On Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman Verdict — and What “Freethought” Does Not Fracking Well Mean


Please note: This blog post has a different comment policy from my usual one. It appears at the end of the post.

Other people have written about the details of the George Zimmerman case, and the verdict, more clearly and eloquently than I can. This piece does a pretty good job, as does this, as does this, as does this, as does this, as does this. But I feel that I need to get on the record about this. I may be disjointed, I may not be my usual eloquent self, but I can’t let this pass in silence.

Sometimes, I am deeply ashamed of my country. This is one of those times. The George Zimmerman verdict is making me physically ill.

I didn’t blog about the George Zimmerman verdict the day that it happened, or the day after, because I was out of town at my father’s memorial and the scattering of his ashes (and was then flying back home). And I can’t stop thinking about how I feel about my father’s death… and then thinking about how Trayvon Martin’s parents must feel. There have been moments when my grief over my father has felt nearly unbearable — and my father died at age 79, quietly in his sleep, after a long decline and years of very low quality of life from which death was a respite, of natural causes that nobody in this world could consider unjust. I cannot begin to imagine what it must feel like to be grieving the death of your teenaged child, who was hunted down and shot, whose death came from a systemic hatred and contempt of your race that you and yours have to live with every second of every minute of every day of every year of your entire life… and whose killer, in a grotesque travesty of justice, was acquitted.

I cannot begin to imagine. But it is my moral obligation to try.

It is also my moral obligation to do whatever I can to change the world, to do what I can to move this world towards one in which this would never happen, could never happen. It’s a tiny tiny start, not anywhere near enough, but it’s a start: I’ve signed the NAACP petition to the U. S. Department of Justice, asking them to file civil rights violation charges against George Zimmerman. You can sign it, too. If you know of other action that people can take, please make suggestions in the comments.

And in response to some (not all, not even most, but some) of what I’ve been seeing in the online discussions about this — largely among atheists/ skeptics/ etc., since that’s the Internet world I largely inhabit — I also want to say this:

I am sick to fucking death of the idea that “freethought” means “we have to treat all ideas as worthy of consideration, and debate them calmly and without anger, and treat people we disagree with respectfully.” Some ideas are morally repugnant. It is not antithetical to freethought to respond to morally repugnant ideas with rage. It is not antithetical to freethought to tell people with morally repugnant ideas that their ideas are morally repugnant, and that you will have nothing to do with them.

There are some issues that are worthy of calm, considered debate, issues on which people can reasonably disagree and still be friends. The question of whether a young black man should be able to buy candy at a convenience store without being hunted and killed is not one of them.

And I am sick to death of people looking at the national conversation about the George Zimmerman verdict, and acting as if “oh no, people are being mean to people who expressed views they find morally repugnant, they’re swearing at them and unfriending them and blocking them!” was the real issue here, the most important issue, the issue we should all be discussing. A young black man was hunted and killed for the crime of being a young black man, and his killer was acquitted. This is not an isolated case: it reflects the reality of millions of African Americans. And what some people really, really want to talk about is, “People are cussing people out and banning them on Facebook!” If those are your priorities, then please get the fuck out of my life. Do not comment in my blog. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Go away, now.

And I am sick to fucking death of the idea that I am somehow morally obligated to host these debates — and these derailing meta-debates — in my own space.

I am not willing to host a debate about this on my blog. I am willing to host many debates on my blog, about many issues. I am willing to make my blog into a place for people to express many ideas and opinions with which I passionately disagree. This is not one of those issues, and this is not one of those times. If you have anything at all to say about this that even remotely hints at implying that what George Zimmerman did was remotely defensible, or that this verdict was anything short of grotesque… do not comment in my blog. Now, or ever. Do not read my blog. Do not follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Do not attend my talks. Do not buy my books. Get the fuck out of my life, now. Thank you.

Comments

  1. didgen says

    Thank you, I am one of those people that has been unfriending, defaming, and cussing at anyone that thinks there was any possible way that this could be defensible. I will not miss any of them.

  2. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    This post is truly excellent. And I have a similar “GTFO my life” policy for anyone who defends Zimmerman.

    And because of this post, I now want to buy more of your books.

  3. Tinyal says

    Very well stated – as usual – Ms Christina.

    I enjoy your writing immensely, although I rarely comment I agree with you 100%. This travesty is part and parcel of the stupid way the USA is arranged (50 states, 50 DMV depts, 50 legislation bodies – all making different rules with a good 1/3 of the country trying to drag us back to the good ole 1800’s…) – but that’s another story.

    I’m reminded again that a good portion of my fellow Americans are simply sick – ill, or deranged. Bigotry is rampant, the Haves are locking their fortunes in place while the have-nots are barely getting by. Fear is the rule of the day.

    Take care of yourself – no one else (apparently) is going to help in the slightest bit.

  4. Lofty says

    This case shows up the deep damage that religious thought does to the human brain. The fool can’t even comprehend one of his basic commandments.

  5. rapiddominance says

    I’m sorry about both your loss and that of Trayvon’s parents. But this:

    . . . who was hunted down and shot, whose death came from a systemic hatred and contempt of your race that you and yours have to live with every second of every minute of every day of every year of your entire life… and whose killer, in a grotesque travesty of justice, was acquitted.

    was wanting. Consider the assumptions and the details you left out:

    “hunted down and shot” — As if Zimmerman was out trying to shoot a deer during hunting season. Do you really think he wanted it to come to this? Did a lot of things not happen between the “hunting” and the “shooting”?

