Zimmerman and the question of self-defense

I could not help myself.  I kept listening to the pundits, both last night and this morning.

I need to say that i do not respect the decision of the jury any more than the jury that acquitted the killers of Emmitt Till should have had their decision respected.  I realize that some lawyers need to say that they will respect the decision, but let us be clear that the decision was not only wrong but was a travesty.

The other piece that has been repeatedly argued is that this was a case of self-defense and that the jury had to let Zimmerman off.  So, just to get this straight, an unarmed, 17 year old young man is approached by an adult who is carrying a hand gun.  Who should feel threatened?

We do not know what actually transpired in the moments prior to the murder of Martin but every and any Black person in the USA knows the fury that is felt when we are harassed by whites and when our guilt is presumed.  Whether this happens as a result of being profiled by the police or stopped in a department store, we know and feel the humiliation.  We all know the anger that rises in us, and may literally rise in our throats in the form of bile.  We know the impulse to strike out, whether verbally or physically, when we are the recipient of a major or minor form of racial aggression.

Whether Trayvon Martin hit Zimmerman first or not is actually irrelevant.  That is the point that the jury ignored, and the TV commentators are walking around.  What is relevant is that Martin had every right to be where he was and Zimmerman actually had no right to be infringing on Martin’s space, journey and rights.

Thus, when we hear this rubbish about self-defense we have to ask ourselves some powerful and pointed questions.  For instance, if a black person is being approached by an angry white person, do they have the right to shoot and kill that angry white person because we have hundreds of years of experiences with what angry white people can do to Black people?  Is that the implication of “Stand Your Ground?”  I would guess not.

A friend reminded me this morning about the case of Marissa Alexander from Florida who fired a warning shot to hold off her alleged abusive husband.  She tried to invoke the Stand Your Ground law only to be told that it did not apply.  The jury convicted her and she was subject to mandatory sentencing, receiving 20 years.

Anyone who tries to suggest that the Zimmerman jury carefully and objectively weighed the evidence and could do nothing more than convict is living in a dream.    The fact that this outrageous law can be applied arbitrarily and that the fundamental question of why an armed adult was approaching an unarmed 17 year old (after having been told to stay home by the police) were not together the deciding factors in this case demonstrates the depth of the injustice we have witnessed.

The Zimmerman acquittal should remind us that what we are experiencing at this moment in history is a 21st century version of the dispossession and disenfranchisement that African Americans received beginning in the late 19th century.  It is not just the Zimmerman case.  It is the attack on affirmative action along with the voter suppression efforts and the weakening of the Voting Rights Act.  In the late 19th century the Southern ruling elite was desperately afraid of Black power and the potential for the Black and white poor to unite.  Today, the political Right shares similar fears.  They also fear the future.  They fear the change in the demographics of the USA.  They wish to turn back the clock and paralyze the movements for social justice that have been percolating in this country.

The Zimmerman acquittal, and the nonsensical efforts by pundits to justify it, is only part of a larger picture of what we should truly understand as an attempt at Jim Crow 2.0

We cannot let it happen and i know that we won’t.

7 thoughts on “Zimmerman and the question of self-defense

  1. It seems so clear that Trayvon is not responsible for his own death, not criminally, morally, literally, negligently, accidentally, or in any way. Nor was his death an Act of God as that term appears from time to time in the law. There were no other contributing external or proximate causes of death. There was only one other agency of this tragedy — the defendant. If, as the jury has found, Zimmerman has no criminal responsibility for the outcome of his encounter with Trayvon (a conclusion I have immense difficulty accepting but realize I must), then the only remaining cause of this tragedy is the Florida law itself which countenances Stand Your Ground and the legislators who have chosen to authorize behaviors that can result in a tragic death for which no one is responsible and which no circumstance can justify or explain. I am heartbroken. And that is without even beginning to take into account the racial politics underlying this whole ordeal.

    Thanks for your clear writing on this deeply disheartening episode in American life.

