America The Sick

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

—Katharine Lee Bates, America the Beautiful

No, this is not about Drumpf, although he, too, is evidence of a sick America. This is about another man, himself sort of a representative of the kind of people who have crowned a certified bigot as the leader of the Party of Lincoln.

George Zimmerman will finally get his big payday for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an African-American kid armed with nothing but candy and a drink, who was on his way home from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida. According to USA Today:

George Zimmerman said Wednesday the online auction has ended for the sale of the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin in 2012 and he was immediately notifying the winner.

“The winner.” Let that sink in.

I’ve got nothing much to say about this sad and sick moment in our nation’s history, except to note that Zimmerman wants his “Fellow Patriots” to know that he is still in good with the Almighty:

First and foremost, I would like to thank and give the glory to God for a successful auction that has raised funds for several worthy causes.

zimmermanIn the disturbed and disturbing mind of George Zimmerman, God may get the glory. But Americans, those who think it is okay to shoot unarmed kids, those who think it is okay to shoot unarmed kids and then profit from it, deserve the shame.

America the beautiful? Not today.

The “History That Doesn’t Go Away”

It’s hard for me to tell you how remarkable it was to hear President Obama talk, extemporaneously and personally, about the events surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I found his words the most poignant of his presidency, as he attempted to put into context the African-American response to the killing of the sixteen-year-and-a-month-old kid in Florida.

But not everyone, of course, found his commentary pleasing or helpful. The reactionaries among us were quite upset and had a lot to say about it.

And I don’t just mean what outrageous and extremist conservatives like Sean Hannity and other IQ-sapping schmucks had to say about it (hint: Obama’s admission that Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago was an admission that “he smoked pot and he did a little blow”).

And I don’t just mean the ridiculous commentary Mike Huckabee offered as he substituted for the racially-challenged Bill O’Reilly on Friday (hint: contrary to Obama, no race issue was involved, only pornography, graphic media violence, and abortion!).

And I don’t just mean the insane opinion of Huckabee’s guest, “Republican strategist” Brad Blakeman, who said that if protests this past weekend turned ugly, Obama “incited any violence that takes place.”

No, I’m not just talking about those conservatives, the usual suspects, whose reactionary responses are fire-retardant chemicals, putting out the firing synapses of anyone with a brain.

I’m talking about what Charles Krauthammer, who gets much credit for being an enlightened conservative commentator on Fox “News” Channel, had to say about Obama’s remarks:

…a political speech addressed to his constituency on the left, which I thought was unfortunate . . . Look, I gave him and Holder credit all week for trying to de-racialize the issue. And what Obama did, I think, unfortunately, today is to reracialize it.

That the very white Dr. Krauthammer would take from the President’s remarks not much more than that they constituted “a political speech” designed to appease folks who understand in their bones the racial context of the tragedy—which means, let’s not kid ourselves, that Krauthammer was talking about Obama appeasing blacks—is instructive as to the mental state of the Fox blabber.

But it is more instructive as to the philosophical corruption of much of contemporary conservatism, whose decadence extends beyond failed economic theories or the compulsion to get inside the heads and vaginas of American women in order to save zygotes.

This corruption is related to the corruption that has plagued this country from before its official founding, when black folks in chains were introduced to America as the property of white folks. But this modern corruption is not the kind one would find at, say, an old slave auction where the young black men were referred to as “bucks.” No, no, no. The modern conservative, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is much more subtle than that. He or she would never dehumanize Barack Obama in that way.

The more subtle form of denying the basic humanity of black men is reflected not only in Sean Hannity’s stupid remarks, but in the comments of the ostensibly more refined Charles Krauthammer: Obama, a black man who happens to be president, had no real business “racializing” the issue of a black teenager getting profiled and killed because the killer suspected he was up to no good and followed him. You see, President Obama, not for a moment, not for the tiniest increment of time, is suppose to act like a normal human being in front of all the white folks who don’t like him anyway, who have from the beginning profiled him as some kind of angry and Scary Negro, without the hoodie.

Because conservatives have long ago dismissed any claims that America still has significant problems left over from its racist past, they’d rather everyone just shut up about it. They don’t want to hear it. And they especially don’t want to hear it from an uppity black who, God only knows how and why, was reelected as president.

Among other things, President Obama offended many conservatives with this:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

Pain. “There’s a lot of pain around what happened here,” said the President. Speaking to that pain, speaking for the first time in his presidency as one who knows first-hand that pain, speaking for the first time out of the depth of his experiences as a black man in America, Mr. Obama has disturbed many extremists on the right—99.9% white—who don’t want to hear him speak about that “history that doesn’t go away” or the “pain” associated with it. These white conservatives want to hear only about their pain, the pain of watching their America turn brown before their very eyes.

What white conservatives also want to hear is a lot of talk about black criminality, as if black criminality is not, in any conceivable way, related to centuries of slavery followed by Jim Crow laws and other such instruments of oppression. All over Fox and the Internet you can find palefaced conservatives saying that the President ought to quit worrying about George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin and start worrying about all the “black on black” killings plaguing African-American communities.