    “came from a systemic hatred and contempt for your race” — This might be true or it might not be. I don’t know this and neither do you. What are your sources? There had been a lot of break-ins in that community, keep that in mind.

    “grotesque travesty of justice” — On the jury’s part? Did you actually see the evidence presented in court to the jury and are you aware of Florida Law? Put yourself in their shoes.

    Notice I didn’t say or imply that Zimmerman’s actions were defensible whatsoever.

  6. Martha says

    I remember having the same powerless, wordless are-you-fucking-kidding-me sort of feeling at the Rodney King verdict. How can we have learned so little in the intervening years? Some of the commentary on the far right about this case is almost unbelievable in its grotesqueness.

    For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Ta-Nehisi Coates has an excellent article about the verdict . I found the second-to-last paragraph especially powerful:

    It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.

    I just don’t understand how anyone can look at this can and not see that he is right.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/

  7. vaiyt says

    7 comments until the first passive-agressive piece of tone trolling. Great.

    Notice I didn’t say or imply that Zimmerman’s actions were defensible whatsoever.

    Geez, oh no, goodness! You just threw culpability at Martin, tried to dismiss the role of racism in the incident, and defended the jury’s decision! In no way that implies that you’re defending Zimmerman or the veredict!

  8. Russell Glasser says

    Thanks for your encouragement, Greta. I was staring goggle-eyed all day at a post by a guy who saw fit to tag me as one of his intellectual heroes, and then used this soapbox to nitpick the wording of people who were criticizing the verdict, and demand that everyone explain to him “what he’s missing.” I sat there wondering if I owed this guy a response… and you came along to remind me that I may as well just unfriend him instead.

  9. says

    I had to get off facebook, because I couldn’t handle the flood of posts–especially from people I love–celebrating the verdict and defending Zimmerman. (Or expressing their terror of Angry Black People.) Just couldn’t take it. I also had to beg my father (very conservative, very racist–although he would deny the latter) to stop talking about the case in front of me. I could barely take it during the trial–he brought me to tears more than once–but after, I just had no emotional reserves to handle it anymore. I wish I had the ability to copy and paste your last paragraph to facebook, but if I carried that out, I would be cutting myself off from pretty much my entire family, with maybe the exception of my mother and one of my brothers.

    I recognize that I am incredibly privileged to even do that much. For a lot of people, dealing with what happened will take a lot more than just turning off facebook for a week or so. There are a lot of people who don’t have the option of saying, “I can’t handle this right now.”

    Thank you for linking to the petition, Like so many of us, I’m overwhelmed with the need to do something, along with an intense feeling of helplessness. (Again, recognizing that my feelings of helplessness are just a fraction of what others are dealing with right now.) So that’s something. I’m also taking the advice that’s come from a few places, from Trayvon’s parents to President Obama and on down: 1) reflecting on how to keep this sort of thing from happening again–and what actions I can take, 2) listening (and supporting, best I can) to the anger, pain, and fear expressed by people of color, and 3) (or maybe 2 1/2?) taking this time to shut up and reflect, and instead amplify other voices (mostly on twitter and tumblr, for me.)

    I’m still shocked by what happened. I honestly thought, after hearing the closing arguments, that the worst that would happen would be a conviction of manslaughter, not murder. Yeah. I’m still naive about the justice system. I keep thinking I get it, that I understand how corrupt and unjust the system really is, but the verdict was still a gut punch. Growing up, having a cop for a dad, a chaplain for a mom, living on an army base, America was our religion and the Justice System was a god to be worshiped, probably more than even Christianity (though they were entirely intertwined). It’s hard to get over that level of indoctrination, even when I think I already have.

  10. great1american1satan says

    Well now, I think we have a contender for automatic banning from Greta’s blog up there. Rapid Dominance’s name sounds rather like a sock puppet though, so I’m sure we can eventually expect more of the same from him, under a fresh new ‘nym like “Righteous Declaration” or “Ravening Dingo” or “Richard Dickings” …

  11. R Johnston says

    Oddly enough, I generally avoid Facebook like the plague, but this post got me around to sharing a link on Facebook for the first time in months. If you’re not indignant and infuriated of the Zimmerman verdict, if you can’t bring yourself to call him the monster that he is, then you simply are not a moral being. That’s a message people need to hear, even if it doesn’t apply to them personally. Good people need to be encouraged to ostracize and outcast those who would cheer on the Zimmerman verdict; they need to be reassured and reminded that sometimes–and most definitely in a case like this–being uncivil is not merely called for but is rather a moral obligation.

  12. dc8heist says

    Way to drink the media koolaid. For a bunch of freethinkers you haven’t really done much research and have been guided by misinformation.

  13. Greta Christina says

    rapiddominance @ #7 and dc8heist @ #14 apparently either fail at reading comprehension, or don’t care about being able to comment in this blog. They have both been banned.

  14. says

    Thanks for this. I’m sick and tired of the “freethought means I can think anything I want regardless of its justification and you can’t criticize me” fake skepticism thing.

