Trayvon Martin, Rachel Jeantel and Barack Obama

Inside: The verdict; She talks funny; Those damn news site comments; Black on black crime

Okay.  A lot of people have asked me what my thoughts are on this (and by a lot of people I mean no one). Seriously, though, I know a lot of you aren’t really interested in talking or thinking about it. I suggest you skip it. It’s too long anyway. I’ve been getting a few hits on an old entry about this case so — I don’t know. Felt like I should make this public.

I see online friends’ posts and tweets for all kinds of worthy issues and causes — environment, gay rights, legalizing hemp, women’s issues (of which there are too many to try to list here) — and yet they’re either intentionally or indifferently silent when it comes to complex racial issues and injustice. Not that I blame you. It’s a morass and you end up coming away frustrated, a little angry, and maybe ashamed of some of what’s being said.

I’ve been trying to avoid all of the reporting and commentaries for a while now about the George Zimmerman trial and the verdict. Why? Because I was afraid that he would get off with a light sentence or something.

It turns out that he didn’t get a light sentence, though. He was acquitted altogether.

Truthfully, I was and am saddened and disappointed, but I tried to refrain from chiming in with my thoughts. I don’t know how to convey this in a way that you would understand but it’s been stressful. I think it’s been stressful to a lot of black people and it’s hard to explain why it should affect me or my state of mind at all. But it does. I hope that’s something you’re aware of.

Maybe it’s like an un-fun version of the stress of your town’s team playing in the Superbowlworldseriesworldcupwimbledown against your arch-rivals.

You know what I mean? The body doesn’t know the difference between tangible stress and intangible stress. Whether or not you can relate or whether or not you think it’s kind of ridiculous, the stress is real.

COMMENTS

But yesterday I read an article on CNN about Pres. Obama’s comments. (I just read the full transcript about 5 minutes ago.) I have a policy of not reading online comments but I fail often. I got dragged under the treads of the ignorant, loathsome commentariat.

The comments made me feel physically ill. Well, not ill. But knots in the stomach. My eyes were — so frustrated. It affected my mood for the rest of the day (until the MTB ride, anyway).

Here’s what I “learned” from commenters (from CNN and Yahoo articles):

  • President Obama could be a pet chimpanzee.
  • Trayvon Martin bought a Snapple and Skittles to make a drug that’s making the rounds in the hip hop community.
  • Zimmerman is the new superman and should be give an award for saving the lives of all of the future victims of Trayvon Martin, a pos wannabe thug.
  • People of different races were never meant to live together.
  • American chattel slavery was a result of black slavers bringing blacks to the US and all white America did was buy them.
  • The world would be a better place if Barack Obama were Trayvon Martin (i.e. shot dead years ago).
  • “Once you go black you’re a single mom.”

And so on and so forth.

RACHEL JEANTEL

A friend posted a link to an article about people judging and demeaning Rachel Jeantel because of the way she talks. The comments people left were … interesting. They were along the lines of, “If you don’t or can’t speak standard American English when you’re in a formal situation like a courtroom it makes you look ignorant.”

Another person said something along the lines of, “I correct my child when he speaks incorrectly. Why can’t a 19 year old speak plain English?”

Some other things were said that, to me, implied that Rachel Jeantel’s way of speaking was indicative of lack of — what. If you read between the lines what some people seem to be saying is that black people who talk like that do so because they’re lazy. Too lazy to learn proper English.

Yes, the way people talk affects how we perceive them. That’s just true. But it says a lot about how small-minded and fearful we are of each other than about the true character of the person we’re often judging.

My response was this:

But non-standard English isn’t a measure of lack of intelligence, credibility or trustworthiness, is the point.

If you ever hear a black person speaking “black English” despite the context, you can be sure of one thing. Their lives have been very socially and culturally isolated or segregated.

Childhoods, especially. It’s fascinating to me how powerfully language is ingrained during formative years. And then gets molded and further ingrained based on our social circles.

I mean, we recently had a President that said “nucular” throughout both of his terms. How many times has he seen the word “nuclear” spelled?

I don’t think taking English in school necessarily will do it either. The same way that someone from another country can learn English fluently and still speak with an accent. Your first dialect or vernacular is always present.

You have to have intensive and intentional training/education or speech therapy (which I had briefly in middle school to fix a weird spontaneous speech impediment) or immersion to fundamentally change the way you talk.

So while I agree that we should be teaching and learning business/language-of-global-commerce English and that black people are at a disadvantage when we don’t, it’s not a simple matter.

And people shouldn’t look down on others or imply ignorance, laziness, disrespect or inferiority. Not meaning any of you but check out comments on any article concerning Rachel Jeantel. It’s downright vile.

And then I added this because I wanted to clarify that I wasn’t bashing Pres. Bush:

I can’t speak for others but my example re: Pres. Bush was about how language patterns are set and hard to change. Like when people say sammich or scrimp or pacific(instead of specific) or Valentimes even though they’ve seen the word spelled and pronounced correctly many times.

