29 July 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict

It has been over two weeks since the verdict came down. The chatter online, the continuing conversations on talk radio, and the stories on TV and in print, show no signs of exhaustion. The phrase, "Zimmerman verdict" is on its way to iconic status. The Trayvon Martin case will be iconic, for at least years. The eventual verdict is itself an indictment of Florida's laws, and judicial system.

I live near Chicago, a city that sees three or four murders every weekend. African-American children die or are injured by violence almost every day. News media report that the date on which Chicago experiences its 400th murder will be later in the year than it was in 2012. This, God forgive us, is seen as progress. If you talk to Black parents, you will find a deeply angry sense of injustice. Let one white baby or one white child be murdered, and the media are all over it. Four black and Latino children die, and no one knows their names.

Why does the murder (and that is precisely what it was) of one unarmed black kid by an armed Latino / white vigilante so grip our attention?

White killing of blacks is relatively unusual. This is not because of love or caring but rather a byproduct of de facto segregation. We simply do not mix much. I can go several days without seeing a black man. Not by intent; merely because I live outside the city, I am in a place with few blacks. The reverse is true, blacks living in the city see whites on TV, not in person. There are exceptions, baseball games at either the Cubs or Sox parks draw both whites and blacks who are fans. People who work in the downtown area generally experience an integrated environment, sort of, to an extent. There are fairly reputable studies that suggest working together does not produce socializing together. Except for the infamous "Christmas party" most of the time, staffs separated for the after work beer.

When a black person sets out to rob or rape (probably no more often than whites in similar class circumstances do) his targets of opportunity tend to be blacks because that is what he sees in his neighborhood. The same thing is true for Latinos. They see other Latinos when the step out to do something evil.

Yes there are gangs, and yes they are violent. But ask yourself, if you were poor, afraid and knew that unlike the cops, the gang would protect you, and have your back in jail or prison if you were to go there, why would you not join? I am not endorsing the choice, only suggesting we try try to understand why some kids make it.

None-the-less, it is simply true that most murders of young black men are the responsibility of young black men. So, Trayvon Martin stands out because he was in a relatively safe and upscale area when a neighbor shot him. That is one reason we are not done talking, writing and hearing about the crime.

The rate at which crimes happen in poor black areas scares white people. There are politicians and commentators (cf. Glen Beck) as well as some religious leaders who use that fear. They are disgusting people, but they do ring a bell in the minds of the fearful. They do real evil or try to. Sometimes, they fail spectacularly.

One of the lessons of the last national elections came when the Republican Party had to run away from Senate nominees in Missouri and Indiana when their stunning levels of ignorance and bigotry offended even Romney campaign staff. There are limits to the misogynist, homophobic, and racist idiots we will elect. This case is being used by those who think they can expand that boundary with fear.

Here we have black Trayvon killed by white George. Perhaps for the first time, white people have to finally face what blacks think of us. We do not like hearing or reading that black men teach their sons to be afraid of whites. We do not like learning that the black reaction to the acquittal was not shock. Black people do not really expect justice from courts they see as a white institution. If we white folks are stunned by what the incredibly bad laws in Florida allow, black people who always thought of it as the "whites stand their ground shooting us" laws take a different view.

Hearing the President call out our prejudices makes us uncomfortable. It damn well should make us uncomfortable! Hearing him describe hearing car doors lock merely because he walked by, hearing him describe the way he would have to tell his boys, if he and Michelle had them, to be careful of whites; that upsets a lot of white folks.

Predictably, almost on queue, the stupider members of the chattering class leapt to the attack after the President's remarks. Black Americans could be excused if they thought Rush Limbaugh was trying out a new stand up routine when he said that the problem was, "liberal racism!"

But in the extremist reactions of the ultra-right lies the answer. We have this neat delusion, America is finished. It is a completed product where there is justice and opportunity for all Anyone who fails does so by either choice or merit. When we see the murderer walk away with an utterly bogus, "not guilty" verdict, when we see the president's comments, our nice picture is shattered.

I love my country too much to pretend it is not a work in progress. We need to acknowledge that we have flaws if we are to fix them. Yes it is no longer acceptable to wear a hood and whip people. But that is not even a minimum description of justice. When idiot candidates for the Senate come up with the incredible idea of, "legitimate rape" we have work to do before we can claim that we do justice. And especially the so-called, "conservatives" in the Tea Party do not want to hear that.

It is time and past time we admit that there is such a thing as white privilege. It exists in legislatures that are gerrymandered to keep whites in power; in incredibly unequal access to education; in the raw injustice we saw in Florida; and yes in our religious culture as an integral part of who we are. We have to fix this, or we face catastrophe. And some do not want to see that, they "gate" communities, write stand your ground laws, and tell ourselves that all is well. "Hey we elected one of, "those people" president right? How dare the president or some obscure blogger doubt the USA?"

President Reagan was wrong. America is a shining foundation on a hill, not a city. That we still need to build.

1 comment:

George Waite said...

If you believe in diversity so much, move to where you'll live in a more diverse neighborhood.
Your church is, like all the mainline Protestant churches, between 3 and 8% non-White and non-Middle/Upper Middle Class. Guess all those "Celebrate Diversity" signs did about as much as all those "consecrated" wafers and wine.

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