Oh, yeah? What about all those “white on white” killings? Here’s a graph I found on MSNBC this weekend:

race statistics

As many have pointed out, people commit crimes where they live. Whites, like around here in Petticoat Joplin, tend to commit crimes against other whites. If I were to do a little criminal profiling in my neighborhood, the suspects would look a lot like Sean Hannity or Charles Krauthammer or Ann Coulter. So, conservatives chanting “black on black” crime, and pretending that they give a damn about it, is irrelevant to what happened to Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

The President also talked about how the history that doesn’t go away is “unacknowledged” and how that “adds to the frustration.” He then said,

And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

That’s the point in all this. Sure, as President Obama said, “African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system,” and “they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.” But it won’t do to treat all black “sons” as if they are criminals, or criminals in waiting. We can’t exist as a peaceful, prosperous society if we do so. We can’t label all black teenagers or young men as “suspects”—and that’s what profiling does—and then expect African-Americans to believe they are full citizens with all the opportunities this wealthy country affords. That won’t work. We can’t ignore, as the President said, “the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush.” 

I want to tell you a short story related to that broad brush.

I know a father whose son recently graduated from Joplin High School. A few years ago, this white boy had his iPod stolen at school, even though the father expressly told him not to bring it there. I won’t go into the details, but the boy knew with near-certainty that the thief was a fellow student, a black kid who had been in trouble many times at school.

Now, the iPod was worth only $300, but that was no small amount of money for this family. And the boy was very upset about losing such a valuable item and began wondering, out loud, why black kids were such thieves, why they went searching for other people’s stuff.

This is how black teenagers, those who would never think of stealing an iPod, start to get painted with that broad brush the President was describing. It may start with a white boy being victimized in some way by an African-American and ends with suspecting that every black kid he meets is about to do something bad to him or to others.

The white boy’s father had a long, long talk with his son. He talked about the likely difficulties that the black kid had at home, the differences in background compared to the mostly white kids he went to school with. His father told him that despite the pain he felt, despite the feeling of victimization, it simply wouldn’t do to think of black kids first as thieves, then as human beings. To that end, despite the fact that the boy was warned that he should not bring the iPod to school in the first place, the father bought his son a brand new one. He bought it, he said, to take the sting out of the loss, so as to help his son remember not to make suspects out of every black kid he meets, even though it might seem rational to do so.

Related to that, President Obama will have the last word:

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.  Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.  It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society.  It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.  But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues.  And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues.  And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.  But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

“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.


“It Pretty Much Happened The Way George Said It Happened,” Said Juror B37

“Black boys in this country are not allowed to be children. They are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace.”

—Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist

by now you have heard that “Juror B37” has talked to Anderson Cooper of CNN and that she has signed on with a literary agent in hopes of cashing in on her jury service. Judging from the quality of her analysis, judging by her confusion and the way she apprehended what was going on in that courtroom in Florida, judging by her utter  Anderson Cooper, host of CNN's AC360,* interviews Zimmerman trial juror B37, whose face was kept in the dark./ failure to understand the larger issues involved in this case, I will say that if her book gig fails, she would make a perfect host of “Fox and Friends,” where bias, as well as confused, sloppy thinking, is an asset.

In any case, this juror believed that the man who shot Trayvon Martin in the heart was a man “whose heart was in the right place,” whose real problem was his over-eagerness “to help people,” who, well, I’ll let her say it:

…I think George was pretty consistent and told the truth, basically. I’m sure there were some fabrications, enhancements, but I think pretty much it happened the way George said it happened.

Yeah, “George” may have fudged the truth a little bit, he may have told things in such a way as to make it look better for him, but it “pretty much” happened the way “George” said it happened, which, of course, made Trayvon Martin ultimately responsible for his own death:

COOPER: So you think, based on the testimony you heard, you believe that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor?

JUROR: I think the roles changed. I think, I think George got in a little bit too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there. But Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him and get the one-over, up on him, or something. And I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him.

“Trayvon got mad.” There was exactly zero evidence for that conclusion, but, as I said before, Trayvon Martin was found guilty of his own killing.

Juror B37 went on to say that she didn’t believe race had anything at all to do with this case:

COOPER: Do you feel that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you think race played a role in his decision, his view of Trayvon Martin as suspicious?

JUROR: I don’t think he did. I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.

COOPER: So you don’t believe race played a role in this case?

JUROR: I don’t think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.

This white female  juror cannot see, or says she cannot see, what so many black people know in their bones: that race had very much to do with this case and that if Trayvon Martin had been white, none of what subsequently happened would have happened.

And that, I submit, is the problem this case highlights: there are a lot of white people who don’t understand that being black in America is a different experience from being white, that being a young black man in America is especially a different experience.

Eugene Robinson, an African-American and columnist for The Washington Post, wrote:

If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.

