Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Political Hot Buttons (PHB)

Maybe because some of the bloggers I like are heavily political in their updates, I find myself needing to express opinions about politics, including politicized current events. It's not really why I started the blog, especially since politics I want to talk are inherently not about happiness in the now. But to not talk about these things makes me feel dishonest. I guess I want to talk about politics because I have hope that things can improve in the future. At any rate, if politics ain't yer bag, baby, I'll try to remember to start all my political rants with PHB, so you'll be forewarned.

I first learned about the concept of Running While Black (RWB) from a white lady romance author who figured that since the was writing about Navy SEALs, she may as well write a black Navy SEAL because while she's not a SEAL nor a man nor a black man, she wants to write about all of us. I think she does an excellent job at this. Suzanne Brockmann's "Harvard's Education" included as part of the character's motivation the trouble black men have just going about their business in our society. (Ironically, it was the one Team 10 book of hers I was unable to get from the local library - local at the time meant the library was literally a block from Harvard Yard.)

While women face challenges from men in power, we tend not to get disproportionately arrested, handcuffed, or otherwise harassed by the police or others who are in authority, or who consider themselves to be in authority. Black men and teens do. It's a frustrating thing to be concerned about because as far as I can tell, the only influence I have here is to personally make an effort to treat everyone fairly, which is something I try to do anyway. But you see where this is going, right?

A teenaged boy, Trayvon Martin, was staying at his dad's place (or his dad's girlfriend's place) in a gated community. He went out to get his kid brother some Skittles. On his way home, a neighbor who considered himself the neighborhood watch considered Trayvon a threat, called 911, was told not to engage Martin, but left his car, started an altercation, and shot Trayvon Martin dead.

photo of Trayvon Martin celebrating his mom's birthday mere days before being shot

That's terrible enough on its own. Imagine your kid goes to the store on the corner, and on the way home is shot by the neighborhood watch. (Frankly, this guy sounds like one of "those guys" who you just let do his thing because it's not worth the effort of talking him out of it. Besides, he's harmless, and who can he hurt, right?) His excuse was that Trayvon looked scary, and was wearing a hoodie. The reality was that Trayvon was Walking While Black in a gated community.

Where it gets worse? The perpetrator, who absolutely shot this young man to death, claimed it was self defense and WAS NOT ARRESTED. In any situation where that boy was not black and the shooter was, the shooter would have been arrested and then hamstrung in the media. It turns out you can't even die while black without someone doing something horrible. Some popular media outlets and commenters are spewing out all sorts of the usual tripe about how Trayvon somehow "deserved" to be shot.

Way to many of the media outlets are talking about "stand your ground laws" (which, prior to previous convention, do not require you to attempt to leave the scene of an altercation before using deadly force in a public place) as if they apply primarily to the shooter ("Z") in this case. To the cops and the media, Z has the unmitigated gall to claim that after Z stalked Trayvon from his car, called 911, then left the car to confront Trayvon about his right to walk to his part-time home that they fought, Z feared for his life, and shot Trayvon. I'm sorry, but the Stand your Ground law in this case applies to the guy who was rightly concerned about deadly force being inapproprately used against him, Trayvon. Sorry Z, but if you picked a fight with a gun and started losing? Trayvon had a right to stand his own ground against you. Except, you know, he's black.

Because Z was not arrested. Not really even held. He absolutely killed that boy. The only question is whether or not it was legal for him to do so (from my perspective, that's a clear "hells to the no") and if not, how to sentence him. I'd say Z is out free, although he's apparently in hiding. Good. I don't advocate for vigilante justice here; I advocate for justice. [Hey! I just found a Justice League comic in my Lucky Charms.] Only it took bloggers and month of diligence to even get the police of that town to consider that just maybe, they'd handled the aftermath of Trayvon's death the wrong way.

There are cases of shooting someone in self defense.
This is not one of them.
This is not a case where the victim was armed with a traditional weapon; Trayvon had iced tea and a rainbow of flavor.
This is not a case where there's a question about who shot whom.
This is not a case without evidence - there's a 911 recording before the event with a dispatcher telling the shooter that the police don't need his physical help [aka, stay in the car and don't confront the victim]. If the shooter had not gotten out of his car and confronted him, Trayvon would be alive.
This is not a case where the shooter was at a clear disadvantage; not only did Z have a car, he had a gun, and about 100 pounds on the victim.

"But he was wearing a hoodie!", "He looked like a thug!", "He hit me![unconfirmed at this time]". He was a black kid, defending himself from some crazy stalker dude with a gun, who accosted him on his trip to get Skittles for his little brother, in the rain.

No cop, no civilized person, should consider those accusations as acceptable precursors to the use of deadly force.
- No matter what hoodie I wear, I will never be shot for wearing it.
- No matter what hoodie I wear, I will never be called a thug.
- No matter who I hit, no one will ever say that lethal force was justifiably used against me in return*.
If, god forbid, someone does shoot me to death, my family has high confidence that the police will
- Arrest my shooter.
- Identify my body by asking around the neighborhood to see if I lived there.
- Prosecute the shooter to determine in court whether or not the shooting was legal.
But then, I'm a white woman. If you're a black man or boy, good luck with that. Apparently that stuff doesn't apply to you.

[*With the exception of me somehow turning into a domestic abuser. I still have the option of being accused of inviting rape by wearing a short skirt, a low cut top, or drinking too much, but chances are near certain I will never face Trayvon's fate.]

Given that 'a free society is one in which it's safe to be unpopular', this doesn't speak well of our supposedly free society. Like judging people by how they treat the staff, we need to judge ourselves by how we treat those who are at our mercy. There has been too little mercy for Trayvon Martin and his grieving family, and entirely too much for the shooter. There are places that are sticking up for Trayvon; I don't mean to imply they aren't. But the ugliness isn't confined to dark corners and private chats. It's out there in volume. It has powerful legitimizers. The hate gets an airing by people trying to be "fair". We don't need to be fair to lies or echo the slander. We fought a civil war to free black slaves 151 years ago, and then we harsh on other countries for not embracing our example democracy in one generation when hand them examples of justice like this?

For further reading, my go to source on this is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Much of his late March postings cover this case. If you need to have a conversation on safety in the face of public power and force with your black son, check out his book, The Beautiful Struggle.

Thanks to everyone who has spoken up for Trayvon Martin and his family.
So what else can I do? Wearing my lemon yellow hoodie doesn't seem like a sufficient statement of support.
What can we do? How can I be an advocate? How do we make our country a safe place for average black men to do average things without fear of arrest or death?

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