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Friday, July 26, 2013

So Far Still To Go

Here we stand, weeks after the verdict that exonerated George Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin, and the case still dominates the news, the blogosphere and most of our Facebook feeds (especially those of us who live in Florida). In today's rapid world of electronic news, that in itself is pretty astounding. But if there is an explanation how a single trial, a single tragedy, can grip our collective attention so long, it is probably the way this case has revealed so much about our collective selves, much of that remarkably unflattering.

I have been terribly discouraged just today as several friends from high school posted the same lengthy questionnaire supposedly intended to inform us of details that obviously would convince of Zimmerman's innocence but which in fact only depress about the mindset not only of George Zimmerman that night but of the people who watched this case play out through such jaded and prejudiced eyes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Race and the American Justice System

It's hard right now to digest this verdict. I've been telling friends and family for a week that I this trial was stressing me out entirely too much, but part of it is that I always knew this is a possibility. The Stand Your Ground law is extremely flawed, and the right lawyer in front of the right jury can get this verdict.

So we've seen the punditry and the arguing and the ridiculousness. Now a man who killed a child - a man who has never denied doing so - is free.

But alas, that's happened before and it will happen again. The real reason we are all so anxious now, more so with this than with Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson or any number of others, is that racial tension is very much in the air, and very few people can or will acknowledge why.

I've been thinking about this a lot since this trial began. I don't know that I'm the best person to try, but I've seen so many people utterly unqualified to say this is not about race do just that. Maybe I can at least try and explain what those people cannot or will not see.

First off, let me make the wild suggestion that I don't consider George Zimmerman a racist. At least not in any significant fashion. Would he have gone stalking a white teenager in the streets? Who knows. But after having the facts of this case hammered in repeatedly over the last few weeks, I have no doubt at this point that he would have shot a 10-year-old girl that not if she came at him armed with a bottle of Snapple.

The point really is, what if he had done that? That may seem a strange mental exercise, but just walk through it. Zimmerman said he feared for his life because the person he was stalking with a loaded weapon came at him, caught him off-guard and put him on the ground, said he would die that night, then seemed to go for his gun.

None of those facts depend on Trayvon Martin being bigger or stronger, or on him knowing mixed martial arts (as this rather disturbing RedState article suggests was important). Virtually anyone could have done the things which George Zimmerman says prompted him to shoot a child at point blank range.

So what if it had been a woman? What if it had been a white teenager, even one build like a fullback? I realize some may argue, but many people, including myself, can only guess Zimmerman would have gone to jail that night, Stand Your Ground likely never would have been discussed, and none of us outside a small neighborhood in Sanford would have any awareness of this case.

That's where the problem lies. We have a justice system today which applies different treatment based on race of the VICTIM.

At the heart of the defense has always been a rather offensive notion: that a black teenaged boy is inherently a threat to your life. Not a black girl. Not a white boy. No, the one time it
s ok to shoot to kill is if a young black man is at the other end of the gun because, who knows, somehow they may have the power to kill you.

There have always been complaints that the justice system is less likely to give the benefit of doubt to a black youth facing charges. But for most of us, at least those who are white like myself, that's a complaint that doesn't consume our thoughts. There may be greater scrutiny on black youths, after all, but if he stays out of trouble, a young black man can still grow up to be president.

This is different, though. Trayvon Martin didn't create this situation, however he responded to it. He died because he was in wrong place at the wrong time and handled it the wrong way. Alas, that too has happened to people before and it will happen again.

But usually, when you bring a gun with you to stalk someone and that someone ends up dead, the justice system will bring you to justice, particularly if they find you standing over the body with a smoking gun.

There are a lot of people in American confused and hurt about what makes this case so different.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The fight begins. All supporters must be welcome.

There are two important things to think about when you read this Palm Beach Post item. The first is that all supporters of marriage equality must get in fighting shape right now. The other is that we absolutely cannot start beating away people who are on our side.

From the post:
Former NBA star Tim Hardaway tonight is scheduled to become the first petition-signer on the Equal Marriage Florida effort to put a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage in the state on the November 2014 ballot... Equal Marriage Florida would define marriage as a “union of two persons” and would erase a gay marriage ban approved by voters only five years ago.

As I already noted in a prior post, it will be hard to pass this item. While I think a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Florida today would surely fail because it couldn't hit 60 percent, reversing this terrible decision from just five years ago will be a challenge because that high hurdle is now our burden.

And that brings me to the second critical aspect of this fight. We cannot scoff at anyone's support. Not anyone.

It will be hard to stomach for many to fight alongside Tim Hardaway in this fight, a man who made headlines making unabashed homophobic remarks at just the same moment the last gay marriage fight in Florida was gearing up. He was beaten up for that, and seems to have fully embraced the equal rights agenda now. We need to welcome people who change their mind into the fold.

It wasn't so long ago that the great fear of straights supporting gay rights was that we would be mistaken for gay. I'd love to tell you that was never a concern of mine growing up, but this I don't think I would have marched in the streets at age 19 for gay rights just because I would be afraid what others would assume. Of course, I got over that at a younger age than certain NBA all-stars, but that's not the point.

There is a reason that we didn't see a pro athlete in one of America's major team sports come out until this year. The attitudes on personal issues like that are different from situation to situation. If we preach tolerance, we need to allow people to evolve and embrace them when they reach the other side of this great divide. Our job is to coax people into our position using reason, not embarrass them by waving the finger of shame.

This has struck me especially this year, we saw the first GOP senator come out in favor of gay marriage. Rob Portman changed his position because his son is gay, and that changed his position. Of course, Dick Cheney it may be presumed was at least influenced by similar circumstance. Liberals unwilling to put down the sword for even a second chastise these individuals for having selfish reasons for coming to the side of angels.

The New York Times' Paul Krugman said of Portman:
While enlightenment is good, wouldn’t it have been a lot more praiseworthy if he had shown some flexibility on the issue before he knew that his own family would benefit? I’ve noticed this thing quite a lot in American life lately — this sort of cramped vision of altruism in which it’s considered perfectly acceptable to support only those causes that are directly good for you and yours.

But so what? Hardway may only have come around on gay rights because he was afraid of losing endorsement deals. Portman may only have rethought his position on gay marriage because a ban hurts his own child. Do you know what that makes these men?


Folks, this is how change happens. The reason marriage equality supporters were losing this issue so badly 10 years ago wasn't because we weren't organized. It wasn't because we needed better spokesmen or better funding. Improvement in those area helps, but in a democracy, none of those things are what truly wins the day.

We were losing 10 years ago because the vast majority of Americans thought we were wrong. We lost on Amendment 2 five years ago more than 3 of every 5 Floridians favored codified bigotry over equal rights. We only win this issue when we convince people who once that we were wrong that we in fact are right.

Now, momentum is so clearly on our side it seems unimaginable that the tide will turn against gay marriage. But make no mistake, the winning shot on this one is not made by Jason Collins. It's made by Tim Hardaway. He is the one who changed the game he was playing. And we need the game-changers on our side.