We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

Contrast that with what Gene Lyons, a columnist I respect and admire very much, wrote some days ago—something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since—about the Martin-Zimmerman case:

On the evidence, it’s clear that both Zimmerman and Martin acted badly, with tragic consequences — Zimmerman by carrying around that accursed gun he was in no way qualified to handle, and Martin through foolhardy teenaged bravado. One life ended, another destroyed.

But not necessarily symbols of anything greater than their own confusion and folly.

That kind of statement, that Trayvon Martin was acting out of some kind of “foolhardy teenaged bravado,” that there is no symbolism attached to this case beyond “confusion and folly,” could only have been written by a guy who has not raised black sons. It may qualify as the most ignorant thing Gene Lyons has ever written.

All of which brings me to a discussion on Morning Joe this morning, which is must-see TV for anyone truly interested in the two Americas that so many black Americans wake up to each and every day. I will post the segment below, but I want to call your attention to observations made by two black men of very different political persuasions, Eugene Robinson, the liberal Washington Post columnist, and Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Both men, who have raised boys, said that they had to teach their sons that being a young black man in America requires learning a set of rules that white sons don’t have to learn. If they are to survive or thrive, even as middle-class black kids and later as adults, there are certain things they have to know, to do. Michael Steele said to his kids:

Remember, when you walk out that door, you are a black man in America. And you need to understand what that means when people see you, how they look at you, how they approach you, what they think about you, and how they will deal with you. Because it’s not the same for your white friends. It’s not the same for your other friends. Because a lot of history walks with you out that door.

That’s unacceptable in twenty-first century America.

White folks should not ignore that history, or pretend it didn’t happen, or pretend that all is now well. We shouldn’t pretend that there are no larger issues attached to the tragic encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. There are. And that is why all of us, black and white, need to find ways—starting with recognizing the reality behind what happened in Sanford, Florida—to change what it means to be a young black kid-man in America, especially now that half the country has adopted stand-your-ground vigilantism as a way of life.

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Trayvon Martin Found Guilty!

Trayvon Martin, profiled as a criminal and then killed on a patch of grass in Florida more than a year ago, has been on trial for the last month. Now the verdict is in and Martin has been found guilty of trying to kill, or to cause serious damage to, George Zimmerman.

Oh, I know most people think Zimmerman was the man on trial, but it wasn’t so. It was the 16-year-and-a-month-old black kid in the hoodie, the black kid in the hoodie with the Skittles. And, of course, the black kid in the hoodie who, allegedly, armed himself with a sidewalk.

To sort of summarize what many Americans, many white Americans, felt about the black-kid-is-guilty verdict, I’ll use a Tweet from gun-crazed Ted Nugent:

nugent tweet

You see, Nugent, along with many, many others—most of them before the trial began—convicted Trayvon Martin—a “kid” Nugent said—of an “attack” on George Zimmerman, even though there was no evidence, other than the word of George Zimmerman—who happened to be charged with second degree murder—for such a conviction.

But it was crucial for the defense to make that case, to leave the six-woman jury with the idea that 158-pound Trayvon Martin was a man-sized thug who was armed with a dangerous sidewalk and who meant to kill 200-pound George Zimmerman with it.

Now, unlike most people who will read this or read anything about the case, I watched nearly all of what I only loosely refer to as George Zimmerman’s trial, including watching the closing arguments, through which each side attempted to pull together the evidence in support of their respective claims in the case.

I can tell you, emphatically, that I would not have found Trayvon Martin guilty of trying to kill George Zimmerman. There simply wasn’t enough evidence to do so and the star witness against him had an obvious motive to lie. In fact, he lied to Sean Hannity about whether he had heard of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law:

HANNITY: …prior to this night, this incident, had you even heard “Stand Your Ground”?


HANNITY: You have never heard about it before?


Except that the trial revealed this:

…an army prosecutor who taught Zimmerman in a 2010 college class on criminal litigation, testified that he often covered Florida’s self-defense and “Stand Your Ground” laws in his 2010 course. Army Captain Alexis Carter said Zimmerman “was probably one of the better students in the class,” calling him an “A” student.

Leaving aside the lie about that dangerous law in Florida, let’s move on to something simple: if Martin had really wanted to use the sidewalk as a way of seriously injuring or killing Zimmerman, he could have. Perhaps, some cynical people would argue, he should have. Had he done so, had he killed Zimmerman with that deadly sidewalk, Trayvon Martin would be alive today and, given the ridiculous nature of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, might be free to wander the streets in pursuit of more Skittles and more victims of his sidewalk-aided killing spree.

Except that George Zimmerman’s injuries, as the evidence demonstrated to me, were not consistent with the idea that Trayvon Martin was trying to kill him using that killing machine some of us know only as a walkway.

If we believe the star witness against Martin, that is, if we believe Zimmerman’s varying accounts of what happened, then we must believe that Martin is guilty of attempted murder. We must. If we believe that Zimmerman was pinned down with his head on the concrete, if we believe he was being beaten so badly that he feared for his life or seriously injury, then we must believe that Trayvon Martin was guilty of trying to kill the neighborhood-watching Zimmerman, who, by the way, never bothered to identify himself as such, when he and Martin met.

