American Skin, written by Bruce Springsteen in response to the shooting death of Amadou Diallo echoes themes that are just as relevant to American families today as they were over a decade ago. In 1999, Diallo was shot 41 times by four plain-clothed officers of the NYPD, who thought he resembled a serial rapist that they were on the lookout for. The 23-year-old made the fatal error of reaching for his wallet, which earned him a cascade of bullets. Predictably, the four officers were acquitted of all charges.
The lyrics of this song sound so familiar in light of recent events. The theme is so recurrent in this country. Politicians and the talKKKing heads over at NOTNEWS Channel can keep denying that racism exists in our country and in our law enforcement agencies, but people that live in the REAL WORLD see it every day:
Lena gets her son ready for school She says “on these streets, Charles You’ve got to understand the rules If an officer stops you Promise me you’ll always be polite, that you’ll never ever run away Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight
What a shame that in the Land of the Free we must advise our children that they are “suspicious-looking” because of the color of their skin, because of the clothes they wear, or because of the neighborhood they live in. Shameful, but true. We BLAME THE HOODIE!
Is it a gun, is it a knife Is it a wallet, this is your life It ain’t no secret It ain’t no secret No secret my friend You can get killed just for living in Your American skin
If only we as a nation would face this problem head-on, and admit the truth that racism and classism is a VERY REAL THREAT to American citizens and to the health of our nation as a whole. Cuts to education and public services will only perpetuate a permanent underclass and grant the PRIVILEGED ever-greater powers to subjugate the weak. The same mentality that allows us to condone and pardon those who pull the trigger on the defenseless also allows us to look on with indifference the plight of the poor and downtrodden. People are dying every day because we choose not to see or hear them. The ultimate irony is that soon we who are so comfortably ensconced in our false vision of the American Dream, lulled by Reality TV and Corporate-sponsored media, will soon find ourselves alongside the ranks of the voiceless if we continue to be indifferent to the signs all around us.
Like so many other teachings of Jesus, it seems that to “turn the other cheek” is not a philosophy that many American Christians follow.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.—Matthew 5:38-42, NIV
This passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has been quoted often, but in the Land of the Free, it seems that this sort of behavior is just for wusses. Our nation elected a brash cowboy TWICE, despite clear signs that his stated Christian values were belied by his thirst for war and treasure. Not once did he turn the other cheek. Instead, he proudly declared, “BRING IT ON!” And his followers cheered to the heavens, “God is on our side!” We marched against the “evildoers” and lost thousands of lives in the name of American Exceptionalism. The latest incarnation of the GOP has as its representatives a host of far-right religious conservatives who strive to dial back the clock on women’s rights, while simultaneously paying tithes to Corporate Gods and the NRA. More moderate and forward-thinking Republicans are aghast at the way their party has been hijacked by these holy warriors who bear little resemblance to the gentle prophet of the New Testament.
Many Americans, and most of our leaders, believe that America is indeed exceptional. They believe that God has blessed this nation specifically, though there is no mention of our fair land in the Bible. Somehow ingrained into our consciousness, however, is the notion that our country, despite its flaws, is divinely inspired by principles of freedom, justice, and inalienable rights. It sounds good. It sounds RIGHT.
The flaw in thinking this way is that we believe that we have this blessing from God by nature of our existence. The problem is that we have broken the contract that would grant us this blessing. In fact, it can be argued that we never honored the contract in the first place. Though our greatest leaders have so eloquently stated the ideals of our Constitution that ours is a land ruled by Laws, Rights, and Fairness, the reality of life in this country makes a mockery of these ideals.
The Stand Your Ground Law that has so recently been placed in the spotlight of national attention after the brutal death of Trayvon Martin, is a perfect instance of this conflict between stated Christian ideals and the reality of our gunslinging mentality. We have seen time and time again the fruits of this evil law and similar ones that have been passed across the country. An extension of the Castle Doctrine, which is meant to protect people whose homes have been invaded, allows people to shoot first, ask questions later. In effect, one’s body is one’s castle, and may be defended even if retreat is possible.
This sounds like a reasonable law. If you are attacked, why should you not be able to defend yourself? In the case of Trayvon Martin, his killer George Martin claimed that he was in fear for his life and shot only in self-defense. Young Martin, armed with Skittles and iced tea, was pursued by Zimmerman, who was armed with a gun. This claim by Zimmerman and the implementation of the Stand Your Ground Law was the basis for his immediate release without arrest. By claiming self-defense, the burden fell to law enforcement to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not really afraid for his life-a duty that was once the domain of judge and jury. In a police department that already has its fair share of questionable actions, it is clear that Sanford investigators decided it was not worth it to try to prove otherwise. Zimmerman is also both immune to criminal prosecution and to civil action if it is deemed that he was genuinely in fear for his life.
