Trayvon: my thoughts and reactions

So this morning I tried to focus pretty much exclusively on the facts of the case and leave my own personal interpretation out of my analysis. Of course, this is a blog and I am far from an objective, dispassionate observer of events. I also mentioned that I couldn’t quite put my finger on the issue that was so sickening to me when I first heard the story, but in order to do that I’m going to need to walk through a couple of other things first.

1. I am deeply cynical about the chance of George Zimmerman facing arrest

As I mentioned this morning, Florida’s gun laws are pretty clear-cut – if you feel threatened, you have a right to shoot to kill. It strains credulity that an unarmed 17 year-old kid (no matter how black) could pose any kind of serious threat to an armed man 10 years his senior who outweighs him by an entire human being, but that’s not important. Much like mandatory minimums, the law does not make room for discretion – it is certainly likely that Mr. Zimmerman felt threatened and fired his gun. Under all interpretations of the law that I’ve seen, there was no chargeable offense committed.

Considering the close relationship between Mr. Zimmerman and the police department, coupled with the department’s history with letting anti-black crimes slip, I can’t see much happening. Even though the federal justice department is involved, they have limited jurisdiction unless a federal law was broken. Again, from the analyses I’ve seen, unless they can demonstrate that Mr. Zimmerman fired his gun with murderous intent rather than during a struggle (and I have no idea how one would go about proving that), I think this is going to end up being another one of those examples where the clear immorality of the act committed is dismissed by the legal system. A legal system, incidentally, that is not on Trayvon’s side to begin with.

Incidentally, pro-gun folks like to talk about how more guns in the community means that people are safer. That is demonstrably untrue in this case. If Trayvon Martin had been in possession of a gun, does anyone imagine that things would have ended up any differently? George Zimmerman was trained in the use of a firearm and had a license to carry it – what difference would it have made if he hadn’t? Probably none – except it may have taken more bullets to kill Trayvon than just the one.

2. Trayvon was the perfect victim

In light of the recent publicity of what an awful person Rush Limbaugh is, many black women began pointing out how ridiculous it was to see liberals up in arms about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke. After all, Rush had been saying things about black women for years that were just as bad or worse. Where were the boycotts and campaigns then? Sandra Fluke seemed to resonate with the general populace because, and you’ll have to excuse my cynicism, she was white and upper class. Upper-class white women don’t deserve to be called something as degrading as “slut”. Sluts are people who deserve it – Ms. Fluke didn’t qualify. Black women, on the other hand, are ‘otherable’ enough to escape notice when they are thus described. While everyone was pointing out how Limbaugh didn’t understand the issue (in reaction to his non-pology), black women understood: Limbaugh had gotten away with it before, so his read of the situation was very different from that of those who just clued in to his bigotry.

Trayvon Martin was 17, a good student, and not associated with any kind of criminal past. Therefore he didn’t deserve to get shot. Can you imagine the reaction if he had gone to the store for a beer or a pack of smokes instead? Or if he had been in that neighbourhood because he was in foster care? Or if he had been a C student instead of a B student? All it takes in cases like this is the presence of a single imperfection for the victim blaming and ignoring to begin. Trayvon Martin is far from the first black teenager to be killed despite being innocent of any crime. The reason this story has legs is because we can’t find something with which to drag him through the mud as we exonerate his killer.

3. Why this hit me so strong

A few months ago I wrote a post about my practice of shuffling my feet when walking behind people (particularly white women) at night. I intended it to be an answer to the legions of butthurt “men’s rights activists”* and other misogynist clowns who use anti-black racism as a derailing tactic when told that many women feel threatened by men. My point was that, in the absence of having to ever deal with the actual consequences of anti-black racism, and having no understanding whatsoever of the issues surrounding the phenomenon, anyone who says “being asked to watch my behaviour is the same thing as being black” is invited to eat a shit sandwich and die.