We must believe Martin was the person with the intent to kill, or else Zimmerman is a liar. Zimmerman told police, the day after he killed Martin, the following:

I kept yelling for help. And I got a  little bit of leverage, and I started to sit up, and then he took my head and slammed it into the concrete several times….I started screaming for help, and he covered by nose with one hand and my mouth with the other one, and he told me, “Shut the fuck up!” And I couldn’t breathe; I was suffocating. But when I shifted, my jacket came up and my shirt came up, exposing my firearm. And that’s when he said—he sat up and looked and said, “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker.” And I saw him take one hand off my mouth and slide it down my chest. And I just pinched his arm and I grabbed my gun, I aimed it at him, and fired one shot.

Leaving aside the mechanical implausibility of that account, leaving aside its self-serving nature, the claim is that Martin explicitly threatened Zimmerman’s life. Some months later, Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that Martin told him that “he was going to kill me.” Was he? Did this Skittles-buying kid have murder in his heart?  What did the evidence presented during the trial tell us?

Again, as the Zimmerman defense team—which was really the Martin prosecution team—framed this case, the salient issue was whether a black teenager wandering home from a convenience store viciously attacked George Zimmerman and meant to kill him with a slab of concrete. They made this case despite the fact that there were no serious injuries to the eventual killer’s head. They made this case despite the fact that their client didn’t require medical treatment beyond a few Band-Aids.

I will submit to you that Trayvon Martin most obviously was not trying to kill his killer or to seriously harm him, as only a few hard cracks against that sidewalk—defense attorney Mark O’Mara at one time forcefully and deliberately demonstrated to the jury what that would look like—would have done the trick.

In fact, it was O’Mara’s violent demonstration on a foam dummy during the trial that convinced me that Martin did not do what O’Mara essentially accused him of doing. Straddling that dummy, O’Mara violently pounded the back of its head into the floor. Wow, I thought. If Trayvon Martin did that to Zimmerman on the sidewalk and Zimmerman lived to tell about it, he must have a super-human titanium skull.

That demonstration by O’Mara was not without foundation. George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that Martin “was slamming my head into the concrete, and I thought I would lose consciousness.” I can only tell you, as the state tried to tell the jurors in this case, to use your “God-given common sense.” You try banging your head, with the force implied by the defense, against a slab of concrete and see how long you are conscious enough to talk about it, let alone remember it in vivid, if self-serving detail. It became clear to me that no such thing happen to Zimmerman. There wasn’t sufficient evidence for it, even though a paid defense expert witness said,

You can get severe trauma to the head without external injuries, actually.

Think about that. Zimmerman said his head was being slammed repeatedly into concrete. The defense dramatically claimed concrete was a deadly weapon. And, conveniently, they put on a doctor who suggested that such a weapon could kill or seriously wound without leaving much of a mark! That Trayvon Martin could slam Zimmerman’s head into the concrete “several times,” trying to kill him, and it might not necessarily look like it after the fact, after the fact that Zimmerman shot Martin in the heart. I’m sorry, but that’s not something I can accept as even remotely plausible, and certainly not believable enough to convict Trayvon Martin of attempted murder.

So, I disagree with the verdict in this case. I would have found Martin not guilty of trying to kill George Zimmerman. The evidence simply wasn’t there and the witness against him offered an implausible account and had a good reason to lie about what happened. But apparently the jury, and certainly many white Americans, don’t agree with me.

“Jus Niggaz Bein Niggaz”

Last night, while watching a segment on “All In With Chris Hayes,” I heard a reference to Nat Turner.

Now, these days, you don’t often hear references to the slave Nat Turner, so a little history is in order before we get to the reason his name was invoked on MSNBC last night.

Nat Turner—the surname being the name of his owner—was born in 1800. He became a religious zealot, who believed, essentially, that God had put it upon him to lead an uprising against slave-owners, starting in Virginia. His rebellion, which began on August 21, 1831, lasted no more than 48 hours, and resulted in (the estimates are problematic) the brutal deaths of 55 to 65 white folks, including women, the brutality, presumably, meant to “strike terror and alarm,” as one newspaper reported at the time.

When the slave-loving establishment was finished with its form of justice, an estimated 100 to 200 blacks were dead, including some who were executed by the state for allegedly being part of Turner’s rebellion and some, including some who had nothing to do with the revolt, who were summarily killed by reactionary white mobs with guns, affectionately known as militias. As Wikipedia put it:

Blacks suspected of participating in the rebellion were beheaded by the militia. “Their severed heads were mounted on poles at crossroads as a grisly form of intimidation.”

Turner was eventually caught and tried for his ill-conceived rebellion. He was quickly strung up and killed, his dead body then flayed and ripped apart like an animal. As American put it:

His skin was made into a purse, his flesh turned to grease, his bones divvied up as souvenirs. His head was permanently separated from his body and made the rounds as a curio, reportedly spending much of the twentieth century at the College of Wooster, in Ohio.

