I had been thinking this for a long time, but after watching the reactions of Tavis Smiley and others on ABC’s This Week, and especially after reading the comment’s on Elliott’s livestream thread this morning, I felt compelled to speak out, in spite of the flamefest that will almost certainly ensue.
My account of the events is necessarily subjective, so please bear with me for a bit.
I first heard the story of as just another line in the news. A white neighborhood watchman had shot and killed a black teenager who he had seen walking through his community. Race was brought into the story by the mainstream media immediately. Then there was noise from the rightwing media about the Florida “stand your ground” law and how it justified the killing, swiftly followed by condemnations of the same law by the “progressive” media with much talk of racial profiling. Martin’s family and neighbors demonstrated publicly and demanded justice for their dead kinsman. After a few days of investigation, the local police chief announced that no charges would be filed against the shooter, one pudgy and not-too-bright-looking fellow named Zimmerman.
This was swiftly followed by outrage at a national level. President Obama went on TV to say that if he had had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon. Entrepreneurs started marketing “I Am Trayvon” T-shirts. There was a debate on teenagers going out in public in hoodies. The local police chief resigned, the investigation was reopened, Zimmerman went into hiding, the right wing collected money for his defense, the debate shifted to gun control laws or the lack thereof and to racism and racial profiling in the criminal justice system. Zimmerman stupidly bucked a court summons, then finally appeared and was charged with murder.
It was only during the trial itself, which I admit I did not follow too closely, that the facts of the specific case emerged, but once they did, I knew the jury could not possibly find Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As far as I can tell, the following is what happened.
Zimmerman saw a teenager in a hoodie walking through his neighborhood. He followed him and called the police. He wasn’t even sure Trayvon Martin was black at first. Well, it was dark, and it’s kinda hard to tell at a little distance when someone’s in a hoodie. Martin kept going, noticed he was being followed for some distance, and took offense. He confronted his pursuer. Neither party followed the first law of any reasonable self-defense course: If you can walk away from a bad situation, then walk away.
Some sort of altercation ensued in which Zimmerman ended up on the ground with his head impacting concrete at least once, maybe half a dozen times, with Martin on top of him. Zimmerman fired his gun and Martin died. The “stand your ground law” didn’t apply because Zimmerman left his ground. Self-defense for Trayvon Martin didn’t apply because he could have just kept on walking home. The defense did establish that Zimmerman had lost sight of him. Looks to me like testosterone and adrenaline influenced the behavior of both parties. In fact, it turns out that Zimmerman himself wasn’t even aware of the “stand your ground” law.
Do I think that Zimmerman was justified in continuing to follow Martin after the latter had left his Neighborhood Watch territory? No. Neither did the police. They told him to stay put, and he didn’t. What he did was unnecessary and stupid. Do I think that Martin was justified in turning around to face his stalker because he got pissed off for whatever reason? No, that was unnecessary and stupid, too.
“Stupidity is the only universal capital crime,” as Robert A. Heinlein once wrote.
So. Why was this case, one out of thousands of white-on-black or black-on-white violence that happens every year, played up by the media across the American political spectrum? Why did Obama himself jump into the fray and make damned sure it would get national attention? Why have the talking heads over all of the news networks been shouting racial profiling or racism or black gangbangers or gun control or the right to keep and bear arms at the top of their lungs?
I submit that our ruling classes, disturbed by the growing awareness in this country over what capitalism is doing to the bottom 95% at least, as illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, saw a chance to divide and rule. “Liberal” or “conservative” makes no difference. All of them are millionaires, and all have a vested interest in preserving the existing system. And this case was perfect for their objectives.
It had it all. The drama of the grieving family. A black kid whose only intention at first was to just walk home. A white neighborhood watchman who, to give him the benefit of the doubt, at first just wanted to make sure that this suspicious-looking teenager, suspicious because teenage criminals really DO wear hoodies, didn’t commit any crime on his turf, and for whom a large segment of the population would have some empathy(I admit that’s a stretch since Zimmerman kept following Martin, but I’m focusing on the hot-button issue exploited by the PTB here more than Zimmerman’s actual motives; they don’t matter much anymore). The fact that racial profiling DOES exist. The fact that it IS far more likely for a white assailant on a black person to get off the hook than it is the other way around. The fact that gun violence IS totally out of control in this country. The fact that there ARE a lot of gun nuts, mostly white, who are convinced that the system is out to get THEM.
Hot-button, highly charged emotional issues, all. More importantly, they are all issues that divide the working class against ourselves. From a class perspective, Zimmerman and his family have far more in common with Martin and his family than either do with President Obama or the TV and radio talking heads of all political stripes who made damned sure that this tragic story remained front and center for months, distracting attention from the more important, IMO, issues of the grotesquely accelerating inequality of wealth in this country, of imperial wars, of the rising police state.
And, for awhile at least, the ruling classes have succeeded brilliantly. And cynically. They want to see black people rioting in the streets and destroying property. They want to see some white cop somewhere overreact and shoot some black person. They want We the People to focus on the ensuing violence and drama and emotion, to choose sides, and to turn against each other. That way, we’re not turning against them.
To all of you who have been swept up emotionally on this wholly preventable tragedy, as so aptly illustrated by the comments on Elliott’s thread, to which I linked above: You’ve been played, people. Step back, take a deep breath, clear your heads, be aware of the here and now, and stop bashing each other. Because that’s exactly what the ruling classes want you to do.
Now, to pay the piper. Some of you will no doubt bash me. I’ll give you some time. I’ve got to eat brunch and to mow the lawn and do some other domestic maintenance stuff, but try to have a nice day, anyway.