What We Talk About When We Talk About George Zimmerman - And Response (3)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Since the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was announced Saturday night, our national discussion has reached dizzying new heights of acrimony. Social media in particular has been humming with what can charitably be described as complete and total ignorance. Twitter. Facebook. Every inbox. All clogged with chest pounding by people who passionately believe the stupid, racist jury got it all wrong.  [Full disclosure: I think our civic processes ran their respective courses and I believe the jury actually got it right. I also believe that there is a lifetime of sorrow for all parties directly involved with this sad sad tragedy. Furthermore, sick sick people have happily said incredibly insensitive, hateful things garlanded with racial slurs. I am not addressing them because, seriously, that stuff’s pretty obviously screwed up.]

Ah, the idiocracy has spoken.  Ignorant Individual Type One is simply uninformed about the case. This individual is genuinely in the dark about the facts of this case beyond a very superficial level. They parrot the dominant opinions within their circle of acquaintances and the crawl at the bottom of the screen on CNN. This kind of person is frustrating because they are being intellectually lazy, but they are not nearly as dangerous as Ignorant Individual Type Two.

Ignorant Individual Type Two is much more troubling and problematic. This is the person who is being Intellectually Dishonest. This person has certain conscious or subconscious ideological commitments and therefore cannot be bothered with the facts of the case that are contrary to their belief system. For example, if you have made a prior ideological commitment to the notion that guns are bad, well, your thinking is conveniently all laid out for you- George Zimmerman had a gun, ergo George Zimmerman is the villain. If your intellectual default setting requires that any conflict between a black person and a white person is really about generations of systematic institutionalized oppression by whites, then don’t you worry your little head about details like Zimmerman being brown, just shout “Racist” and finish your soy latte at the food co-op. Does the notion of “policing” a neighborhood strike you as inherently authoritarian and oppressive? Then “poof” George Zimmerman is a wannabe cop and vigilante. No more of that “critical thinking” stuff required for you. 

There is so much intellectual laziness and dishonesty afoot these days, it can all get a little confusing. So here is a handy little “Field Guide To Ignorant Things Ignorant People Say” that covers the low-lights of what is being texted, tweeted, and shouted in the streets after the not guilty verdict was announced Saturday night.  

1. George Zimmerman Is A Racist

This one is a real head-scratcher if you know even a teeny-tiny bit about George Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s high school prom date- black. Zimmerman’s business partner- black. Zimmerman’s wife’s best friend- black. Kids Zimmerman tutors after school for free- black. Neighbor Zimmerman invited to stay at his house as long as she needed after being rattled by a break in to her house, black. Homeless man killed that Zimmerman fought for justice for- black. Fifty-one percent of the neighborhood where Zimmerman rents a house- black/brown. Seriously, if you have spouted this nonsense, shame on you. Nobody who actually knows Zimmerman labelled him a racist, but you can spot that sort of thing from your couch in Kalamazoo. 

2. George Zimmerman Racially Profiled Trayvon Martin

This one is troubling because it represents a complete misunderstanding of both racial profiling and the events of Feb. 26, 2012. “Racial profiling” would make more sense if we knew that Zimmerman had seen three or four white kids walking at night in between houses in his neighborhood in the rain and completely left them alone. Then when he observed Trayvon walking at night in between houses in the rain he immediately called the police because Trayvon was black.

Come to think of it, given the history of crime in his neighborhood, Zimmerman would actually have been justified in racial profiling. [If that term is too offensive for your delicate sensibilities we can call it “criminal profiling.”] In the 12 months prior to the shooting, The Retreat at Twin Lakes was subjected to eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting as well as numerous attempted break ins. What is the description of the perpetrators of these crimes who were either witnessed committing them or later caught? Young black males. I suppose Zimmerman should have been on the lookout for midget gingers. 

The corollary to accusing Zimmerman of “racial profiling” is to simply skip right to describing George Zimmerman as “stalking” or “hunting” Trayvon Martin. That’s not factually accurate in any sense of those words, but it sounds very dramatic and must be bad.

3. Ridiculously Oversimplifying The Events Of February 26, 2012 

“All I know is that a grown man shot and killed a kid carrying Skittles.” Nice one!. While I appreciate that you like your reality very simple and easy to digest, this kind of reductio ad absurdum twists and distorts the events of that night into something far from their actual reality. You probably think that World War II was a simple misunderstanding about Poland. Sure. Now if it makes you feel better, I am willing to concede that, in general, grown men should not shoot kids carrying Skittles or any other type of candy. Now will you concede that there is a little bit more nuance to this particular incident? A few contributing factors? You don’t have to concede anything, but you are doing the intellectual equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and shouting, “Kid got shot, la la la la la.” It makes you look incredibly childish and small-minded.

