Myopic outrage at a clear injustice: In the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict


[Disclaimer: As a white male it is virtually impossible for me to fully understand and appreciate the burden of being a black male in this society. Even though I’ve been arrested and in jail and prison, lived in the inner city and rural South, I can only approximate what that experience is because I was always a phone call away from “connections” to the world of privilege and (somewhat limited) power – unlike Travyon Martin and others like him.]

It was a Facebook posting by a friend of mine, quoting President Obama after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the slaying of a young black man in Sanford, Florida that got me riled up.

“The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.” – President Obama

Somehow listening to one of the most egregious law-breakers in the history of the Presidency (a “kill list”, refusal to prosecute under the Convention Against Torture Treaty, blatant disregard of eavesdropping restrictions, continued operation of GITMO and hundreds of CIA black sites, …. – the list could go on ad nauseum) say we are a “nation of laws” makes me ill. To add “a jury has spoken” without referencing the inherent racism of our present judicial system that so clearly favors the wealthy and powerful makes his statement inane. Coming from a former Constitutional law professor, it seems clear that power has corrupted and absolute power has corrupted absolutely. So forgive me if I can’t appreciate words from this man, however honorable his intent might have been.

Reflection, while necessary is not to be confused with restitution or reparations. Calm reflection? How about heated and angry reflection if we can truly understand that Trayvon could have been our son or daughter? I suspect that the President could draw on his own background; even while basking in the privilege of Harvard I’m sure the color of his skin and texture of his hair led some of his classmates (and maybe a few of his professors) to respond to him differently than the white majority. I know my own white privilege and well-educated male status has both protected and perverted my understanding of the realities of the Trayvons and others who are routinely profiled – and worse – threatened and attacked. If the jury verdict can’t even approach justice for the life of a 17-year-old, it will be a much longer time before restitution will ever be considered in that courtroom.

Yet, standing in the crowd gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center this evening I was uncomfortable with the chanting: “What do we Want”? “Justice!” is the reply elicited. “When do we want It”? “Now!” is the response. But when the chant leader asks the crowd, “Who do we want it for”?, the crowd is encouraged to shout out “Trayvon” and/or “Terrence” (referring to Terrence Franklin, the young black man recently shot five times in the head and twice in the black by two Minneapolis police officers who have yet to be charged while the police “investigate” themselves.) I want to respond instead with “Everybody”. Justice for Travyon and Terrence? Yes! But also for many, many others.

The verdict in Florida was not a shock for someone who has lived in the Deep South for 16 years before moving to Minnesota – especially since I’ve been reading Glenn Greenwald’s excellent-but-disturbing book, And Justice For Some. The double standards and outright hypocrisy of our judicial system and the fawning defense of it by the corporate media have most often led to one standard for the elites and another standard for the rest of us. And that is for most of us in the 99%, both blacks and whites, and peoples of other hues as well. When coupled with the deep embedded racism within all American institutions (remembering the absurd voting rights decision of the Supreme Court less than a month ago), there is little “justice” one can expect in court.

Maybe in sensing the grief and pain of Travyon’s (and Terrence’s) parents, our Commander-in-Chief might also “reflect” on the parents of the children and youngsters blown to kingdom-come by the drones which have become the beloved instrument of choice for the former law professor who seems to wish to forgo even the formalities of a day in court for the accused if they are Arabic-speaking Muslims.

Yes, the President is right that this verdict could very well enflame racial tensions and hatreds. Asking Americans to reflect rather than just react is probably the right course of action. Yet despite having an African-American Attorney General and a biracial President, the past five years haven’t seen the gross racial disparities in our prison system change and the egregious corruption, unpunished, of Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail banks that disproportionally victimized the poor and people of color. When is the venting of outrage appropriate?

As the elites see more and more evidence that the empire is collapsing around us, they are rightly concerned that many of us will rise up and demand a change; a change many were conned into believing would come with a vote for this biracial President. Hope for change flared once again with the Occupy movement. Will this Zimmerman verdict spark a demand for deeper change? Not likely unless many of the 99% realize that most of us are Travyon Martin in this story. The “Stand Your Ground” laws and the property laws weren’t promulgated for your benefit or defense but rather to keep on-track this economic system which demands winners and losers, rewards greed, and keeps us divided. No wonder Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day called it a “filthy, rotten system.”

I know if feels insensitive to my black friends to say this but George Zimmerman is also a victim in this tragedy. Yes, a perpetrator can also be a victim, even if to a lesser degree. If we are left to fight over the scraps that fall from the abundantly-laden tables of the elites, there will be a lot of pushing and shoving in the competition to grab what is left or discarded.

Greenwald’s penultimate paragraph of And Justice For Some helps sum it up: “ At some point, serious social unrest is the inevitable result when a population is forced to suffer mass joblessness and deprivations of every kind while it sees a tiny sliver of elites enjoying gilded prosperity; when ordinary people are threatened with imprisonment for petty offenses while they see elites illegally spying, invading, torturing, and plundering with near total impunity. Such a two-tiered setup is simple unsustainable.” [It is no accident that whistle-blower Edward Snowden sought out Greenwald with the revelations and details of massive eaves-dropping by our government on its own citizens and most of the rest of the world as well.]

Who knows how President Obama really feels about the verdict? Unless there is a radical reordering of present policies, who cares? He is more likely interested in maintaining a status quo that ensures his elite position than raising questions which might lead to more than calm [and necessarily shallow] reflection.

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