A law such as this that protects the use of deadly force simply by uttering the words of “self-defense” by-passes the judgement of law enforcement and protects the killer from having to stand before a judge and jury of his peers.
FOX News and far-right commentators have framed this case as an assault on gun-rights and an attack on Stand Your Ground laws. As a growing number of Americans are becoming outraged about the death of Martin and the non-arrest of Zimmerman, anger is brewing on the other side against those who would suggest that Stand Your Ground is flawed. Invocation of self-defense has tripled since the law was enacted in Florida, with 65 of 93 cases ending in death of the alleged assailant. This means that in most cases the only other witness to the altercation is dead. Even with video evidence, the claim of self-defense seems to have a lot of latitude, even if the killer chases and stabs in the back a person who is attempting to flee.
George Zimmerman’s lawyer has recently revealed that Zimmerman sustained a broken nose and a laceration to the back of his head as evidence that he was attacked by Martin (after Zimmerman trailed him in his SUV, then exited the vehicle to follow him on foot). This is a classic case of bringing a gun to knife (or skittles) fight. The reason that Martin is dead and Zimmerman is crying his eyes out in hiding is the gunslinging, might-makes-right mentality that is pounded into our collective heads from the day we are born.
In direct contrast to the espoused Christian ideals that our leaders love to invoke, the reality of life in the streets of any given town across the country is that an outing to the local playground with your kid could result in your death before her very eyes. The difference in this case involving a black shooter and white victim is that Trevor Dooley was arrested and charged with Manslaughter with a Firearm, Improper Exhibition of a Firearm and Openly Carrying a Firearm and must prove in court his claim of self-defense under Stand Your Ground.
7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.–Matthew 15:7-9, NIV.
This eloquent lament echoes how I feel for all of the children and innocents who have died through NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN:
Like the thunder rattling my apartment, the death of Trayvon Martin is rattling my soul. Like millions of Americans, I marveled over the fact that I had heard nothing on the news about the slaying in the three weeks since the incident took place. Then, when the Sanford Police released the 911 tapes over the weekend, and the nation heard Trayvon’s horrified cries for help before the single shot that ended his life, the story exploded—like my own heart.
To add insult to well, one can’t say “injury” in the case of a gunshot and heart-stopping fatality…but to heap insult upon the memory of a sacred and beautiful human life lost, the killers are often not brought to justice. Time after time the narrative twists the crux of the matter: that an innocent person has died and his death is judged, somehow, JUSTIFIED. Zimmerman was justified because he SAID he was acting in self-defense against a boy armed with Skittles and a can of tea. He was justified to use lethal force against crude weapons that by no stretch of the imagination could be fatal. He was justified by an overly vague and ambiguous law that seems more suited to the Wild West than the 21st century. Though this “suspicious” boy retreated from his aggressor, though this young man could not possibly know the motives of this strange character, who was just as unknown to Trayvon as his killer was known to him…Zimmerman was justified without a judge or jury in the homicide of a man who Trayvon. Chief Bill Lee stated that arresting George Zimmerman would have been a violation of his civil rights.
On May 16, 2010, another innocent lost her life. Seven-year-old Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley Jones was killed by a single gunshot wound that struck her as she was napping on the couch in her living room. The Detroit Police Department’s Special Response Team, followed by a TV crew filming for the crime show “The First 48,” raided the home in search of a murder suspect.
Although police were aware that children may have been inside, they fired a flash-bang grenade into the home before battering through the front door. The gunshot that killed Aiyana was fired by police officer Joseph Weekley. The officer claimed that Aiyana’s grandmother had grabbed or bumped him, causing his gun to go off-a charge her grandmother denies. There was video footage of the incident, but it has not been made public.
In October of 2011, 16 months after Aiyana’s violent death, Officer Joseph Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment with a gun. Allison Howard, a producer with A&E who was also present at the raid, was also indicted for obstruction of justice and perjury. Investigators say that Howard lied about the events surrounding the incident. I hope that there will be justice for Aiyana. The officer faces up to 15 years if convicted. Though I am sure the officer did not mean for this baby to get shot, if he was involved in a cover-up of the incident he deserves the maximum penalty under the law. I believe the Detroit Police Department as a whole should share the blame for the botched raid for putting innocent lives at risk in the first place.