Here’s what got Trayvon killed: he didn’t ‘shuffle his feet’ enough. Trayvon walked home alone and black in a neighbourhood with a zealous watch captain. When he noticed he was being followed, he ‘foolishly’ made the decision to appear less criminal (criminal, incidentally, as defined through a particular lens). He didn’t bow and scrape obsequiously to the man in the truck with the gun, he didn’t pull back his hood to show that he was a nice boy, or put up his hands and surrender to the man who was convinced Trayvon was a criminal. He did what would occur to most people who are followed (and who don’t have the experience of being harassed or victimized) – he got angry. He stood up for his right to walk through his own neighbourhood without being viewed as a gang-banger simply because of his skin colour, age, and gender. He showed the level of self-confidence and pride that is appropriate and commensurate for someone who is innocent but who is treated as guilty by an asshole.

And it got him killed.

What happens to me on the day I decide to stop shuffling my feet? What happens if I drop my guard in the wrong neighbourhood and just do what comes naturally? What happens if I talk back to the wrong nutcase or fight back when someone stalks and assaults me because I “look suspicious”?

But hey, you can’t proposition women in an elevator. Boy, that must be tough for you.

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*There are people who legitimately agitate for equality in the places in our legal system where men are discriminated against. Unfortunately, the mainstream Men’s Rights movement has robbed these folks of their credibility.


  1. Alverant says

    Minor complaint about #3, Zimmerman isn’t part of the watch. He was kicked out for carrying a firearm. So he can’t be a watch captian.

  2. Zugswang says

    In light of the recent publicity of what an awful person Rush Limbaugh is, many black women began pointing out how ridiculous it was to see liberals up in arms about Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke. After all, Rush had been saying things about black women for years that were just as bad or worse. Where were the boycotts and campaigns then?

    In this case, it was the perfect opportunity to finally get a large enough consensus to hit back; not because of liberal ignorance to Limbaugh’s bigotry. It isn’t as if they haven’t tried to do something about him in the past for all the other dumb things he’s said, it just hasn’t been met with the same kind of success. Though, it does reinforce your point that it took a white woman to get enough people off the fence long enough to take action. The only counterexample I can think of is when Don Imus was fired a few years ago after using racially-charged insults against the Rutgers’ womens’ basketball team.

  3. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    “All it takes in cases like this is the presence of a single imperfection for the victim blaming and ignoring to begin.”

    I’ve always wondered (without having a name for it, thank you) about the whole “perfect victim ” thing in many media stories, whether it’s a story of a victim of crime or accident or disease, that so often the whole “undeserved” aspect will be played up. The person in question will have been a good student, loved by friends and family, untroubled by drugs or other problems with “so much to look forward to.” The subtext must be that those who fall short in one of the categories on the “perfect” checklist somehow did deserve it, or don’t count as much. I always wonder about the families whose children have been caught in some sort of tragedy who don’t get written up in the paper or featured on some news report and thereby miss out on public sympathy, support and probably also financial assistance. Not to begrudge those families which do so benefit, but I wonder how many less than “perfect” families have similar stories of misfortune and tragedy spiked for some editorial consideration, because they and their stories aren’t “good” enough.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    You may have seen this already, but if not, it’s worth a read.

    For me, it’s too easy to see my (racist, bigoted, living in Florida) grandfather playing a part in this story–if not as Mr. Zimmerman, certainly as one of his apologists. As such, it rings personal. And it utterly sickens me.

    And at this moment, I strongly suspect that A) this was wrong, and this was murder, B) this was completely legal, and so C) Florida’s laws are even more to blame than Mr. Zimmerman. Though it is harder to point fingers at abstractions.

  5. says

    My suspicion is this wasn’t legal. the point of the term “stand your ground” is that you are not required to retreat. You are required to not advance toward them. In the abstract, you aren’t required to deescalate, but you aren’t allowed to escalate, only react to what the other party does. In practice, this can be very difficult to prove, especially since no investigation was done. Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good take here. (Well, he’s actually quoting Andrew Cohen, but his own commentary is good.)

