trayvon Martin would be alive today had Zimmerman waited for the police to arrive. Since Zimmerman opted not to testify at his trial, we don’t know if he identified himself as a neighborhood watchman before the fatal encounter. In fact, only Zimmerman knows how stalking a “punk” ended with the unarmed teenager’s death. We do know that Zimmerman declined medical attention. Richard Kurtz, the funeral director who prepared Martin’s body for burial, is on record saying the only wound visible was a bullet hole. Zimmerman, on the other hand, did have injuries: several small cuts on the back of his head and a bloody nose. I marvel at Zimmerman’s resilient skull having experienced head-to-concrete interaction, especially since he claims it was pounded against the sidewalk some twenty odd times. Perhaps concrete in Florida is much more pliable than concrete in Missouri. Considering Martin’s body was found approximately eight feet away from the concrete-as-deadly weapon, it appears that he had just enough life left to walk away and die upon wet grass. Then again, maybe the fight relocated, exposing Zimmerman’s head to presumably less lethal grass. Had Zimmerman testified he could have explained what series of events led to the fatal shooting of a hoodie-wearing kid walking home.

    Although a jury found Zimmerman not guilty, the Martin family won a wrongful death suit filed against the Retreat at Twin Lakes Homeowners Association. I assume George Zimmerman has been terminated as the neighborhood’s armed security guard. Unfortunately, it is too late for Trayvon Martin and his family.

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    • John,

      Agreed. The lack of remorse and that ridiculous appeal to it all being a part of the Almighty’s incomprehensible plan disturbed me and still does.

      You know, I think there would have been a less visceral reaction from African-Americans and others if, say, Zimmerman had, after the verdict, simply said something like the following, assuming his account of events were true:

      I’m as sorry as I can be for what happened. I knew that some black kids had been burglarizing the neighborhood and I just assumed Trayvon Martin was one of them. I was very wrong about that. I also should have listened to the police and stayed in my car and let them do their jobs. If I had, none of this would have happened. I can see where Trayvon might have thought I was stalking him and meant to do him harm. I can see how he might have thought I was reaching for my gun instead of my cell phone. I can see why he might have wanted to stand his ground against what he perceived as a threat. I am sorry that I may have caused him to attack me and I am sorry beyond words that I felt like he was going to kill me if I didn’t shoot him. I would do anything to go back and change the way things happened that night. I am so sorry, and I hope it is part of God’s plan to forgive me. 

      Duane

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  7. I received an e-mail from a very right wing relative. It started off with what it claimed was a photo of Treyvon. The photo was of a black man about 30, with tattoos all over. You didn’t have to look at for more than 30 seconds with open eyes to see it was Treyvon. I think that consistent with every thing you write above Duane. To such folks a black kid is threat by definition. Thank you.

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