  15. Pen says

    For once, my American in-laws fall onto the right side of the debate and are ‘shocked’ by the verdict. At least I won’t have to unfriend them (well, more than I already have). So, shocked, that’s good, but also not doing much. They might sign a petition, but… I guess the point in the back of my mind is that they are absolutely replete with the kinds of attitudes that magically transform young black men into threats. While being completely unconscious of the fact that they’re doing it. Debating them on racial issues is like trying to hold a cup full of oil in your bare hands. So they’re not going to do anything very constructive, are they?

  16. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    On the jury’s part? Did you actually see the evidence presented in court to the jury and are you aware of Florida Law?

    This idea that procedures matter more than outcomes is basically a lifestyle disease.

  17. R Johnston says

    This idea that procedures matter more than outcomes is basically a lifestyle disease.

    The idea that “I was just following orders” is an excuse for allowing people who hunt down, corral, and slaughter innocents when they deign to fight back is a lot worse than that.

    The jury has no excuse for allowing Zimmerman to ever see the light of day, even if they thought that’s what the law said they should do. It is the responsibility of every moral being to fight back against such “law.”

  18. R Johnston says

    Oh, for an edit function, or a cure for angry insomnia. “Who” = “to,” or add a “to go free” to the first sentence above.

  19. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    They don’t even have that excuse. The law specifically refers to “reasonable belief” with regard to self-defense.

  20. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Err, “reasonable” should be in all-caps or something. Because even if you approach the story naively, Zimmerman’s alleged belief was not reasonable.

  21. R Johnston says

    No disagreements to be had. The judge should never have even allowed the self defense argument in the first place given that the defense admitted that Zimmerman was a lunatic stalker and that Martin had the right to defend himself. Any law that says that you can hunt down and execute an innocent if only he fights back is unconstitutional, no law at all, and a demand for revolution if it should happen to be enforced..

  22. nich says

    Grrrr…YES he fucking did want it. He got on national television and said he wanted it. Or, more precisely, He wanted it. As in his lord and savior Jebus H. Christ, fuckhead of the capitalized pronouns. He has repeatedly stated he has no regrets, and that had he to do it all over again he would act in the same damn way: go out on “patrol” with his trusty penis extender, make the same damn 911 call, ignore the same damn operator, confront the same damn teenager and put a bullet in the same damn heart. Because it was all part of fucking God’s big goddamn plan for him to murder some innocent black kid. And yes, I fucking get that the motherfucking verdict was legally fucking sound. It was also legally fucking sound at one time to make blacks drink from a separate fucking fountain and tell a woman to fuck the hell off if she tried to vote. Coating blatant injustice in the thinnest fucking veneer of legality does not make it fucking right goddamn it and if you think it does, fuck off to Iran.

  23. says

    I have many friends with whom I disagree with, on Politics, Religion and Crime and Punishment, but I will never allow those Racists,Bigots or Homophobes to be anywhere near me on facebook,twitter or in real life.

  24. brucegorton says

    Well fucking said.

    I just hope that in a few months I don’t end up writing a similar piece about Oscar Pistorius.

  25. Pen says

    The Guardian now has an article in which one of the jurors ‘educates’ us about the reasons behind their decision:

    George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place…

    I want to write a string of expletives, but in the name of civility, let’s concede that he has a functional heart, unlike Trayvon Martin at this date. In the right place is where it most certainly is not.

    He felt threatened his life is going to be taken away from him or he’s going to have bodily harm…

    Because everyone knows a punch is just as deadly as a bullet. Coward…

    If there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation Trayvon was in, I think George would have reacted in the exact same way.

    I know you’re all thinking ‘Like hell!’, but in this lies a strategy. If you decide to talk at all to people who hold these type of views (because they’re your Mum/boyfriend/boss, for example), I bet you already know how utterly futile it is to explain to them how privileged you and they are, let alone how racist they are, so try this one: whenever you think it might give you some leverage, pretend to agree to this proposition and agonise about the consequences it has for you and them. Pretend the regime imposed on black people in the US applies to you as well (especially if this inconveniences your target). Let them explain to you why the world is racist instead of the other way round. Once they do that, you get to be all innocently outraged instead of them – which is what usually happens with the other two methods.

    I’ve tested this method with better success than most others, particularly in the field of allegedly non-racist immigration thinking. I’m really quite astonished how many ‘non-racists’ will turn and begin conscientiously explaining to me why whatever it is they think or want to do doesn’t apply to me. Once they do that, they’ve basically handed me their ass. What’s more, it usually doesn’t take more than a nudge with the boot to get them to realise it too.

  26. John Horstman says

    I’ve spent the last couple days rhetorically smacking around a bunch of “jury had no choice!” assholes. It’s doubly funny that none of them had actually read the relevant FL statutes, which I made sure to do, because I was so surprised by the verdict (I expected a hung jury). The defense stipulated to all the facts necessary to convict; the jury simply decided that an aggressor has a right to self-defense against the self-defensive actions of the person ze’s threatening. That’s fucking absurd. The ideas of apologists for Zimmerman, the jury, the judge, and the FL justice system generally are bad, and and they should all feel bad.

  27. says

    I had to comment. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Your voice matters to me. Your outrage is soothing to my broken heart. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. I’ve been fighting and deleting White people who I truly thought were my friends. It’s been foundation shattering to see how many people whom I thought loved me truly see no value in Trayvon’s life. How many of them were able to understand how George could be “afraid” How frustrated they are by my anger. How they beg me to calm down and shut up and move on. How surprised to see that I am like “those Black people” I am emotionally exhausted and shattered in so many ways.