    #2 is what really bothers me about this case. What if Trayvon had a misdemeanor burglary conviction and a bag of weed and the situation played out the same way. Zimmerman wouldn’t have known these things, so it makes zero difference in how unjustifiable his actions were, but we wouldn’t have heard about it.

  6. Dianne says

    I don’t have anything intelligent to add, just wanted to applaud your summary and analysis of the case.

  7. says

    Or if he had been in that neighbourhood because he was in foster care?

    I’m just registering my privileged-white-girl horror at the idea that he would be considered a less sympathetic victim if he’d been in foster care. Going to hide from humanity now…

  8. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I would agree with @8 … Zimmerman did not just stand his ground, he was in active pursuit, acting as a vigilante.

  9. Who Knows? says

    I’m not sure why this has, “hit me so strong” as you said. I first read about this a couple weeks ago I think. When I first read it I thought cynically that nothing will come of this, it will be just another of many sad stories that fades away. But this story didn’t just fade away, this has touched so many people that it has now become impossible for the State of Florida and the City of Sanford to not do anything.

    It seems to me that George Zimmerman was the agressor from the very beginnning and he should never have pursued Trayvon Martin. If only because it is completely inappropriate for an adult to be approaching any teenager they do not know. I mean, someone in the city where I live was charged this winter with disorderly conduct for offering some teenage girls a ride during a winter storm.

    What is a teenage boy walking alone at dusk supposed to think about some adult stalking him?

    I enjoyed reading this column but I really hope you’re wrong, as I am sure you hope too, and justice is served.

  10. Dianne says

    On thinking about it, I’m actually fairly confident that Zimmerman will get arrested and probably even convicted. After which, the media will declare that justice is done and racism is over and any further pointing out of inconvenient evidence of continued racism is just whining.

    Zimmerman himself will likely serve about 10 months and then be released for “good behavior” and to make room for non-violent drug offenders.

    The next shooting or several dozen shootings will get ignored because we’ve already done that story, the victims aren’t quite perfect, and anyway racism’s over. Didn’t you know that Zimmerman was convicted?

    I’m not sure if this makes me less or more cynical than Crommunist.

  11. Brandon O'Hara says

    I agree with a couple of the other people who have posted about the “Stand your Ground” law not really applying in this case. He chased after the victim. The 911 operator he was on the phone with told him not to do that and he did anyways. If you provoke the incident you can’t claim self-defense. I live here in Florida (about 20 minutes from Sanford, actually). If I walked up to a guy and punched him in the face, I can’t then shoot him if he attacks me back even if I know he will be able to seriously physically harm me. You have to be threatened, but not culpable for the threatening situation existing in the first place. The co-authors of the bill have spoken out and said it should not apply here and he should be arrested. One pro gun rights groups in the state have spoken out and said he should be arrested. I honestly think he will eventually be charged, because other law enforcement organizations besides the local Sanford police are involved now and will want to be seen to do something in light of all the anger out there.

  12. says

    I don’t listen to Rush – I was unaware that he had said worse things to anyone else. A friend suggested the idea, but I sort of poo-poo’ed the notion that the hub-bub only existed because Fluke was white.

    I suppose I should find out what Rush has said in the past before I put my foot in my mouth, but I suspect that if Ms. Fluke was not white there would have still been a stink.

    Of course, one key difference is that instead of just calling women “hysterical” for pointing out that what Rush said was absolutely horrendous; the same crew that stood up for Imus’ right to be a jerk would have piped up and claimed that nobody would care about the incident if Fluke wasn’t black. They would claim that if Fluke was while Obama wouldn’t have called her (because apparently he hates white people *sarcasm*).


    The sad part is that people still listen to this guy – and not just a small crew of vapid followers. My dad used to be a huge fan, I think he got disgusted a long time ago.