4.That Could Have Been My Child That Was Killed That Night

This particular non-sequitur has been repeated by everyone from President Obama to probably you just this morning. Let me clear this one up for you: If your child is in the habit of walking between houses in the rain at night in a neighborhood that has repeatedly and recently been burglarized by youths, and furthermore, if your child is the type that upon realizing that he or she is being observed lawfully by an individual from a distance decides to go and verbally/physically confront that individual who is lawfully observing them and, instead of, say, more prudently continuing on to his or her nearby domicile, and if your child is also the type inclined to smashing an individual’s head into the concrete while straddling them, and then further further still, if the person your child is straddling and head-bashing happens to be armed, then yes, yes indeed, that could have been your child. But probably not.

Too much ignorance. Let me put it this way. If you, when confronted by facts corroborated by multiple witnesses and validated by experts- you instead see race, and if you, when confronted by a due process by a variety of professionals and agencies as well as a jury of mothers with children of their own- you see race, and if instead of facts, logic and reason- you only see race, race, race, then you are a race-ist.     

John Daum 

* * * 

In U.S. common law in most jurisdictions, a citizen may make an arrest provided he or she sees the crime committed, and to use force to hold the suspect until police arrive.  If the citizen making the arrest is mistaken, there are no protections for that citizen and he or she can even be prosecuted for false imprisonment or even kidnapping, both felonies. 

Trayvon Martin was not committing a felony nor had any felony been committed in that area that evening at the time of his murder.  George Zimmerman, already in violation of Neighborhood Watch procedure by being armed, was explicitly instructed by the police not to engage Martin and did anyway.  Since no felony had been committed, Zimmerman had no authority under citizen’s arrest to stop, much less detain, Martin and was therefore committing felony unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping in this case since he was armed.   

Trayvon Martin's death occurred not only during but as a direct result of said felony.  George Zimmerman is therefore guilty of felony murder.  At least in the realm of objective reality. 

Under U.S. law, no one can be tried twice for the same crime, and a verdict of innocence, unlike a verdict of guilty, cannot be appealed.  Zimmerman could still be tried for civil rights violations, however, like the officers in the Rodney King case.  One thing that really bothers me about this trial is the fact that it had only six jurors as opposed to the usual 12, and the fact that they were all middle-class white women (it would bother me if they were all men or all black or or all working class or all wealthy Perelandran hermaphrodite atheists). 

By the way it handled the case, it seems upholding Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is much more important to that state than providing justice for one of its murdered citizens and his family, unless the defendant happens to be black and female (Marissa Alexander) firing a warning shot to scare off her abusive husband (she is sentenced to 20 years). 

Chuck Hamilton 

* * *

From one member of the “idiocracy” (is that a nice way to write, John?): 

I need to start by pleading guilty to thinking (not necessarily saying) your four “Ignorant Things Ignorant People Say”: 

1) George Zimmerman Is a Racist -- and so are we all.  

To me, racism isn’t an either/or proposition. Like a respiratory infection or obesity or stupidity, it’s more of a spectrum disorder. You can have a bad case, or just a mild affliction. 

Some people are blatantly racist (I recently spotted a KKK bumper sticker in my supermarket parking lot), while other people have a diverse circle of relatives, close friends and professional colleagues and appear to have no racist tendencies at all. I count myself in the latter category, yet I still feel repelled by certain behaviors associated with particular cultures. If I want to be brutally honest with myself, I’ll admit: that is racism.  

So to me, it’s not all that significant that Zimmerman started an insurance office with a black partner, tutored a couple of black children, offered to help a black neighbor, protested the killing of a black man and lived in a neighborhood that was 20 percent black. Those facts indicate that he wasn’t a blatant racist. But you failed to mention any meaningful interactions with the relevant subset of young black males. The only evidence we have on that particular topic is what we heard Zimmerman say in his call to Sanford police dispatch -- there’s something wrong with him, he’s up to no good, he’s touching his waistband, these punks always get away. 

2) George Zimmerman Racially Profiled Trayvon Martin -- and you’re just fine with that. 

You say it’s justified by the string of crimes committed in the neighborhood by other young black males. Is there any evidence that Martin was involved in any of those crimes? One of the crimes did involve a white kid, who apparently acted in cooperation with several black friends. I couldn’t find the kid’s height or hair color, but for all I know, he could’ve been a “ginger midget.” 