    Some say it’s the opportunity cost of an African-American living an integrated life. How disgusting is that? sighs

    Thank you for this.

    I found you though the CrunkFeministCollective’s post today.

  28. says

    The jury had no choice? Then why, in the initial jury vote, did half of them want to convict him? 2 for manslaughter, 1 for second degree murder.

  29. jamesa7171 says

    #18, Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :), said the following in reply to a commenter who implied the verdict was the correct one under Florida law:

    This idea that procedures matter more than outcomes is basically a lifestyle disease.

    I agree, in the sense that the law and morality are two separate things, and just because the law okays a moral travesty doesn’t mean it’s justifiable on a moral level. But the great thing about law is that it is not permanent. If certain laws, perhaps like Florida’s self-defense or Stand Your Ground laws, are found to be immoral, the correct course of action is to rally to *change those laws* to prevent similar outcomes in the future. As Brian Tannebaum put it:

    George Zimmerman is not guilty because the law says he’s not guilty. You don’t think it’s right that he killed Trayvon Martin, but that’s not what the law says in Florida where we like guns more than we like people. You have a problem with that, do something to change the law other than complain on social media. I know, you’re busy, you won’t. That’s for others to do.

  30. jamesa7171 says

    Also, I have a query about something said in the OP.

    I am sick to fucking death of the idea that “freethought” means “we have to treat all ideas as worthy of consideration, and debate them calmly and without anger, and treat people we disagree with respectfully.” Some ideas are morally repugnant. It is not antithetical to freethought to respond to morally repugnant ideas with rage. It is not antithetical to freethought to tell people with morally repugnant ideas that their ideas are morally repugnant, and that you will have nothing to do with them.


    If we flip this around: imagine a hardcore right-wing evangelical young earth creationist named X. We attempt to debate X on the subject of atheism/religion. X treats us like shit and claims that atheism is morally repugnant and not worthy of consideration at all and blocks all our comments from his youtube channel or whatever other medium he uses.

    Would not the vast majority of freethought advocates rush to their keyboards to decry how closed minded X is?

    Or perhaps, more relevantly: imagine X was pro-Zimmerman, and made a pro-Zimmerman blog post, and felt pro-Martin arguments were morally repugnant. Then imagine X flamed the shit out of all pro-Martin posters and banned them from his blog. Surely most people here would criticize X for all sorts of reasons, at least in their heads if not in a bona fide keyboard war.

    But the thing is, how can we justify that quote from the OP while simultaneously criticizing X in either of these examples? If we do that, we’re really just saying “my sense of morality is more correct than yours is”, which is the exact same unjustified superiority that we have been trying to combat in religious debates for centuries.

    (I’ll open the betting lines. -400 says I get banned, +350 says I don’t.)

  31. says

    I’m with you on this, Greta. So far, the pro-Zimmerman people I’ve read are shockingly naive about racism and how it affects people and/or smug about being “right” on trivial technical details while dismissing the big honking overall picture. If the jury had no choice because of legal technicalities and warped definitions where an armed aggressor can claim self-defense, I’d say that’s an indictment of the law, not an exoneration for Zimmerman.

    It doesn’t help that this looks very much like a combination of cultural problems I’ve been angry about for a while. Racism, gun nuts with vigilante fantasies, profiling by stereotypes, blaming the victim. Removing race doesn’t make it look any better to me, and leaving the racism in just makes it one more data point on ongoing trends. It’s not that the case is “special,” it’s that more people are giving a care, rather than being quiet.

    And yeah, we need to figure out bigger, more direct things to do, but I still think producing negative social consequences for bigotry is worthwhile in the long run. If people can expect to be shunned for expressing unethical views, they’ll be more reluctant to speak us and embolden others with those same unethical views.

  32. jamessweet says

    At slight risk of being banned (though I don’t think I will be). First, I agree wholeheartedly with Michelle Alexander’s comment on Facebook:

    If Trayvon Martin had been born white he would be alive today. That has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. If he had been white, he never would have been stalked by Zimmerman, there would have been no fight, no funeral, no trial, no verdict. It is the Zimmerman mindset that must be found guilty – far more than the man himself. It is a mindset that views black men and boys as nothing but a threat, good for nothing, up to no good no matter who they are or what they are doing. It is the Zimmerman mindset that has birthed a penal system unprecedented in world history, and relegated millions to a permanent undercaste. Trayvon, you will not be forgotten. We will honor you – and the millions your memory represents – by building a movement that makes America what it must become. RIP

    That said, I’m not sure the jury’s verdict was entirely unreasonable. I kinda feel like a manslaughter conviction was the appropriate outcome, but I understand why the jury felt even that was flimsy.. there are just so many unknowns in the case. For me, though, the fact that Zimmerman indisputably stalked Martin, for no good reason, is enough to make it manslaughter regardless of the other facts: Even if Martin threw the first punch, and even if Zimmerman truly was in fear for his life when he pulled the gun, you can’t provoke a fight and then escalate to lethal force when you start losing. It might not be murder, but it’s a serious crime; or at least it ought to be in any place that pretends to value justice.

    But that said, I also recognize that there’s some serious Privilege at work here in that I am able to dispassionately talk about evidence and reasonable doubt and the fine distinctions between manslaughter and murder. What happened was an outrage, and a terrible signifier of the sorry state of race relations and gun culture in this country. If my sons looked like Trayvon, the raw outrage and pain and fear provoked by such a sorry state of affairs might well obliterate any nuance. And perhaps that is better. I don’t know.

