Saturday, July 20, 2013


A few years back, I was on tour with a jazz quartet, hurtling through the Midwest in a van. On long drives, musicians can have pretty involved conversations. Some border on the mundane, or sometimes you just throw jokes or stories back and forth. Sometimes, you try to take apart the entire world and solve it like a Rubik's Cube. On this ride, we were talking about 9-11 and conspiracy theories. (If you've ever watched documentaries like "Loose Change", you might have the same questions about 9-11 that I have.) The most common conspiracy theory is probably the one that 9-11 was not the work of terrorism; it was instead, our government attacking its own people, thereby creating an excuse to invade Iraq. But even as lefty as I admit to being, it's difficult to imagine my own country essentially attacking itself. I had one of those moments where, upon speaking, I could hear how naive and stupid the words were as they resonated: "Why would the government do that to its own citizens?" I was the only white person in the group, the other three musicians were black; two were a fair bit older, old enough to have a vivid recollection of the turbulent 60's. The two older black men, justifiably so, gently laughed at my sentiment, as if to say, "Ah, this poor naive white boy..."As they laughed, the full weight of my words hit me. When you take an honest look at U.S. history, you would have to think: why WOULDN'T the government kill its own people? Look at our history. If you really look at the sordid past of our beloved U.S.A., it's a wonder that we ever have any justice at all.

The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman fiasco is a perfect example. I didn't follow the case that much during the sensational trial. I'm not a lawyer, and I only know as much as I am able to read about in the news. The more I read about it, and the more I think about it, the whole thing is a nightmare. The jury decision, while disgusting and tragic, doesn't surprise me. To think that we live in a "post-racial" country is incredibly naive. Sure, we don't have separate drinking fountains and restrooms and baseball teams. Having a black President does not magically fix the problems of the entire black population of the U.S. (In fact, white people who say "We have a black President! Why are black people still complaining?" should be sent into outer space.) The racism which created Jim Crow, segregation, minstrelsy, separate but equal, lynch mobs, the KKK, and the current state of Black America is still very much alive; in some ways, the election of Barack Obama has brought the racism out of the woodwork (in the form of the "Tea Party" and the "Birthers). So to say that the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is not about race is completely insane, especially in a state like Florida.

I suppose the jury in this case, on paper, made their decision based on the "stand your ground law." It's interesting that somehow this "law" is on the books in Florida, yet when I consider the fact that the U.S. Congress NEVER passed an anti-lynching law, it reminds us of the hypocrisy that is our government. Thousands of blacks were murdered by lynching from the late 1800's through the 1960's. Many anti-lynching bills were introduced during the 20th century, but they were always blocked by southern Democrats (the Democratic and Republican parties used to be quite different). This was basically mob rule; fewer than 1% of lynchings ever resulted in a murder prosecution. So in effect, folks in the American South could decide that a black person was a "threat" and murder him without regard for any legal consequence. This aspect of U.S. history, like many other aspects of U.S. History, makes me ashamed of my country.

Now, the Zimmerman verdict has once again affirmed that self-righteous citizens (or just plain old white racists) can murder without punishment simply because they are "threatened" by someone. Most lynchings were attributed to things like "a black man looked at a white woman" or false accusations of rape and so forth. Now, you can just be walking down the street with a hoodie, and you can be considered a "threat". Lynching was not legal, but it was sadly tolerated (in fact, many lynchings were public spectacles). "Stand Your Ground" is a LAW, and versions of it are on the books in about 30 states. This law, at least in Florida, was controversial BEFORE the Zimmerman case. From Wikipedia:

Stand-your-ground laws are frequently criticized and called "shoot first" laws by critics, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In Florida, self-defense claims tripled in the years following enactment. The law's critics argue that Florida's law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot others and then claim self-defense. The shooter can argue that he felt threatened, and in most cases, the only witness who could have argued otherwise is the deceased. This problem is inherent to all self-defense laws, not just stand your ground laws. Before passage of the law, Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous in that "[w]hether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used."

Many are angry about the verdict. Some people are saying, "Well, the jury spoke, whether you agree or not. It wasn't about race; it was about the law." OK, fine. What about the case of Marissa Alexander, a black woman who tried to use the defense when she shot a warning shot at a wall to deter her crazy violent husband from killing or hurting her. She got the mandatory 20 year sentence-that's right, 20 years in jail, for STANDING HER GROUND! What gives, Florida? Does the law not apply to black people? Here's some highlights from the Chicago Tribune article:

"In one case Mr. Zimmerman kills a young man and walks away, free to kill again," Jackson said. "And Marissa shot no one, hurt no one, and she's in jail for 20 years."

"Ours was a moral appeal," he said. "This mother has three children. They need their mother," he said, noting that Alexander had already served the three years originally offered to her by the state in a plea deal.

Michael Dowd, a New York domestic violence attorney handling Alexander's appeal, contends she should not have been charged with felonies, but rather a misdemeanor, such as unlawful discharge of a gun.

Alexander, a slightly built woman, said her husband, Rico Gray, was moving toward her threateningly when she fired into a kitchen wall. He had previously been convicted on a domestic violence charge for attacking her.

Alexander filed a "Stand Your Ground" claim, but a judge ruled against her because Alexander chose to go back into the house with her gun.

A jury took just 12 minutes to find her guilty of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Because Alexander fired a gun in the incident, Florida's "10-20-Life" mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines required the judge to sentence her to 20 years in prison.
At the time, Alexander had an active restraining order against her husband and she carried a concealed weapons permit.

The injustice is crystal clear. What's being done? Jesse Jackson, the NAACP, and other groups are calling for Alexander's release. There are also many protests and rallies going on around the country in response to the Zimmerman verdict. There is a call to boycott Florida Orange Juice and tourism of Florida. Some don't think it will work; Democratic leaders in Florida say this:

"The right-wing ideologues who control the Florida legislature couldn't care less about a state-wide boycott. All they care about is the right – these so-called rights – for everyone to bear arms," Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said Friday.

Yes, the SO-CALLED right to bear arms, or in this case, the right to kill black people without consequence.  Just like the lynch mobs of history. These ideologues are insane; they can't listen to reason. They don't care about justice; they care about their own jobs at best and at worst they really believe in white supremacy. (There, I said it.) George Zimmerman was a one-man lynch mob, and the mostly white jury, ironically all women, let him off in a showing of southern good ol' boy justice.

And if you are black........."Oh, I'm soooory...... but that law doesn't apply to YOU. But thanks for playing. Good luck in jail! I guess you shouldn't have stood your ground..."

"But why would our government and our laws and the system be unfair?"

Why would it EVER be fair? When WAS it fair?

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