I want you to do a little thought experiment. Don’t worry, if you have had a long day and your brain is tired, it won’t be too hard. If you’re a Teabagger and are not very smart, it won’t be too hard. If you’re a middle class white person with concerns about brown people moving into your sleepy suburb and all your wealth and privilege came to you more or less by accident and your morality, such as it is, comes to you mainly by default, it won’t be … well actually, for you this might be hard but I’m sure you can do it.
Here’s the scenario. The white teenage son of the white police chief of a middle class community in Florida is walking home from the corner store having bought skittles and gummy bears. It is night and it is dark. The neighborhood through which the young white man is passing is mostly black, and one of the black people who lives there, a black man in his 20s or 30s who has a record of violence, and who is carrying a firearm, follows the young white man for a while, then eventually chases him down and confronts him. People nearby hear the young white boy yelling “help help” for a while, then they hear a gunshot. The white boy, the son of the police chief, is dead, and the big black man with the record of violence admits to having shot him, but makes a claim that it was in self defense even though he chased the boy before shooting him dead, and the boy was unarmed.
Still with me? Good. The next part of this thought experiment gets a bit tricky.
The police have arrived. They observe that the teenage son of the police chief is dead. Several neighbors have called in to 911 and reported the same thing, and people at the scene are now being interviewed and they are all saying the same thing as well: It is confirmed that the black guy chased down the white kid and shot him, but he, the big scary black man with the gun, is now claiming self defense.
The police at the scene are faced with the question of what to do when they catch up to the black man. Here are some of the options:
1) Shoot him on sight and say he made a false move.
2) Shoot him if he makes any actual false moves, or arrest him.
3) Wrestle him to the ground violently, put hand cuffs on him, drag him down to the police station, work him over, place him under arrest; later, the criminal justice system puts him in prison for life where, as a killer of a cop’s family member, he is later murdered by prison guards who are never identified or charged.
4) Hear his pleas that he shot the boy in self defense and let him go, don’t file charges. Call the coroner to pick up the body.
Imagine, if you will, that this scenario plays out a hundred times in Florida and other southern states. Imagine that we record what occurs each time and we make a chart. Using the numbers in the list above to label the histogram, what do you think that histogram would look like? I think it would look like this:
Now consider what happened when George Zimmerman gunned down 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. It was the same scenario described above but the victim was a black kid and the shooter was not black. Now, before you go ballistic about me playing the race card here, let me make something very clear. In the thought experiment, I set it up so that a black man shoots an unarmed privileged and connected white boy and ask you to imagine the outcome. You did not seriously consider that the police would say “oh, OK” on hearing that it was self defense, letting the guy go. No one with two neurons to rub together would ever consider that as a possibility. It does not matter if George Zimmerman was acting in a racist manner or not for this to be a racial problem. When the black man is the perp, he receives the full attention of the police force and suffers the full weight of the law, plus more, and there is sometimes a death sentence without justice. When the perp is a white man something more like real justice happens. That is racism.
There are two possible reasons that George Zimmerman did not get arrested for having committed the murder of Trayvon Martin. One is that this is truly a racial event, and the local police saw this as one of their own putting down a black boy. Zimmerman did say to the cop something like “These assholes are always getting away.” This time, the asshole did not get away. The other possibility is that Zimmerman is not being held responsible for what he did because of the NRA, the gun lobby, and the political activism and campaign donations of the gun-nut community and their unabashed political power. This would be because Zimmerman was (according to some) exercising his right to “stand his ground” under Florida’s relatively new “stand your ground” law.
The “stand your ground” law removes the time honored rule codified in many laws and clarified in many court cases that you must beat a retreat if threatened, and allow the authorities to take over for you. The “stand your ground law” was passed in Florida and has been considered in many other states because, it is said, the police will never arrive on time to save or protect you, so you better be able to carry a firearm and shoot when you feel threatened. So far, I don’t know of any cases where someone has properly acted to “stand his ground” though there are numerous cases where people violently attacked others–using firearms or not–in public places, in states where lots of people carry firearms legally and demand to do so in order to defend themselves or others from felonious violence, where there was not any citizen response of any kind. And now, we have a case of a person “standing his ground” by stalking, running down, and executing a young man who’s only crime was that he liked skittles. And, this case happens where even if the young man who was murdered in cold blood was actually committing a crime, the police could have easily gotten there in time and dealt with him. (I note, based on a comment by Gwen on another post, that Zimmerman had called the police about once a day for several weeks prior to this event, reporting suspicious activity, clearly showing some sort of mental derangement. Clearly he should not have been permitted to own a gun and he should have been charged long earlier for abusing the 911 system. One wonders if he was linked to the police force some way, via friendship or family ties.)
Both of these–racism or gun nuttery–could apply at the same time, of course. Zimmerman could have acted in a racist manner. Perhaps he had been looking for a black kid to execute. Or, perhaps he’s just a vigilante who had been looking for a chance to gun down anyone handy. Or, perhaps the latter applies to him generally, but the former was opportune; if you shoot a black kid to death, the local police would be less concerned than, say, if the scenario in the thought experiment (above) had played out. In truth, we can’t separate the issues of gun violence and overzealous worship of guns and gun ownership from the issue of race and racism. For the most part, “right to carry” and “stand your ground” and “castle defense” and “you can pry my guns out of my cold dead hands” attitudes and arguments are white, and often over-white, as in white supremacist, racist, and rather tea-flavored, if you catch my drift.
It is utterly astonishing that Zimmerman has yet to be arrested, even after this incident has received national, and negative, attention. Perhaps something violent has to happen. Perhaps some white kids have to get popped, or a downtown business district burned to the ground, or a half dozen police cars torched and tipped over. I hope not. I hope the authorities act quickly to bring this matter to a close, and then, that state legislatures around the country that have passed “Stand your ground” or similar gun-nut favoring laws undo their idiotic decisions, and those considering such legislation drop the matter. Also, I hope we all recognize that the gun lobby has lost a lot of ground on this one. This event shows the gun nuts for what they are, and it shows what happens when they get their way.
I personally don’t have a problem with well regulated gun ownership (which this event in Florida is not an example of!) but I do think that the Second Amendment needs to be repealed, because it gives the pro-gun lobby cachet they can never earn on their morals.