Though the details surrounding each of these cases are different, what makes them similar is that public outcry and attention by the media has helped to finally start moving the cogs of justice, despite the fact that law enforcement agencies attempted to make the problems go away. Neither case has yet gone to trial, of course, so we can’t know for sure that justice will be done. We can’t allow ourselves to forget these young lives wasted needlessly. We cannot allow them to be sacrificed for nothing.
Aww yeah, that’s what I THOUGHT I heard! Listen closely around the 2:20 mark:
“Fucking coons.” REALLY? Yes. That’s what he said. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with to explain it away. Maybe he said “fluffy scones” or “fudging spoons.” Something like that. Or maybe there was a raccoon wandering by. It could happen, right?
Some people think that the Sanford Police are not only grossly incompetent and unbelievably obtuse, but also may have worked to minimize this incident and perhaps even be involved in an active cover-up. The police department should be investigated thoroughly. Heads should roll and those who are left need to be retrained to follow the rule of law.
I’ve been reading about this story for days now, horrified and outraged that the killer was not even taken into custody for questioning. George Zimmerman claims he only shot this 17-year-old kid in self-defense. For some reason the Stand Your Ground law in Florida is being used to justify this killing, based solely on Zimmerman’s word. Police claim they don’t have enough evidence to prove otherwise. After hearing several 911 calls and an account of the phone call Trayvon was engaged in just before the incident, I believe there is plenty of just cause to question Zimmerman further. A young man who walked to the nearby Seven-Eleven during half-time of an NBA ballgame never made it home. Instead, he ended up face-down in the grass, with a fatal gunshot wound to his chest.
Young Trayvon Martin, who has never been in trouble with the law and by all accounts from friends, family members and teachers was a good kid, walked to the store for some Skittles for his little brother and an iced tea for himself. On his way back home, Zimmerman spots him and begins to tail him while in his car. At some point he decides to call 911 to report a suspicious character in the neighborhood. “This guy looks like he is up to no good. He is on drugs or something,” stated Zimmerman. We know that Martin had his hood on. Is this what made him suspicious to Zimmerman? The audio of the 911 call gives a hint of what may have motivated Zimmerman to believe that Trayvon was up to no good. A lot of people are saying this was a case of racism. Who knows at this point, but listen closely to what Zimmerman whispers at the 2:20-2:23 mark. I won’t say what I thought I heard. Please let me know what you think. Listen as the dispatcher advises Zimerman NOT TO PURSUE the suspect.
Trayvon was on the phone with a friend, who stated that he became alarmed because a man was watching and following him.
“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run but he said he was not going to run.”
“Trayvon said, ‘What, are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again and he didn’t answer the phone.”
Soon 911 dispatch receives a flood of frantic calls, reporting two men scuffling, screams for help, and a gunshot. Police arrive too late, finding Trayvon Martin dead on the ground only yards from his own back door. Zimmerman states that he shot in self-defense. Police accept his version of events, going so far as to correct a witness who stated that she heard the young boy calling for help. Police let her know that it was Zimmerman calling for help, though there is no possible way that they could know that. Before the facts about the victim or Zimmerman were known, police made assumptions about what they thought occurred, and acted accordingly. Too bad none of the assumed facts were accurate.
I would like to pause here and ask you to imagine your own child or yourself as a child in a similar scenario. The child spots a vehicle with an unknown man driving along slowly, observing him. The child feels uneasy, has an bad feeling that this person is stalking him. What would you want your child to do at this point? The child begins to walk faster, hoping it’s all in his head. But the car continues to follow him. The child decides to run the short distance to safety-to his home. The man exits his car and gives chase, perhaps with his weapon already drawn. Imagine it. The Stand Your Ground law would appear to be on the side of Trayvon Martin in this case, as clearly Zimmerman is the aggressor and the pursuer who had JUST BEEN ADVISED not to follow Martin. Consider also that Zimmerman was easily 100 pounds heavier, armed, and eager for a confrontation. As he had stated in his 911 call, “These asshole always get away.” He wasn’t going to let that happen again.
George Zimmerman took his role as captain of the Neighborhood Watch quite seriously. He reportedly helped to thwart other crimes and kept a close eye on everything. Some neighbors felt a bit unnerved by his zeal, but others appreciated that he was keeping an eye on things. The neighborhood watch manual stated:
‘It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers, and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles.