    Ira Fader

  2. Fletch, hope you are well. Reading the intelligence from your words I KNOW your mind is sound. Thanks for the reasoned analysis and the breath of fresh air.

    Your Brother Always,

    Andrew Leong

  3. I understand the frustration about the verdict. However there have been hundreds of black children killed by black men in the past years, and it doesn’t seem to generate attention of the black community. Why? If Zimmerman was black or if his last name was Hernandez and he killed a black teenager in the Bronx, would it attract as much attention? Of course not.

    You cannot show frustration about one single case and ignore statistics of violent crime in this country. Majority of black people are killed by other blacks. Much more blacks killed whites than vice-versa. That is according to official FBI statistics.

    What about the case of Chris Newsom and Channon Christian? A young white couple kidnapped in Tennessee. The male had to watch his girlfriends be raped and abused by 5 black men. Then they were both doused with gasoline, set on fire, and thrown in garbage bags. The case did not generate any attention from the mainstream media because the victims were white. Yet the black community was quick to react when Tawana Bradley made false accusations of rape at the hands of a white police officer! If it was the opposite, and Channon and Chris were black, then the NAACP and the Black community would be outraged. Why the double standards?

    The problem is that White people are becoming increasingly frustrated about the country in which they have no voice in. There is the NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus, Al-Sharpton, Jesse Jackson who speak for and defend African Americans. Same goes for the Latino community. Who represents the Whites? Do they have a NAAWP? Do they have a White Congressional Caucus? Scholarships for Whites? Television channels for Whites? Do they have a White History Month and White Universities + schools? Why is Black and Latino pride celebrated, but White pride is looked upon as a racist ideology. It needs to be an equal playing field for everyone but the majority in this country are being taught to have white guilt and not stand up for themselves.

    • I am not sure what is meant when it is said that there is no one to represent whites. I look around this country and i see a disparity of wealth, to the disadvantage of people of color; a disparity in healthcare, to the disadvantage of people of color; a disparity in education, to the disadvantage of people of color…and the list goes on. Now, if you are speaking to the plight of white working people, i would quickly suggest that you join and/or support labor unions which are among the few organizations that bring people together across racial/ethnic lines. They also speak to or can speak to the myriad of issues that white working people face in this country, not as white people, but as part of that segment of humanity known as the working class.

      I know nothing about the story that you mentioned about the white couple, but what i do know are about countless stories concerning white people who are victims of any number of crimes, alleged crimes, natural tragedies, etc., that take place, whereas those affecting people of color are ignored. I remember, for instance, on a global scale that when the Tsunami hit South East Asia, the focus inevitably turned, again and again, to any white people who were killed, rather than the hundreds of thousands of Asians who died. But there are so many domestic examples of the same thing. My former barber’s daughter disappeared years ago and was probably killed, but when white people disappear it is regularly a national disaster. Just look at the media if you need verification of this point.

      The difference between the Trayvon Martin case and the cases of black-on-black crime (which you address) is that the Trayvon Martin killing is one that has, in effect, been authorized by the government through a completely irrational law (Stand Your Ground) and the atmosphere connected with it. The Zimmerman acquittal ignores who was the aggressor; who was armed; and who provoked the catastrophe. The Zimmerman acquittal, then, is consistent with the erosion of rights for Black Americans that we have witnessed over the years plus the demonization of Black youth. The Zimmerman acquittal says to white people that it is ok to fear Black people AND to act upon those fears.

      There are any number of good things to read on these matters and i encourage you to do so.

      • Thank you for your response.

        I am not surprised you haven’t heard the case regarding the violent torture and killing of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. There was an outrage on the internet and speculation of a cover up by the media. The case infuriated a lot of people in Knoxville and the city was on the verge of race riots.