  13. says

    I often want to ask in cases like this (how’s that for terrible – cases plural) – how much evidence do you need? I want to ask Glenn Beck and people talking about the hoodie being “thug wear” – give me a story where a black person was killed by a white person and the black person did not deserve to be killed? Give me a scenario where the evidence is enough to convince you that the person doing the killing was at fault. How much evidence do you need? 911 call tapes? Several witnesses? Really, seriously, is there any such scenario short of a video-taped execution style killing?

    It’s delusional levels of denial. The people standing up for Zimmerman can only grasp the concept that they have difficulty identifying with a black person – and the evidence is just history. They don’t want to believe that this happened. They don’t want to believe it’s true – so they will twist any little tiny bit of evidence to support their view and fabricate the rest in their brain without even noticing. It doesn’t make sense to them, so they will MAKE it make sense by just assuming a bunch of lies they tell themselves.

  14. Anon says

    Trayvon Martin isn’t the “perfect victim”. Several newspapers jumped on Martin being suspended, while omitting Zimmerman’s actual criminal record. The victim blaming and ignoring is well underway, as always.

  15. embertine says

    Crommunist, there’s no cynicism to be excused. I absolutely think that the reason Rush is getting called out for this one is because instead of hitting out at the “other”, he went after women who use contraception and (by default) the men who sleep with them, who presumably make up most of his audience.

    White, right-wing, well-off and sheltered folks listening to Limbaugh probably couldn’t care less if he goes after queers, black or the poor, but heaven help him when he goes after Normal People Like Us™.

  16. ischemgeek says

    I think unfortunately racism plays a role here: I know for a fact that relatives of mine would assume Trayvon did something threatening (solely because he’s a black kid). I would not be surprised if prosecutors & police make the same assumption and not only give the shooter the benefit of the doubt, but also hand him manufactured doubt on a silver platter.

  17. karmakin says

    My take on the whole Rush thing is that it’s less about the particulars of this individual situation, and more about the removing of perceived powerlessness brought about by things such as OWS and the effort to protect PP from the Kormen foundation, both of which are really brought about by the “Arab Spring” which is probably the catalyst for all of this.

    For what it’s worth I think that this matter falls into the same boat. I think a year ago this story falls through the cracks.

    Maybe I’m just protecting privilege and all that and I’m just wrong. But I do think this is more about the perceived power of people who until just a little while ago didn’t feel like they had much real power.

  18. d cwilson says

    To use a cliche, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is hardly the first misogynistic thing Rush has said. His constant habit of refering to the First Lady as “Moo-shell Obama” was certainly worthy any boycott. Anyone who didn’t already know that Rush was a person with serious problems with women and minorities hadn’t been paying attention for the last 20 years.

    But I think the fact that he went on a three-day tear of calling Fluke all kinds of names and making comments that was so at odds with reality that anyone with even an ounce of decency finally said, “enough is enough”.

  19. d cwilson says

    Everything I’ve read about Florida’s “Stand your ground” law indicates that you still have to have had a reasonable feeling that your life was threatened. So far, there has been zero evidence to support that Zimmerman had any reason to feel threatened. He choose to follow Martin. He continued to pursue Martin even after the police told him not to. Martin was unarmed and about half Zimmerman’s size. As you noted, Zimmerman didn’t stand his ground. He advanced toward the victim. The moment he ignored the instruction from the police not to follow Martin, Zimmerman became the aggressor in the conflict. Unless there’s some huge piece of the puzzle that we haven’t seen yet, the idea that Martin was somehow a threat to Zimmerman is ludicrous.

  20. d cwilson says

    The one example of an “imperfect victim” that I can think of is Rodney King. He had a history of alcohol abuse and run-ins with the law long before the police were caught beating him on camera. Did that make him any less of a victim? No, but many people used his criminal past to excuse the police.