‘They should also be cautioned to alert police or deputies when encountering strange activity. Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous.”
At a neighborhood community watch meeting, Zimmerman spoke with police volunteer program coordinator Wendy Dorival, who offered guidelines on what to do when a suspicious person is observed:
“I said, ‘If it’s someone you don’t recognize, call us. We’ll figure it out,’ ” Dorival said. “‘Observe from a safe location.’ There’s even a slide about not being vigilante police. I don’t know how many more times I can repeat it.”
Events become chaotic after the point that Zimmerman exits his vehicle and gives chase. The young man bearing only Skittles, Arizona Tea and his cellphone must surely have been fearful and confused. When police arrived at the scene, Zimmerman had blood on the back of his head and on his face from an altercation with Trayvon. I try to imagine what happened: Trayvon was running away. Zimmerman caught up to him and attempted to detain him. Trayvon fought back, perhaps punching him or pushing him down.
A young boy out walking his dog observed part of the altercation. Austin McLendon stated that he heard screams, which ended as soon as a gun was fired. This poor 13-year-old witness wonders if he could have prevented the shooting and feels that Martin was a victim of a stereotype. He is haunted by the events of that day, and thinks that it could have easily been him:
911 calls capture the sounds of screaming and a gunshot. One of the callers, Mary Cutcher was first to witness the dead boy and Zimmerman:
“This was not self-defense,” Cutcher said. “We heard no fighting, no wrestling, no punching. We heard a boy crying. As soon as the shot went off, it stopped, which tells me it was the child crying. If it had been Zimmerman crying, it wouldn’t have stopped. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting.”
She and her friend say they heard the sounds from a few steps away, where they were inside beside an open window. Seconds later, they dashed out to find a boy face down on the ground and a man standing over him, a foot on each side of the body on the ground, with his hands pinning the shooting victim down.
“I asked him, ‘What’s happening here? What’s going on?’ ” said Cutcher’s friend, Selma Mora Lamilla. “The third time, I was indignant, and he said, ‘just call the police.’ Then I saw him with his hands over his head in the universal sign of: ‘Oh man, I messed up.’ ”
The women, who were the first on the scene, said they saw Zimmerman pacing back and forth.
“I know what I heard. I heard a cry and a shot,” Mora said. “If there was a fight, it did not happen here where the boy was shot. I would have heard it, as this all happened right outside my open window.”
Several witnesses stated that they believed that it was a young person calling for help, though it is alleged that an officer attempted to correct a witness who stated this, saying instead that it was Zimmerman who was calling for help. Police accepted Zimmerman’s version of events and did not take him into custody for questioning. Neither was he tested for drugs or alcohol, as is customary in cases of homicide. Even after public outcry and review of the 911 tapes, which at least brings up several inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s story, police failed to take further action. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee says that there is not enough evidence to detain Zimmerman:
“In this case Mr. Zimmerman has made the statement of self-defense,” Lee said. “Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don’t have the grounds to arrest him.” “We are taking a beating over this,” said Lee, who defends the investigation. “This is all very unsettling. I’m sure if George Zimmerman had the opportunity to relive Sunday, Feb. 26, he’d probably do things differently. I’m sure Trayvon would, too.”
One might wonder what Trayvon would have done differently. Should he have recognized that he was a suspicious-looking character that shouldn’t be out walking the streets? Should he have NOT been spooked by a stranger tailing him in a car, then chasing him on foot? Should he have allowed this stranger to detain him without any reason whatsoever? I have always taught my kids to run, scream, call for help if a stranger accosts or touches them. Fight back, I would say. Now I wonder what the hell I should tell them.
The Sanford Police Department has a record of questionable practices, which makes this case even more interesting and disturbing. Trayvon Martin’s father stated that the police told him that Zimmerman was a criminal-justice major with a “squeaky clean” record, though public records reveal that he had assaulted a police officer in the past. Charges were later dropped. Records also reveal that Zimmerman had made at least 46 calls to 911 in the past year. Many fear that this is a case of racism, though Zimmerman’s father states that he is Hispanic, and therefore incapable of being racist. Public outcry and media attention has finally prompted state agencies, the FBI and the Justice Department to open investigations into the case. Trayvon’s family wants the case investigated impartially and for a judge and jury to decide the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman.