Nice. Good Christian Justice.

I said all that to say this: since Nat Turner’s rebellion there has been a fear among many whites, sometimes open and sometimes not, that there is a sort of unruly animal spirit residing in black folks that is just waiting to rebel at even the slightest provocation, just waiting to get even with whites for the sin of slavery, for the disgrace of systematic and ongoing oppression.

Enter Fox’s Bill O’Reilly.

Billo was in typical form on Tuesday night, commenting on the George Zimmerman murder trial (which I have watched fairly religiously and about which I will likely have something to offer, if I can stomach writing about it).

Naturally, O’Reilly claims, journalists are responsible for distorting racial issues and for causing “racial division.” He cited a Rasmussen poll that purported to show that more than one-third of Americans—including almost one-third of blacks!—believe that blacks are the most racist group in America (one-half of the conservatives and one-half of Republicans surveyed believe most blacks are racist). He then, also following form, predicted:

If George Zimmerman is acquitted, there will be racial animus.

By “racial animus,” of course, Billo means Niggas Gone Wild. Blacks, being filled with the spirit of Nat Turner, ain’t gonna tolerate Zimmerman getting away with shooting to death an unarmed black teenager for the crime of being, among other things, a suspicious-looking black kid.

To be fair to the unfair Bill O’Reilly, he’s not the only one sounding the Nat Turner alarm. In Florida, the Broward County Sheriff’s Department “has coordinated a response plan in anticipation of the verdict.” The response includes the enlisting of “basketball star James Jones of the championship Miami Heat.” This is James Jones:

As you can see, Mr. Jones is well-qualified to urge certain pigmented “young people not to let their emotions get the best of them.”

This is the Sheriff of Broward County:

Scott J. Israel

As you can see, he is not necessarily well-qualified to urge certain pigmented “young people not to let their emotions get the best of them.”

The Blaze, founded by Glenn Beck, is no stranger to racial issues. It weighed in recently with an article with this header:


The article consisted of stupid tweets from stupid people promising to do something violent in retaliation for an acquittal. Here was just one example among many:

Trayvon Martin Fans Tweet Death Threats If George Zimmerman Is Found Not Guilty

You get the point.

Naturally, a Glenn Beck-inspired outlet is going to document and promote such trash because doing so, predictably, results in a robust expression of the white angst that fuels so much of the subtle racism that flows through parts of conservative White America. Here is a sample of the nearly 700 responses the article received:

  • some of those tweets sound a little similar to the reports of what martin was saying the night he was shot. didn’t work out so well for him, but hey…
  • Well one more reason to own a gun and have a CCW permit. My father always said this country was ripe for a civil war of blacks vs whites and he would not live to see it. My father dies in 2011 […]
  • The apes are throwing threats again what a surprise. All I can say is BRING IT BITCHES I have some lead pie filling for ya.
  • Wow, who knew Obama had so many “sons”?????
  • Negroes are all judging Trayvon based on the color of his skin, while ignoring the content of his character. It’s sad that 95% of negroes are racist.
  • Truth be told, the WORST racists in this country are blacks….taught to be that way by the constant divisive BS pounded into them by the democrats. I figured that out when I worked at Ford in the Detroit area for 32 years.
  • It is crazy, sick, destructive and evil and it emanates from the Oval Office “design team”. Maybe martial law enacted just prior to the 2016 election………
  • You have to recall that these are the descendants of the ex-slaves that missed the free boat ride to return to Africa and they are still angry.
  • Let them try. I’m not worried about these creatures. The gun I carry is bigger and carries many more rounds than Zimmerman’s little Kel-Tec PF9. Let them try. Let them die.
  • He will be found not guilty of course and many many folks will be waiting for you boys to misbehave.
  • Ok all you afro heroes, talk your sh+t, I’ve got lots of rounds, magazines, and replacement barrels. I wonder how quick you will run when your homies bodies are being stacked like wood,eh.
  • You boys are outnumbered, even if you add the bleeding heart lib whites to help you. The race war that you yearn for won’t end the way you want so by all means let’s get this party started.
  • Civil war anyone?
  • Even these animals can see that this pig star witness is a big time failure! Hehehehehehe!
  • why aren’t these douchbags all arrested for death threats?? Come on NSA you afraid to go after them because they’re black?? As for you black punks threatening to kill a whitey, I say bring it on MF. Bring your black ass on!!
  • A Cracke_r is a person who works for a living in the hot sun herding cattle. Black MOFO’s are lazy parasites..
  • Big word from behind a computer. I am a white guy and I will be ready for that day.

As I said, that kind of stuff went on for pages and pages. Tough talk from keyboard-courageous gun-toters. But there was one particularly insightful commenter on the Blaze story, who went by the name of “BANNEDFROMCNN,” who wrote:

Jus niggaz bein niggaz.

When you think about it, that’s not much different from what Bill O’Reilly, the most popular TV conservative in America, said on Tuesday night.