    The media especially has a need to portray stories like these in absolute terms. If the victim isn’t 100% pure, they will turn on them in a heartbeat. Just ask Nancy Kerrigan. When she was assaulted, the media portrayed her as almost saintly. Then she was caught making a few undiplomatic comments over an open mic and suddenly she was being described in the media as “bitchy” and “mean-spirited”. All the sympathy she had gained from being the victim of assault evaporated overnight.

    Rosa Parks was hardly the first black woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, but she became a symbol for the civil rights movement because many of the women before her lacked her sterling reputation.

    Likewise, if Trayvon Martin had been carrying a bag of weed instead of a bag of Skittles, he would still have been every bit of a victim of murder, but I guarantee that the media wouldn’t be paying half as much attention to his case as they are now.

  21. SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant says

    No, I don’t think the reaction would have been quite as severe if Rush had attacked a young Black law student for three days and called her all sorts of names. The fact is that Black women are already tagged with those labels in the minds of a lot of White people, liberal or not, and even if it’s mostly subconscious, they just wouldn’t get quite as upset about that happening to a woman of color. Like, imagine if it came out that Ms. Fluke had been working as an exotic dancer to pay her law school tuition (as some women do). Then what? She would have been “asking for it” in a lot of people’s minds. She would have partially deserved to be called a slut and a prostitute. She would not have been as perfect a victim, and she would not have been the proverbial straw on that over-burdened camel’s back. Black women, by virtue of being Black, are already associated with wantonness, sluttiness, and so on (if they’re not being mammies or Sassy Black Friends of course). Black women, by virtue of being Black, are not “perfect victims” like Ms. Fluke was, and so any attacks on them are generally met with less outrage than attacks on White women are.

  22. says

    One question I’ve heard asked, and I think is an apt one, “What if everything else in the case were the same but Trayvon had been the one who shot Zimmerman, instead of the other way around?”

    Putting aside that he’s a minor and probably cannot legally carry a gun (I’m assuming), I’m going to guess that the outrage might have been so great over a black individual killing an unarmed white individual, that while legally he would have been on solid ground (i. e. he was being chased, cornered and feared for his safety) it might have caused reform in the shitacular florida law.

    But I have to admit, you are absolutely right. If Trayvon hadn’t been a good student, unarmed, in his own neighborhood, this would probably be a non-story. It shames me to think that, in the same way that it shames me that it took a white, educated, religious, woman talking about contraception as a medical treatment for a non-sex related matter, to give any legs to the concerns about Rush. Though, if the privileged among us could have a consolation prize, we did take down Don Imus for his “nappy-headed hos,” comment.

    I will say that most of us who should be more up in arms about the ugly things Rush says, simply don’t listen to his show. (jeeze, the thought of listening to 15 hours a week of Rush, even for journalistic reasons, sounds like a certain kind of torture,) I am pretty happy living my life not knowing what Coulter, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and countless others are saying. But if it comes to my attention that they’ve said something particularly egregious, I do take note.

  23. says

    On one of the few occasions I left the house I went out to lunch and shopping with my best friend in the world, really like a sister to me in many ways. We talked about a wide variety of topics and I’m not entirely sure what lead to this but she said at one point something that jumped out to me and still sticks in my mind:

    “I’m sick of hearing black people say ‘White people are holding them down!’ I’m not holding anyone down!”

    I took a deep calming breath, after all I’ve known her since we were in sixth grade and only recently due to various issues have we spent so much time apart. This was only a week after Trayvon had been shot and without giving much of a set up I told her the story of what happened and she was, of course, appalled. If we were in a better setting (a loud busy mall food court makes for a poor spot to discuss difficult ideas) I would have happy explained to her the idea of privilege. She’s a woman after all so she is -well- aware of feminist issues, the war on women making it far too obvious. It’s impressive how someone can be aware enough to know there are plenty of systemic issues… when these issues directly related to them (Sexism, class issues, body issues, health issues.) but are seemingly unable to expand that idea into other highly related areas (race, religion, whatever).