My point isn’t to call anyone an idiot. My point is to say that anyone can “talk funny” and they shouldn’t be immediately thought less of for it.

I don’t know if my thoughts were considered or had any impact, but it was good to get that out of my system and to have the opportunity to provide my perspective.

DIFFERENT WORLDS

What the heck is going on here? How can there be such a disconnect?

A lot of white people and/or gun-enthusiast people relate to George Zimmerman because they can so easily picture themselves in a similar situation. Confronting some probably thug who fits the description of a thug up to no good.

A lot of black people are so upset or put off by this whole situation — and I am one of them — because it’s a symbolic lynching. It all unfolded as if it were scripted to the most cynical, pessimistic view of American race relations.

A man in a car follows a minor for ten minutes, despite being told not to by police or 911. The kid tries to get away. The man gets out of his vehicle. Things happen. The black kid is shot and killed. The man is released without charges for days. Eventually, after public outcry charges are filed and a trial is held with an all white jury, prosecutor, judge, attorneys — oh. One of the jurors was hispanic, I think.

Forget the legal aspect of the case and charges filed for a second. It’s so hard for me to understand how people could look at this situation and have no sympathy for Trayvon Martin. He was basically stalked. He tried to exit the situation. He was confronted. Apparently, at that point the situation escalated and he, I guess, attempted to stand his ground.

(I’m not saying that he was some innocent choir boy saint but that shouldn’t matter. The same way that if a woman is raped it shouldn’t matter if she isn’t a virgin or if she was wearing a mini-skirt and had been drinking.

On the other hand, Zimmerman’s past is also spotty at best with an arrest and a restraining order and accusations from a cousin that he molested her for years when they were kids.

People are complicated.)

Always de-escalate. That’s what I say. Survive to be angry about the trampling of your rights and dignity. Be alive to file a lawsuit or publicly shame later or something.

When Zimmerman and Martin came face to face. Could the situation have been salvaged if one of them had — I don’t know. If Trayvon Martin had acquiesced to George Zimmerman’s whatever. Interrogation? Being held against his will until police arrived?

See, it’s tempting to think that if Trayvon Martin had then acted docile or in some way that is proper and non-threatening that he’d be alive today. Well, that’s probably true.

(I don’t want to demonize Zimmerman and paint him as a psychopath that stepped out of his vehicle on a racism fueled rampage. I think he assumed that this young black guy was up to no good and quickly got in a situation that exploded out of control.)

But think about what that means? That means that you expect a certain group of people in the United States of America to let themselves be subjected to being stopped, questioned and detained by ANY CITIZEN at gunpoint and to then be compliant. And if they attempt to defend themselves, not knowing what the intent of the person is, they are deserving of penalty of death.

That’s bullshit.

That’s a fascist society. That is the opposite of what our supposed values are. And people are really okay with that?

Then some people get upset at the “We are all Trayvon Martin” slogan or when President Obama says that he could have been Trayvon years ago or that Trayvon could have been his son (because there’s a little resemblance there).

People who think that talking about race and racial issues make you racist? Psychological projection.

The reason black people can relate — well, I wrote about my experiences. Please take time to read that if you think I’m just being unnecessarily tribal, for lack of a better word. Wow, that is either a really bad or really good word to use there.

I’ve been there.

BLACK ON BLACK CRIME

One more thing.

By this point, if you aren’t a bleeding heart liberal you’re probably wondering why black people get so riled up when law enforcement or a white person kills an unarmed young black man but seem to be silent or indifferent when scores of young black men kill other young black men.

I think that’s a fair question. It shouldn’t be sidestepped or chalked up to ignorance or racism.

I am not here to defend actual criminals or murderers in any way. No excuses for killers, rapists, burglars, robbers, assaulters. No justifications or excuses.

Yes, there are contextual reasons. Dysfunction is multi-generational. Poverty is often multi-generational. Oppression and Apartheid and economic discrimination are in the mix. Those are real factors but not excuses or shields for defensiveness.

Just because someone is oppressed doesn’t automatically make them noble and doesn’t make heinous actions defend-able. “Because of racism” is not a free pass to avoid tough and tragic issues.

Make no mistake. It’s heartbreaking to black people. There are some fundamental social and cultural illnesses wreaking havoc. Economic factors. A changing economy. There’s no escaping that. There are too many broken families and too many unsupervised kids. Unsupervised kids of all stripes quickly turn practically feral a la “Lord of the Flies” or “Kids”.

There are a lot of organizations that are working to curb violence in black communities. You don’t hear about them in the news, though. You don’t hear about what they do but they’re out there. Underfunded and overwhelmed.

How do you stop black guys from killing each other and being over-represented in just about every depressing statistic out there?