Congratulations, Billo.

What Do You See?

I recently had quite an exchange with, among others, a regular contributor to this blog, Herb Van Fleet. It began with my praising President Obama’s speech at Moorehouse College and proceeded to a discussion about the Trayvon Martin case. I suggest anyone interested in human perception, in how one person sees the world as compared to another, follow that very interesting (and ongoing) exchange. Make your own judgment as to who is being led by a false perception of events surrounding the Martin-Zimmerman case, and who is not.

All of this, however, got me thinking, as I came across some seemingly unrelated articles this weekend.

Look at this photo:

An image from a surveillance camera captured Trayvon Martin before his encounter with George Zimmerman.

Now, look at this photo:

rgiii photo

Finally, take a look at this, much more famous, picture:

All of us, for one reason or another, look at these pictures a little differently. We may think they tell us something important, possibly something essential, about the person pictured.

Let’s start with Obama. What does that photo tell us about him? Well, for some folks, it tells us a lot:

Barack Obama Was High on Cocaine During “The Missing Hours” of the Benghazi Attack Last September

This “story” was promoted, as Charles Pierce points out, by The Washington Examiner, which Pierce describes as “a minor satellite in the wing-nut universe.” But even so, the story is advanced not because it is true, but because it conforms to the way some small, but significant, percentage of the population sees our president. It’s what they see when they see that photo above, or some other similar photo, or, for some smaller number of people, any photo of him at all.

Now, let’s go back to the top photo. That’s Trayvon Martin, purchasing some items at a convenience store on February 26, 2012, just before he was to encounter George Zimmerman, who shot him dead a little later that night in Sanford, Florida.

Zimmerman, who lived in the gated community in which he first spotted Martin and who was apparently a neighborhood watch coordinator of some sort, didn’t know the 17-year-old kid. Thus, he didn’t know the kid was headed toward the home of his father’s fiancée, who also lived in the gated community.

In order to properly follow the upcoming trial involving George Zimmerman, it’s necessary to understand and not forget this essential fact: Zimmerman didn’t know a single thing about Trayvon Martin. Not a single thing. But what he did know is what he saw when he saw Trayvon Martin: “a suspicious guy” who “looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something.” That’s what he first told police on the night he shot Martin.

Evolution endowed us with the ability to quickly identify things that could hurt us, like spiders and snakes. But not all spiders and snakes are out to get us. Much of that fear is irrational and a waste of mental energy. But having the ability to quickly perceive such danger obviously helped us survive and become the misjudging creatures we often are.

We are also conditioned to interpret the things we see.  Sometimes nurturing or experience teaches us to see things that may or may not be there in any particular future case. Some people look at that picture of Trayvon Martin at a convenience store and they see a kid about to do something bad. Others look at him and say it’s just another kid in a hoodie buying some Skittles and iced tea.

Perception matters, as a dead Trayvon Martina and a live George Zimmerman, who is on trial for second-degree murder, demonstrates. And it should matter to all of us that the way we perceive things on first glance, the initial judgments we make, have a high probability of error. Further, it should matter to us that part of our perception is influenced by our culture, by the way we were raised in this culture and by the way we have been treated within it. Thus, it helps us to become better thinkers, better people, if we remember these facts about ourselves and, just as important, about others.

Let’s now move to the second photo above. The one where the guy is posing before some empty boxes. Provided you haven’t seen this photo before, what do you see? What is it the image conjures up in your mind? What conclusions could you, would you, draw from this shot? Is he just a kid acting silly? Some kind of street thug? What?

It turns out, of course, that the kid in the photo (which he Tweeted) was a military brat who was born in Okinawa, Japan. He graduated from High School a semester early and graduated from college in three years, with a bachelors degree in political science and a 3.67 GPA. And he did all that, and more, while playing football for the Baylor University Bears in Waco, Texas. Oh, yeah, he won a Heisman Trophy and now is the talk of the town in Washington, D.C., as the much-loved quarterback of the Washington Redskins. The team signed him to a $21.1 million dollar four-year deal.

But I’ll bet, unless you knew who Robert Lee Griffin III was, you couldn’t have looked at the photo above and guessed one single thing on his thus-far impressive résumé of life. RG3, as he is now called, tweeted that photo in order to, as ESPN put it, show “thanks” to the fans who, because they adore him, bought many items on his and his soon-to-be-wife’s wedding registry.

Go back and look at that photo of RG3 again. And remember that, even though Rush Limbaugh thinks he can spot an angry liberal by just looking, none of us is well-equipped to make serious judgments upon first glance, or on the basis of a brief acquaintance with the facts.

Sure, there are times when a quick analysis is all you have to go on. It’s often better to let fear rule when it comes to spiders and snakes than make a lethal mistake, for instance. Modern life, though, is much different from the lives our ancient ancestors lived. We have the time to step back and take a more objective look, as we can in the case of President Obama and RG3. We have the time to examine our perceptions, to see why we are seeing what we see when we see it.