        Regarding the disparity of wealth, education and health care. Could it be that this is due to the differences in different ethnic groups? One simply cannot look at statistics and expect every group to be strictly equal in all aspects of life. There are differences in cultures and some group of people may be more advanced than other. The disparity does not necessarily have to mean that there is some racist conspiracy against one ethnic group of another. For example it is stated that the goal of communism was to make everyone equal and bring an equal playing field. However this does not mean that all countries in the Eastern Bloc were equally developed or well off. Wouldn’t it be acceptable to admit that Germans have proven to be an extremely advanced society. The communist GDR was far better off in education, health care, economic prowess than other Eastern Bloc countries. Compare GDR to countries like Romania, USSR and the differences are evident. The system and ideology was the same but the results were vastly different. Even within the USSR, there were huge disparities in living conditions and economic progress between the different Soviet republics. The northern European areas were better off in areas like education, health care, child mortality rates. If you were to compare the Baltic Republics to areas in the Caucasus and Central Asia, then the disparities would be similar when comparing a 1st world country to a 3rd world country. Baltic countries are more Westernized and the other areas I mentioned are largely Muslim and have far different societies. The Baltic and German societies are simply more advanced and hence why they are doing much better regardless under which economic or ideological system they operate.

        I think that the government in the U.S. has done more than enough to try to better the educational system for minorities. I think the inherent problem lies not with the lack of government support, but the problems within the African American community. I went to a school in a major urban area that was mostly white in the late 1990s. We started seeing an influx of black students in the school, and soon the quality of education began to decrease. The behavior of the newcomers was not what one would expect to be acceptable. Teachers and students began to be harassed and there were increased violent incidents. The teachers were intimidated by the newcomers, and thus it came to a point when they began to leave. They simply could not go on doing their jobs as they were able to previously. It was a tragic and unfortunate period that led to a complete decay of the previously decent school. The school has continued it’s downward spiral and the remaining talented teachers simply had no choice but to leave. I visited it recently and was shocked at the decline of it. Security guards everywhere, metal detectors, pat downs, and cameras. The decline of my school is the same that thousands of other schools also experienced. So how do we go on after incidents like this? The government has been trying forced integration of students from bad areas into good schools, but the result is that the schools soon become like those very same schools that the students were trying to avoid. Money is obviously not the problem here. NYC Public School System is 80% minorities and the amount that is spent on each student is by far the highest in the country. That does not change the fact that NYC schools are among the most low performing, violent and disorganized schools in the country.

        Black and White people usually keep to themselves outside of the work area. The neighborhoods are largely divided, places of worship are self segregated, I think that people identify more with those who look like them. That might explain the general lack of dialogue between African Americans and White Americans. I think it is difficult for the White Americans to identify closely with African Americans and vice versa. Black Americans identify more closely with other minorities because of their similar experiences. White Americans could easily identify more with those who are White Westerners in general. For example wouldn’t you agree that a White American would identify more with Afrikaners or Australians rather than with an African American? The same way that African Americans would more identify with Black South Africans and Haitians? Would a White American, no matter how liberal, choose to live in Soweto, Alexandria or the Aboriginal areas of Australia? The same way that If each of these four ethnic groups came to America, they would settle in areas with people who look more like them. The divide shows in all high profile cases such as the Trayvon Martin, O.J. Simpson an Tawana Brawley case. Black and White folks cheering for those who they identify with more, no matter what the facts are.

        • Thanks for your note.

          No, the disparity is not accidental. There is plenty of literature on the racial disparities. The origins of these disparities must be understood in the context of slavery. See, Theodore Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race.”

          There is no basis to believe that some groups are superior to others. African civilizations tended to be more advanced than European until about 1500, so that would not explain Africa today unless you factor in the slave trade and colonialism.

          The notion that people tend to live in separate areas because they like to be around people who “look like them” does not correspond with history. There is something that has been known as “residential segregation” that has kept people apart.

          I have this sense that you may have been speaking with the wrong people about history, race and the economy. I would recommend that you do a bit more research on the subject. The conclusions you come to about racial disparities might be frightening.

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