    In any case, my point is to echo Michelle Alexander: This is about a lot more than the legal technicals of an individual case. My safe position of privilege might allow me to indulge in the legal technicals, but those are less important than the bigger picture, which is that a young man is dead because of racial profiling, and half the country wants to call his killer a hero. The nicest possible thing I could say about Zimmerman is that he is probably not the virulently racist mastermind that some have depicted, but more like a casually racist moron with a loaded gun and delusions of grandeur. That anybody is idolizing him, that is just sick.

  33. Chaos Engineer says

    If we do that, we’re really just saying “my sense of morality is more correct than yours is”, which is the exact same unjustified superiority that we have been trying to combat in religious debates for centuries.

    I’m having trouble following your argument. Yes, some people do feel that they’re morally superior to other people. But you believe that all moral codes are equal, then you don’t have any basis to condemn them for feeling that way.

    The problem is that leads straight into a wilderness of pure relativism: “Well, some people think that it’s OK for creepy middle-aged men to stalk and murder teenagers, and other people don’t. It’s not my place to say who’s right and who’s wrong; we’ll all just have to agree to disagree.”

    I’ll submit that some moral codes really are “more correct” than others. This is because moral codes aren’t completely random; they’re derived from our shared experience as human beings, and from shared desires like “I don’t want to be in pain or see other people in pain”, “I want to live in a stable community”, “I want my community to be at peace with neighboring communities.”

    If you start from that, it’s pretty easy to see an argument that Zimmerman and the creationist in your hypothetical were acting immorally. I’d tell you what it is, but you might enjoy trying to figure it out on your own.

  34. elspeth says

    Can anyone lay out the legal requirements for a civil rights case? I’m neither for nor against the idea yet; I don’t yet understand what that case could take into account that the criminal court could not.
    .

    Are there any rumors or indications that the Martins are considering a civil suit for wrongful death? Criminal self-defense is tricky and must rely on some LEGAL definition of who started the fight to determine guilt or innocence. I think civil court would be able to consider the common-sense question of who started the whole mess, and who should be held responsible for being a creepy-ass stalker.
    .
    Yeah, I know — money can’t recompense the loss of a human person. But let’s be honest: punishment, confinement, or even death of the person responsible aren’t good recompense either. Criminal law could have locked Zimmerman up where he can’t do this again, but what I want and what I THINK most of us want is a loud and clear statement, under law, that this was wrong. A civil court decision could make that statement.

  35. jamesa7171 says

    It’s not my place to say who’s right and who’s wrong; we’ll all just have to agree to disagree.

    It is my place to have a moral opinion, and it is my place to have a debate about morality, but it is not my place to claim more moral authority than anybody else. If somebody legitimately feels that child abuse, for example, is ok, and tries to argue that point against me, I will argue against that person to the death, but there is no objective metric that I can use to “prove” that person wrong, since morality is not a matter of fact. We feel that child abuse is immoral because we place intrinsic value in human well-being and even more intrinsic value in the well-being of an innocent child. But there is no objective basis for placing those values on those things.

    This is why morality is constantly shifting. 500 years ago, if you tried to argue that morally, women should be considered people and not property, you would have gotten laughed out of town. 300 years ago, if you tried to argue that morally, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. were equal to white people, you would have gotten brutally killed and your murder would widely have been considered a just and moral preservation of white supremacy. If you had tried, before you died, to attack the morality of the group about to kill you, one of them might have claimed white supremacy to be a superior moral code and cited “Moral codes aren’t completely random; they’re derived from our shared experience as human beings” as a reason why.

    (Extra points: 1) I’m sure as a society we’re doing plenty of stuff today that we all consider normal, that in 100 years will be considered pathetic and immoral; 2),You’re right, I don’t have a moral basis to condemn those people, but I do have a logical basis to.)

  36. Beth says

    @adampatrick: Who is being silenced? If Greta doesn’t want to debate this matter or even discuss it at all with those who disagree, that’s her choice. She isn’t silencing anyone.

  37. daniellavine says

    adampatrick@37:

    http://wordpress.com/

    http://twitter.com/

    http://facebook.com

    There are three venues in which you can espouse any viewpoint you wish. Unless Greta Christina is actively prohibiting you from availing yourself of those options then there is simply no sense in which she is “shouting down” or “silencing” your “opposition.”

    Her blog, her rules for discourse. You don’t like it you don’t need to read or comment in the first place. She’s not obligated to give you a soap box and it’s not “cowardly” to deny you one.

    Blog comments with no moderation tend to turn into shouting matches consisting mostly of petty sniping and name-calling. Greta is preventing that and trying to host a conversation consistent with her own values. No one challenges their own values all the time — some people (e.g. you I expect) never challenge their moral values at all. It is not “cowardly” to set boundaries for conversation on one’s own blog. If Greta wants to expose herself to alternative points of view they’re all over the internet — and TV and newspapers. Yet more reasons she isn’t “silencing” or “shouting down” anything.

  38. R Johnston says

    @38:

    18 U.S.C. 249:

    (a) In General.—
    (1) Offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin.— Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person—

    (A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

    (B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if—

    (i) death results from the offense; or

    (ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/249

    To prosecute Zimmerman the Feds would have to prove that he stalked and shot Martin because of Martin’s race. Frankly, that should be pretty easy to do given Zimmerman’s lengthy documented history of stalking people and reporting them to the police for the crime of being black.