If George Zimmerman had done that on February 26, 2012, if he had taken a little more time to think about what he was actually seeing, if he had let the police do their jobs, he wouldn’t be awaiting trial in a Florida courtroom, worrying about going to prison.

And Trayvon Martin, whatever his faults were or weren’t as a 17-year-old kid, would still be alive.


How surreal it all is:

♦ First, there was teapartier Sen. Jim DeMint’s announcement of his new gig as president of the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. That’s “think” tank. You know, where real thinking is supposed to happen. DeMint, though, first publicly explained his new thinking job on Rush Limbaugh’s show, where thinking goes to die.

♦ Then there was Sen. Mitch McConnell, who tried to embarrass Democrats by proposing a vote—an up or down vote without a filibuster—on legislation that would allow President Obama to extend the debt limit all by himself, without first getting congressional approval. McConnell obviously thought Harry Reid would nix the idea. But Reid embraced it, which caused the creepy McConnell to have to essentially filibuster his own bill. Yes. He proposed something and then said he would filibuster his own proposal.

♦ All of which caused Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, who at the time was acting as Presiding Officer over the floor exchange between McConnell and Reid, to let slip from her astonished mouth: “Got whiplash!

♦ And speaking of Claire McCaskill, now it turns out that her election opponent, Todd Akin, actually received secret last-minute cash—$760,000—from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which had publicly pledged not to support the evangelical pseudo-gynecologist.

♦ Then there is the prospect that a Democratic administration, one led by a man who conservative Republicans have determined is a wildly radical leftist, is, in the words of The New York Times:

considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.

Yes, President Obama, Choomer-in-Chief, might actually put the kibosh on cannabis lovers.

♦ Then there was the distasteful Ann Coulter explaining to the even more distasteful Sean Hannity that Republicans lost the election and they should let taxes on the rich go up.

♦ Then, just when we thought Republicans were coming around to the idea that the rich would have to cough up more dough, The New York Times tells us that a significant number of rich folks will still be able to avoid them.

♦ Then there is today’s jobs report. While most experts expected the number of jobs created last month to be restrained, mainly due to Superstorm Sandy, the jobs were actually up. Up enough to drop the unemployment rate to 7.7%, its lowest mark in four years. There were 146,000 jobs added.

♦ In the mean time, right in the middle of all the muddle about fiscal cliff-diving, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman says there is no “fiscal crisis,” only a “job crisis.” He says we should spend more not less:

So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.

♦ Finally, the guy who killed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin is, uh, suing NBC. George Zimmerman alleges,

NBC News saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain.

In the mean time, Trayvon Martin doesn’t get to sue anybody.

Why Trayvon Martin Hit George Zimmerman, In Zimmerman’s Own Words

I don’t know what was worse, George Zimmerman picking Sean Hannity and Fox for his one and only television interview, his lawyer allowing him to do it, or Sean Hannity pretending this was a real interview and not merely an extension of Zimmerman’s legal defense, which, by the way, he appeared to have actually harmed (read the whole thing and you will see).

In any case, despite Hannity’s embarrassing performance, it is fairly easy to see why Trayvon Martin felt threatened by Zimmerman. After calling police and then pursuing Martin (Zimmerman initially said he wasn’t following him and said he only moved “approximately 100 feet” from his car, but even from this interview it is clear he was following him—he eventually tells Hannity he doesn’t regret doing so and then contradicts himself later), Zimmerman made it sound like Martin just materialized right before his eyes and he revealed just why Martin felt the need to punch him:

HANNITY: OK. And so at that point, Trayvon is — all of a sudden you turned around and there he was?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, sir.

HANNITY: What happened next?

ZIMMERMAN: He asked me what my problem was.

HANNITY: Expletive problem?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, sir. And I was wearing a rain jacket, and I had put my cell phone in my jacket pocket, as opposed to my jeans pocket where I normally keep it. And I immediately went to grab my phone to this time call 911 instead of a non-emergency, and when I reached into my pants pocket — because that’s where I keep it out of habit — it wasn’t there, and I was shocked. I looked up and he punched me and broke my nose.

HANNITY: One shot?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, sir.

HANNITY: One shot?


HANNITY: So he said to you, you have expletive, you have a problem. Those are the exact words used. You remember it?

ZIMMERMAN: “Do you have a problem? What’s your problem?”

HANNITY: What’s your problem.

And you said to him, “I don’t have a problem.”

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, sir.

HANNITY: You reached for your phone?

ZIMMERMAN: I reached for it as I was saying, “No, I don’t have a problem.”

HANNITY: And at that point you just got hit?

ZIMMERMAN: He was already within arm’s length from me.

Now imagine Trayvon Martin’s mental state through all this. At one moment he was walking in a place where he clearly belonged, minding his own business, and the next moment this big guy starts following him. At some point, Martin asks this big man what his problem is, which causes the big man to reach into his pocket.