3) Ridiculously Oversimplifying the Events of Feb. 26, 2012 -- is all we can do because we don’t know the truth. 

Yes, obviously it’s more nuanced than “A grown man killed a kid carrying Skittles.” But all we have to go on are the various versions given by Zimmerman. If you compare the audio of his call to Sanford PD with the version he gave in the morning-after reenactment, there was fudging already going on. He gave a slightly different version to Sean Hannity. If you take into account the outright scheming and perjury that he and his wife/fellow-tutor Shellie engaged in to get him out on bail, you see that he’s a man who will try to lie his way out of trouble. And if you consider the fact that he told Hannity “It was all God’s plan,” don’t you have to question his concept of human decency? Seriously, how can you trust anything the man says when he believes killing an unarmed kid was “God’s plan”? 

4. That Could Have Been My Child That Was Killed -- absolutely. 

My son used to enjoy walking to the store to get snacks. Silly child -- he never checked the crime statistics to see whether he matched the profile of suspects in recent burglaries, because how else was he supposed to get to the store and back home except (like Martin) to walk through his own neighborhood? With the full knowledge that he had money in his pocket and his mom’s permission, he would mosey down the street with nothing on his mind except what kind of candy he planned to buy. He now prefers for me to take him in the car, because at 5’7” with ebony skin, he is terrified of being mistaken for a bad guy.  

He’s only 12, but a few racially-tinged incidents have started to register on my kid’s radar. He’s an optimistic sort who believes the best of everyone, but even he occasionally recognizes that he is being treated slightly differently than his classmates, teammates, cousins and friends.  

As his adoptive mom, I have a clearer perspective because I’m white, and white people speak freely around me, not realizing that he’s my son. He was no older than five when I observed the first incident I would call racial profiling, and small incidents have been happening ever since. I don’t tell him about these incidents, I don’t announce them on social media, and I don’t discuss them at my sister’s Thanksgiving dinner table because I prefer that my son continues, for a while at least, to be cheerful and optimistic. 

But sooner or later, it will dawn on him that he is constantly being scrutinized with suspicion. He will start to realize that self-righteous little white dudes in big pickup trucks will call the police to come check him out when he’s not doing anything wrong. You call it “lawfully observing,” but what profiling amounts to is an insult. It’s accusing someone of having criminal intent based on their gender and their skin. My son gets a tad angry about being accused of wrongdoing when he’s innocent. I am afraid of how sick of it he may become over the next five years. By the time he’s 17, he might even get sick enough of it to circle back and ask the self-righteous little white dude, “Do you have a problem with me?” And what happens after that?  

Remember: We have no way of knowing how Zimmerman answered that question aside from his own self-serving account. 

I have a 57-year-old black male friend who has reached a point where he is able to let the profiling sort of roll off his back (it probably helps that he spent almost 25 years as a cop). But profiling has dangerous consequences, and the fact that people like you just dismiss it tells me that you have no understanding whatsoever of what it’s like to live your life as a suspect. The fact that you write so humorously about it doesn’t suggest that you’re even trying to understand. 

Young white males have committed the most heinous mass shootings, and yet your sons aren’t regarded with suspicion. Do you not realize what a privilege that is? 

You started your editorial talking about different types of ignorance. Will Rogers famously said, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” You need to recognize the log in your eye.

Dusty Rhodes 

* * *

Mr. Hamilton,
Zimmerman was absolutely not "explicitly instructed by the police not to engage Martin...". The following is directly from the transcript of Zimmerman's call to the police. 

The dispatcher asked Zimmerman "Are you following him?" 

Zimmerman responded "Yeah."  

The dispatcher's exact words in response were "Okay, we don't need you to do that." 

This certainly is not, by any stretch, "explicitly" instructing him not to follow. At best, it's implicitly instructing him not to follow. It is definitely, however, explicitly telling him they didn't need him to follow. Dispatcher's aren't in the business of saying one thing and assuming the person they're speaking with will understand what he/she really meant, or giving implicit instructions when it's just as quick and easy to be explicit. Zimmerman broke no laws by following, nor did he disregard anyone's instructions when he followed. That's not to say it was the best or smartest decision; it certainly was not, but I'm tired of hearing people say Zimmerman disobeyed/disregarded/ignored explicit instructions from the police not to follow and/or engage Martin. Simply put, that is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. 

Ms. Rhodes,
There is no proof that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. There is circumstantial evidence at best (Martin being black and Zimmerman calling the police, which has not been even close to proven to have a cause-and-effect relationship), but that's it. Let's try to avoid stating personal opinion as fact. 

Dallas Cole

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