  39. elspeth says

    @42 R Johnston, thank you. My concern is that this legislation still does not make it a crime for Zimmerman to have followed Martin in the first place. Hardly anything is a 100% certainty in court, but I’ll agree there appears to be a very strong case that Zimmerman’s following Martin and probably confronting him was racially motivated. The Fed’s burden would be to prove that the actual shooting was “because of actual or perceived race,” and that faces the same hurdles as the murder and manslaughter charges did.

    Since Martin was a minor, it might be possible to construe Zimmerman’s following (and probably confronting) him as violating some child endangerment statute/s. That would be awkward to bring up at this point, though, I think.

  40. Al Dente says

    Zimmerman literally got away with murder. It appears that what he did was legal, but morally he’s a murderer. A guy with a gun is not threatened by a kid with Skittles. Plus, to use the schoolyard accusation, Zimmerman started it.

  41. R Johnston says

    @44 elspeth:

    To the best of my memory, there were some 50 times over the course of the years where Zimmerman dialed 911 to report men for walking around while black. That evidence gets admitted in a federal civil rights case against Zimmerman because it establishes M.O. And, of course, there are always Zimmerman’s statements specifically about the stalking and shooting of Trayvon Martin, many of which exhibit clear racial animus. There’s, IMO, a pretty solid case.

    As for the following itself, that may be stalking, but those aren’t federal charges. Florida could have charged Zimmerman with stalking (“Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree”), depending on whether stopping and restarting his hunt on foot qualifies as “repeatedly follow[ing],”but it wouldn’t have been an aggravated charge based on Martin’s age (“Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks a minor under 16 years of age commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree”).

    http://www.flsenate.gov/laws/statutes/2011/784.048

  42. says

    I agree with Greta 100% here. It looks like everything she said, I agree with. Let me check again to make sure before I get any messages about an indefensible Greta-co-signing rumor.

    Yes.

    I noticed this post on an FB page with complaints about it from general allies – but I have to agree here! This is totally right. That’s not what freethought means, no one actually has a moral obligation to do that stuff, and any whining about being blocked when it’s someone’s opinion that you are going with murder is ridiculous. What do you expect? “Well, you’re saying Trayvon deserved to get shot, but I’ll keep being friends with you anyway.” LOL no.

    Even people that would have debated you may have debated too many times already, sigh. There’s some things you just can’t take. I don’t even want to glance at posts defending Zimmerman anymore.

    If I get yet another “ew, Eu needs to go A+” card for this, oh well. I was never with the “free speech” argument as an absolute rule.

  43. throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says

    I can’t deal with the doubt any longer. I mean, after hearing it repeated so much, I do start to think: what if this was race-baiting? What if Zimmerman is a fine upstanding citizen out to protect the world from harm and would nary scrape a hair on anyone due to race? What if… what if…. what if… I’m just disheartened that I don’t know for sure the answers any more. I think they’ve gotten to me, and that makes me sick, because for all the talk about “media brainwashing” people will ignore the fact that WE are the media now. I barely paid attention to the news outlets themselves. I listened on the Internet. That’s where I live. That’s my media. And all I see is the racist underbelly being turned over and exposed, claiming ‘free speech’ and ‘equal time’ for their horrible rhetoric.

  44. Susan Boggs says

    Greta – thank you so much for such a long and insightful post, right on the heels of your own grief. Your right, many others have spoken well on the topic, but you’ve made a much needed point that hasn’t been touched upon yet (to my knowledge). A thousand thank you’s. You have restored my faith in humanity (or at least the eloquence of humanity in this virtual world we live in).

  45. says

    The problem wasn’t whether or not what his freak did was moral, or justified, or sane, or anything else, but.. “legal”. And, the whole reason the reprehensible “stand your ground” laws came up, at all, was that when they where passed, this kind of trial are “warned about”. Why? Because, if you are someone being followed by some idiot in a car, and they get out, and they have a gun, and they say, or do, a damn thing that freaks you out, under those exact same laws, you have the right to do any damn thing you want to stop them, preemptively, regardless of whether or not they have even pulled the gun. So… Its irrelevant who threw the first punch, or how many times Zimmerman had his head slammed into the ground, Trayvon was, under those laws, legally justified to do any damn thing he wanted, to Zimmerman, right up until Zimmerman shot him dead, and… there was no way to prove that he was exercising his legal right to defend himself.

    In other words, that it was a black kid, shot by a freak, who didn’t like black people, is fairly meaningless. In reality, that class of laws amount to, “Which ever one of them is still alive, when its over, had legal grounds to defend themselves.” Why the hell not just bring back pistol dueling, or the idiotic idea from the age of knights, that the asshole that had the most sword practice was “right” because god would never allow the dishonorable person to win? It amounts to the same insane crap.

    It was also, pretty much, inevitable, unfortunately, that a minority became the test case, with respect to whether or not this bullshit would stand up in court (with or without mentioning the stupid ass laws that make, ‘I was the last one standing!’, a valid legal defense.)

  46. says

    I’m hurting.

    I look at Trayvon, and I see my brother.

    I don’t want my brother — no, I don’t want anyone to be killed in a senseless act of violence.