Calls to 911 were recently released, which illustrate the chaos and fear of witnesses to the events. Audio of 911 calls:
***Edited to add the pertinent portion of Florida Statutes regarding self-defense under the “Stand Your Ground” extension of the Castle Doctrine:
A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
*****(Imagine that the roles were reversed and Zimmerman was somehow killed in this sequence of events. Would Trayvon Martin’s declaration of self-defense been so readily accepted? Um, I kinda doubt it.)*****
Petitions may not help a lot as far as prosecution of Zimmerman, but it can help raise awareness and keep the spotlight on the injustice of this horrible tragedy. Visit Change.org if you would like to add your name to list of people who feel that there should be more done to investigate the murder of a young man who did not deserve such a violent, early death at the hands of a vigilante.
*****UPDATED, 4/12/2012: George Zimmerman has finally been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. It is a shame that it took this long, but at least FINALLY the cogs of justice are turning. A summary of the charges in the affadavit filed by state attorney Angela Corey outlining the justification for probable cause in the arrest of Zimmerman may be found here. As of now Zimmerman has been denied bond and will remain in jail. He may feel safer there, as his lawyers have stated that he doesn’t feel he can even go to the store without fear of attack. They also report that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a statement unverified by a professional. I am quite sure that he is feeling a certain amount of fear and distress, though this cannot be a defense of his actions. This tragic and senseless act of violence could have been avoided if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and waited for the authorities. Then he would still be free to patrol his neighborhood and young Trayvon Martin would still be alive.
This article from the New York Times was a most interesting and perplexing one. The states and voters that receive the most aid tend to be the ones that support spending cuts, tax cuts, and deficit-reduction. So-called red states that receive the most aid are also the most conservative and suspicious of “Big Government.”
“Dean P. Lacy, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College, has identified a twist on that theme in American politics over the last generation. Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.
Conversely, states that pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits tend to support Democratic candidates. And Professor Lacy found that the pattern could not be explained by demographics or social issues.”
Mother Jones points out that most red states receive more money from the federal government than they pay in taxes.
TOP TEN FREELOADERS:
1. New Mexico: $2.63
2. West Virginia: $2.57
3. Mississippi: $2.47
4. District of Colombia: $2.41
5. Hawaii: $2.38
6. Alabama: $2.03
7. Alaska: $1.93
8. Montana: $1.92
9. South Carolina: $1.92
10. Maine: $1.78
With the exception of New Mexico, most of these states tend to vote for Republicans, who have made clear that they want to cut most of these services, reduce taxes on the wealthy, and place a “fair share” of the tax burden on those who “pay nothing” into the system. The GOP is crystal-clear in their agenda, but many of the most conservative voters are the very ones who will suffer should these draconian cuts be made. Are they simply delusional, or do they truly have no idea how much they actually are benefitting from these government programs?
Should voters get what they are asking for? Cut the earned-income credit, reduce Social Security benefits & Medicare coverage? These are the “problem areas” when it comes to spending. (Other than The Untouchables: Defense-spending, and subsidies, loopholes and breaks for corporations & the wealthy). The greatest recipients of “welfare” are the Middle Class, the elderly & disabled, and children. If we are brave enough to actually follow through with courage of conviction, we would have to be stoic about the havoc it will wreak in these populations. To think that private enterprises will step in to save the weakest among us is to ignore history and human nature.
Right now my favorite show is The Walking Dead, on AMC. I haven’t read the comics, so it’s all new to me. I have heard that the show does not follow the comics very closely. One of the best characters, Daryl, is not even in the original story. He’s the guy I would stick with in a zombie apocalypse.
In the scene last episode when the group kills a group of walkers in various gore-tastic ways, my husband said that they were “going Office Space” on their asses. It was funny when I saw this video later:
Apparently other people had the same idea. I wonder if they planned it that way for us geeks to laugh about?
This show has captivated me in such a way that I watch Talking Dead and debate various strategies of survival with others. This may seem pretty freaking lame, but I think my fascination arises less from the zombie story, but more from the possibility that one day we may face a situation where normal society breaks down. We rely heavily on technology and the Internet for our basic day-to-day needs. Most of us don’t know how to grow and preserve our own food or to hunt. We depend on law enforcement and the government to provide our security and safety net should any catastrophe occur. I am not a survivalist (yet), but I can imagine the swift breakdown of civilized society should all of our comforts and conveniences be disrupted.
We need only look back to Hurricane Katrina to see a picture of what could happen on a national or global scale. Truly sobering. The Walking Dead titillates me because it is an allegory of what could happen. The characters are not very likable a lot of the time. I find myself yelling at them, advising them, and wondering how I would do if I were in their shoes.