I don’t know. How do you stop white guys from going on rampaging massacres at schools, churches, hospitals, movie theaters, political events, etc.?

How do you stop men from being violent sociopaths? That should be the question we’re asking.

How do you not become numb to the violence?

Why do black people seem energetically galvanized when a white authority figure kills an unarmed black man and strangely quiet as the murder rate climbs in city after city?

Why does America go apoplectic when an angry Muslim murders people and yet is strangely accepting and resigned and often empathetic when an angry white guy murders people?

“What did we miss? What could we have done to help this young man and avoid tragedy? Was it medication? Was it social isolation? Was he bullied or unpopular? Could we have helped him? How was his home life? How can we avoid this in the future?”

Why, after the truly evil terrorist violation of the US and our sense of self on 9/11, did many people want to bomb the ever-living f— out of all the Middle East and in a few instances attacked, beat or killed people who looked Muslim? And yet, after the Oklahoma City bombings, no one (that I know of) called for the bombing of white separatist militias in the midwest. And people weren’t going around beating the crap out of white guys who looked like they could have been anti-government.

I think it’s the same reason. Or analogous, at least.

Alright. I’m done.

I’ve been trying to write this for at least a week and haven’t been able to get my head around anything else in the meanwhile. Not even things I really should have been doing. So it goes.

I’m hoping that I make some sense here.

This is all such a shame. How we polarize ourselves and view each other as “those people”. We canvas each other with wide labels so that we can dismiss one another, forgetting that life is rough — yes, rougher for some than others — and we have so much in common.

Our hopes, fears and needs are the same.

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4 comments

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  1. Kenny Wilkes

    Very well said Gary. This Zimmerman case has sparked a lot of debate over racial issues in the USA. Issues that really have never been dealt with other than throwing some legislation over it and hoping it goes away. But time and time again “Race” becomes an issue and until some real dialogue and discussion takes place the issue will continue to come up.

    • garyarthuryoung

      Hey, Kenny.

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      Yes. Real dialogue. I think the situation will improve as more people live, work and play alongside each other. Even if we as a society prefer to avoid the topic or are generally angry or resentful.

      Times they are a-changing.

  2. newbyca (@newbyca)

    Hey Gary, thanks for posting. I generally play court room drama stuff too-cool-for-school, but I’ve been really fascinated by the Zimmerman trial. And I haven’t really said anything public-ish about it either for a lot of the same reasons as you. And I have tons to say about it … but I’d like to get your thoughts on one thing specifically… specifically the one thing I don’t agree with that you said 🙂

    You mentioned, “…Because I was afraid that he would get off with a light sentence or something.”

    First, what would you have considered a light sentence? And what would you have considered to be just?

    Second … I’d like to take everything the *defense* said as fact with one exception: that Zimmerman in fact confronted Trayvon and wasn’t just checking what street he was on when he got out of his car. This was, imo, the most obviously specious part of the defense’s version of events. Now, I’d like to take those facts and re-frame them a bit:

    George Zimmerman
    – 29 year old, self-appointed neighborhood-watch captain
    – 5’7″, googly-eyed and soft-bodied
    – with over a year of MMA training is *knowingly* still incapable of basic self-defense
    – lives in a neighborhood that has experienced a rash of *violent* home invasions perpetrated, allegedly, by young black males
    – while patrolling his neighborhood one night, spots a hooded, young black male at a convenience store
    – pursues the young black male while driving
    – calls 9-11 to report the suspect
    – 9-11 tells him dispatch is on its way and that he should stand down
    – finally:
    – knowing 9-11 is already on its way
    – *knowing he can’t defend himself without a weapon*
    – carrying a *concealed*, loaded handgun
    – he confronts a SIX FOOT TALL, YOUNG, INTIMIDATING (the defenses words), HOODED Trayvon Martin

    …everything that happened from there is legally immaterial imo.

    I dunno … I’ve never heard anyone frame the events that way, so I thought I’d share. My point, I guess, is that from a purely justice-is-blind perspective … forgetting who had what rights to stand whichever ground (though I personally empathize with Trayvon) … how is it that the case wasn’t, or maybe couldn’t be, made that Zimmerman acted with reckless endangerment?

    As I see it, if George Zimmerman had gotten drunk, got in his car, then accidentally ran Trayvon over … what would be the difference? The mandatory minimum for a DUI manslaughter in Florida is 4 years … that sounds about right to me … given what the *defense* said 🙂

    • garyarthuryoung

      Newby!

      Thanks for reading and for your thoughts and insight.

      I thought “light” would have been a verdict of involuntary manslaughter and a sentence of probation or something like that. Or a suspended sentence.

      Of course, I don’t know all the laws related to that or if there are mandatory minimums involved depending on the charges.

      My understanding is that you can’t instigate a conflict and then claim self defense. But apparently there was enough room/confusion for subjective interpretation as to what constitutes instigating conflict and what constitutes self defense.

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