    And my heart is breaking for the family. Trayvon was a son, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, a young man with his whole life ahead of him, taken too soon because of one man’s paranoia.

  47. elspeth says

    @46 R Johnston

    The legal definitions of “stalking” are why I’m consciously trying to use words like “following.” “Stalked!” is what I’d feel was happening were I in Treyvon Martin’s place, I didn’t think it would legally qualify. If it could have been argued as stalking — Florida dropped the ball, not for the first or last time in the prosecution of this case, not trying the charge out in court. When you’re serious about prosecuting a case, you should make a formal charge of every infraction you have a case for, from littering on up! Unfortunately the past is the past.

    To the best of my memory, there were some 50 times over the course of the years where Zimmerman dialed 911 to report men for walking around while black.

    That’s what I remember too, and that’s why I say showing a racial motivation for targeting Martin in the first place is very likely to fly. What we don’t know is whether there are 30 or 60 other calls from Zimmerman to 911 reporting people for walking around while white, hispanic, female…. I don’t think there are, btw, just that that’s what it would take to credibly argue that race was NOT a factor.

    As an aside, in all the calls I’ve heard or seen transcripts of — which isn’t all 51 or so reported, but I think it’s at least a dozen — Zimmerman says that he’s calling 911 about these “suspicious” people in part because “there have been some burglaries recently.” I’d love to know if there actually was one or more burglary cases reported within, say, the month before each 911 call. Was the community beleagured by criminal activity? Yeah, property crimes don’t justify deadly force, but anyone who’s been burgled can tell you that a reasonable person is hypervigilant for a while after a break-in. On the other hand, didn’t I see some media coverage that the neighborhood wasn’t much into this Neighborhood Watch thing, that it was Zimmerman’s idea and impetus? Surely the community would take a Neighborhood Watch proposal seriously if they had a serious problem with burglaries.

    And, of course, there are always Zimmerman’s statements specifically about the stalking and shooting of Trayvon Martin, many of which exhibit clear racial animus.

    I’ll see if I can look these up — are these the statements in court, or out of court? (For the record, I don’t have television, so news coverage for me is almost always what I deliberately go looking for.)
    I did watch an oft-repeated clip of the prosecutor with bleeps inserted, quoting Zimmerman’s statement/s — but I looked up the call transcript on that one, and he wasn’t quoting racial epithets (e.g. “BLEEEEP always get away” does give the impression he said something racist, but the unbleeped call transcript is iirc “fucking assholes always get away,” which establishes hostility, frustration, general state-of-mind stuff but isn’t the red flag it unfortunately sounds like.

    My problem with the case and the judgement — I’ve been trying to keep off the subject, but it’s getting hard to keep avoiding — is that the law is not common sense, and being legally correct isn’t the same as being right. To charge Zimmerman [1], prosecutor/s have to find legal (not necessarily real or commonsense) offenses from a large but limited set defined by law, and the jury must (if they are really doing their job as jurors) not only limit themselves to offenses the prosecution has offered but also presume the innocence of the accused. Zimmerman’s actions were threatening, but was it assault? Morally I think it was, and I’d like to see the law rewritten to reflect this — that if you follow someone without good reason and/or in a threatening manner, anything that happens when you do catch up is entirely your responsibility — but I think that’s not what the law says today.

    Footnote [1] — Not starting a serious investigation at the very start and the time it took before Zimmerman was charged, whoa, yeah, that looks racially motivated.

  48. elspeth says

    Damn, I could use some “how to edit your post” instructions. I haven’t said anything I won’t stand by, but I have said far too much. tl;dr: The law is an ass, and I fear it will produce the same outcome because it’s still an ass; and, what WMD Kitty just said.

  49. jamesa7171 says

    @elspeth: Wikipedia has this to say:

    “From January 1, 2011 through February 26, 2012, police were called to The Retreat at Twin Lakes 402 times.”

    “Crimes committed at The Retreat in the year prior to [Trayvon] Martin’s death included eight burglaries, nine thefts, and one shooting.”

    “Twin Lakes residents said there were dozens of reports of attempted break-ins, which had created an atmosphere of fear in their neighborhood.”

  50. R Johnston says

    @54 elspeth:

    I think I’d like to echo all aspects of that post. I’m also dreading the fact that any effort by the Department of Justice to prosecute Zimmerman could easily mean we’re going to have an impeachment drama that will make going after Clinton over a blow job look like the height of good faith and rational politics. I don’t see the nasty racist asshattery of the House Republican caucus being held in check if Obama and Holder authorize prosecution of the “brave hero” Zimmerman.

  51. Martha says

    The more I read about the case, the more it seems unlikely that the Justice Department will proceed. I signed the petition anyway, but it seems like a more helpful way to contribute would be to donate to a legal fund for Martin’s family to pursue a civil case. Does anyone know of a way to do that? Apparently, it’s financially risky as hell, as they’d have to pay Zimmerman’s attorney fees if they lose. I don’t think they’d lose, but if the family wants to pursue a legal case, I’m ready to do my part to help financially.

  52. Greta Christina says

    If we flip this around: imagine a hardcore right-wing evangelical young earth creationist named X. We attempt to debate X on the subject of atheism/religion. X treats us like shit and claims that atheism is morally repugnant and not worthy of consideration at all and blocks all our comments from his youtube channel or whatever other medium he uses.

    Would not the vast majority of freethought advocates rush to their keyboards to decry how closed minded X is?