I can only tell you what my reaction would be at that point: I would have done the same thing Trayvon Martin apparently did. I wouldn’t wait to see if it were a gun Zimmerman was reaching for. I would have hit him square in the face and I would quite likely have attempted to disable him in some way. In that sense, it is Trayvon Martin who deserves the benefit of the stand your ground law in Florida, not Zimmerman.

So, it is clear to me from Zimmerman’s own mouth that at the very least he deserves blame for escalating what should have been a non-event into the death of a teenager, if not a conviction for second-degree murder. And it is also clear to me that any normal person would at least have second thoughts about his role in this tragedy. But, incredibly and bizarrely and outrageously, Zimmerman doesn’t:

HANNITY: Is there anything you regret? Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?


HANNITY: Do you regret that you had a gun that night?


HANNITY: Do you feel you wouldn’t be here for this interview if you didn’t have that gun?


HANNITY: You feel you would not be here?

ZIMMERMAN: I feel it was all God’s plan and for me to second guess it or judge it —

HANNITY: Is there anything you might do differently in retrospect now that the time has passed a little bit?


God’s plan? Not for him to second guess his own actions? Even those of you out there who think what Zimmerman did was perfectly okay have to concede that a brain that could utter the words above, given what happened to Trayvon Martin, is a sick brain, one in need of some serious rehabilitation.

Now, it is true that later in the interview, after much time had passed, Zimmerman was obviously told by someone, either Hannity or his ought-to-be-fired attorney who was present, that his answer above would not play well with the public or with a potential jury:

HANNITY: I asked you if you wanted to — if you could speak to Trayvon Martin’s family. I asked you if you could speak to even the American public, there’s so many people that have so many opinions that vary so much. You know, if you wanted to look into that camera and tell the American public something about George Zimmerman and about — this case with Trayvon Martin that has gotten such media attention, what would you want to tell them?

ZIMMERMAN: First, I would like to readdress your question when you asked if I would have done anything differently. When you asked that I thought you were referring to if I would not have talked to the police, if I would have maybe have gotten an attorney, if I wouldn’t have taken the CVSA and that I stand by, I would not have done anything differently.

But I do wish that there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life. And I do want to tell everyone, my wife, my family, my parents, my grandmother, the Martins, the city of Stanford, and America that I am sorry that this happened.

I hate to think that because of this incident, because of my actions it’s polarized and divided America and I’m truly sorry.

Go back and look at Hannity’s original question. It was clear what he was asking and it remains clear that Zimmerman still doesn’t get it. In his revised answer he states,

But I do wish that there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life.

To anyone, even the most ardent Zimmerman supporter, there was plenty he could have done that night to avoid what happened. And the fact that he, and his legion of mostly right-wing supporters including Sean Hannity, won’t simply come out and admit that obvious if disturbing fact, tells us much about the state of their minds and their level of decency as human beings.

Party like It’s 1804!

Alan: I hear you’re a Republican now.

Fred: Yeah, I figured, if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.

—From The Free Dictionary, “Idioms

n view of all the national commotion that the killing of Trayvon Martin has caused, and as a bleeding heart liberal, I have a modest proposal that may help make America a better place to live, or at least it may even things up a bit:

1) Because liberals like dispute resolution, I urge the Congress to pass legislation that would make it the law of the land—in all fifty states instead of the two dozen that have it now—that “Stand Your Ground” be the national default dispute resolution technique, perhaps the best one since Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton.

That ought to make those who want to “party like it’s 1804” very happy! May the fastest gun win!

2) Because liberals like mandates and subsidies, I urge the Congress to pass legislation that mandates that every liberal in the country purchase a gun, preferably a 9mm Glock.  And for those liberals who can’t afford the cost of a 9mm Glock , Congress should subsidize the purchase.  And in the spirit of George Zimmerman, who gunned down that scary, hooded teenager in Florida with his own 9mm Glock, all liberals have to do to prove their inability to pay is just say so!

These mandates and subsidies ought to make all the NRA types happy, put a chunk of change in the pockets of reactionary gun dealers everywhere, and stimulate the economy!

3) Because liberals love education and tend not to be gun aficionados nor prone to violence, I urge the Congress to pass legislation that would fund mandatory re-education camps run by the NRA, which would:

♦ Teach liberals to “get tough” and not be so, well, so compassionate.

♦ Teach liberals how to shoot their new weapons, possibly by using old Jesse Helms photos for targets.

♦ Teach liberals that while in public places it is okay to shoot people they have a problem with—so long as those liberals “feel threatened.”

♦ Teach liberals how to “feel threatened” by non-liberals.

♦ Teach liberals that “self defense” can also mean aggressively pursuing the person you are defending  yourself against.

This legislation would put a lot of out-of-work teachers back in the classroom!

4) Finally, after liberals have been given their guns, taught how to use them, and had their minds brainwashed in NRA re-education camps, government employee-loving liberals should urge the Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for government employees, like law enforcement officials, to overlook the evidence, should Glock-toting liberals begin pursuing, uh, conservatives.

There. That ought to do it. Let’s all have fun and remember: Party like it’s 1804!

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