    Or perhaps, more relevantly: imagine X was pro-Zimmerman, and made a pro-Zimmerman blog post, and felt pro-Martin arguments were morally repugnant. Then imagine X flamed the shit out of all pro-Martin posters and banned them from his blog. Surely most people here would criticize X for all sorts of reasons, at least in their heads if not in a bona fide keyboard war.

    But the thing is, how can we justify that quote from the OP while simultaneously criticizing X in either of these examples? If we do that, we’re really just saying “my sense of morality is more correct than yours is”, which is the exact same unjustified superiority that we have been trying to combat in religious debates for centuries.

    jamesa7171 @ #33: I am entirely comfortable saying that some morality is better than others. That’s what morality means. That’s what makes it morality, as opposed to, say, subjective aesthetic opinion. Human beings have evolved some basic moral values that we all share (well, unless we’re sociopaths); we think that helping people is better than hurting them, that justice is better than injustice, that loyalty is better than disloyalty, that honesty is better than dishonesty. As a practical matter, of course it’s not always obvious, it’s often murky, there are cases where morality is ambiguous and/or different values come into conflict, and where good people can disagree. But there are some cases where that’s not true. And to say that because morality is often ambiguous, therefore we can never judge other people simply because their morality differs from ours… that’s amoral, pretty much by definition.

    The problem with your hypothetical creationist isn’t the basic idea that they think some ideas are morally repugnant. The problem is that they’re wrong. The problem is that their morality is fucked-up, and they can’t justify it without denying reality.

  53. Silentbob says

    Apologies if this is not the time or place for humour, but I can’t help being reminded of this thirty year old sketch.

  54. dshetty says

    Its indisputable that the chain of events than ended up with an innocent teen dying were started by Zimmerman, however If I were on the jury , I think , given the evidence there is actually no other choice i.e. the jury decision is the legally correct one. It looks like the law is wanting – if a non accidental death of someone innocent is not (at least) manslaughter then perhaps the law needs to be amended.

  55. John Phillips, FCD says

    Greta, well said, both for your OP as well as your subsequent replies.

  56. says

    As if Zimmerman was out trying to shoot a deer during hunting season. Do you really think he wanted it to come to this?

    He had plenty of opportunities to avoid it. He chose not to, not just once, but repeatedly in a series of choices that led to “this.” So yeah, it seems there was at least a part of his brain — the part we see in his past irrational behavior and bigoted-sounding blog posts — that really did want to do what he ended up doing.

  57. says

    I’m still waiting for the gun nuts to step up and remind us all that if Trayvon Martin had had a gun, this tragedy could have been avoided. I mean, they say this every other time innocent people get shot dead, so why aren’t they saying it now?

  58. says

    Do you really think he wanted it to come to this?.

    Yup. He had every opportunity to change the outcome, and he chose to play out his Dirty Harry fantasy. He has stated that he has no regrets about what he did and that he would do the same again given the chance.

  59. Infophile says

    @61: The jury can’t be held liable for a “bad” judgement. There’s no legal requirement that they actually follow the law – that’s what the concept of jury nullification is about (though in this case it’s the opposite of the usual acquittal-in-spite-of-the-law). Juries are never told this, but nothing stops them from exercising this right. If I were on the jury, that’s what I would have done.

  60. scenario says

    Being killed by the police is the 9th most common cause among black males in the United States according to the CDC. If a black teenager killed a policeman and then claimed he was in fear for his life since his two older brothers were killed by police, would it qualify under the stand your ground laws? In Florida, of course not.

  61. allencdexter says

    I agree with you one hundred percent, Greta, as I usually do.

    What most americans don’t realize is that a jury is the ultimate Supreme Court. They don’t have to go along with laws they judge to be unfair. During prohibition, many juries found people not guilty when they were guilty as hell under the law of the land at the time. That jury didn’t have to follow anything the judge instructed if they thought the law behind it, in this case “stand your ground,” was a crock.

  62. says

    that’s what the concept of jury nullification is about

    Sadly, most courts in the US do not inform juries they have this right, do not mention the existence of the right, have chastised lawyer who attempt to even mention, never mind suggest to a jury that they apply such a right, and otherwise go out of their way to “prevent” the average jury from being aware that it is possible for them to do such a thing.

    So, unless you do know it, what it actually says, and how its applied, and **you** yourself happen to be on the jury, so can mention it to the others.. you won’t see it used. I am not sure, but, I think there may have even been a few cases of juries whose members did consider it being mus-instructed by judges that it couldn’t be applied in specific cases, though, never in so blatant a way that they could be challenged over it.

  63. says

    I don’t have a problem with “jury nullification,” but that normally means “nullifying” the prosecution’s case by refusing to convict and punish a defendant. In this case, “jury nullification” would have meant the exact opposite: convicting a defendant (of a VERY serious crime), in blatant disregard of instructions that, while obviously questionable, are still in place to protect a defendant. I’m not comfortable with that idea, even though I agree that Zimmerman did indeed act inexcusably and should be punished for his willful stupidity and over-eagerness to kill someone out of badly misplaced anger.

  64. Josh F says

    “… whose death came from a systemic hatred and contempt of your race…”

    Trust me, I am in no way condoning the murder. It’s terrible. But I haven’t seen anything to indicate that it was racially motivated. Can someone please show me convincing evidence proving it was a racially motivated murder? Thanks.

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