    Just… so god damned disheartening…

    Talking to my father about this topic has been… interesting. He’s a former cop, friend of many cops, retired military man who was born and raised in rural Mississippi. When I bring up the topic he listens to what I have to say and almost always agrees with my assessment of the issue. Then the next day after having watched a ton of Fox news suddenly his opinions on the matter have changed -drastically-. Now he’s complaining about people ‘stirring up trouble and making a fuss before the police can even do their job’ and people ‘race baiting’ along with just about every other argument you’d expect he’s heard from Fox.

    I don’t even want to think about what other Fox news watchers believe about the situation, ones who don’t bother seeking information from other sources or have friends or relatives with a different political view to challenge the crap that Fox feeds them.

  24. persiflage says

    Offered in the spirit of friendly amendment to an excellent article, in case such things bother you, Crommunist: I think the word you want at the end of point 2 is ‘exonerate’ (=remove the onus [of guilt] from) rather than ‘exhonorate’ (nothing to do with Zimmerman’s ‘honor’, if any).

  25. ash says

    Yeah, I think that’s it as well. Look at the ass whoopin’ Va. legislators got recently and don’t forget the Komen slapdown. Things are ramping up because of OWS and the Arab Spring uprisings. There is less a feeling of apathy and helplessness among people. I sure as hell know I feel that way. The Trayvon petition got a record number of signatures in record time. I wonder if that would have happened before OWS?

  26. ash says

    Q: Did Trayvon live in the gated community?

    If Yes: wouldn’t a gatekeeper have a roster of all the residences? Couldn’t Zimmerman have called the person at the gate? Isn’t that the point of a gate?

    If No: Then he may have come THROUGH the gate in which case Zimmerman could have called the gatekeeper and asked if anyone had come through.

  27. ash says

    Yeah, I think that’s it as well. Look at the ass whoopin’ Va. legislators got recently and don’t forget the Komen slapdown. Things are ramping up because of OWS and the Arab Spring uprisings. There is less a feeling of apathy and helplessness among people. I sure as hell know I feel that way. The Travon petition got a record number of signatures in record time. I wonder if that would have happened before OWS?

  28. says

    That’s the thing that many people are missing I think. It wasn’t about the language – at least not just about the language. “Slut” is a harsh word, but that not all that he did. He accused her of actually having tuns of sex, of being promiscuous, that her parents should be ashamed – and then, the pinnacle of it all, demanding that she OWE him and his listeners a tape of her having sex.

    It went beyond just making up an offensive nickname.

  29. jamessweet says

    Re: Rush… yes, but I don’t think that compels us not to take advantage of the outrage. It’s depressing that this is what is finally getting Rush into hot water with advertisers, after the sick shit he’s been saying for years… but like busting Al Capone on tax evasion, I’ll take it anyway.

    Re: Shuffling feet. Yeah. I know.

    I’ve always been a bit of “don’t you fucking tell me what to do” kind of a person, and even being a middle-class straight white boy it got me into some trouble sometimes at school — despite the fact that overall I was mostly a rule follower. I didn’t really know how to be a rule breaker in a way that didn’t piss the authority figures off. I was just too confrontational and unapologetic about it.

    When I read The Warmth of Other Suns, I had the distinct feeling that if I had grown up black in the Jim Crow south, I would have wound up getting lynched. Not because of some act of bravery or a heroic standing up to the forces of oppression… but because one day, I’d cowardly mutter “Fuck you” (or words to that effect) under my breath a little too loudly, and that would be that…

    Despite being white, I can partially empathize with how Trayvon must have felt — not the racial prejudice, but the pointless defiance that ultimately got him killed. When falsely accused by an authority figure — especially at that age — I, uh, didn’t exactly handle things calmly or in a way that served my best interest. I was more likely to completely flip out. Maybe even come up to a scary guy with a gun and angrily demand, “Why are you following me?”


  30. smrnda says

    The ‘stand your ground’ law sounds like some fantasy for gun-freaks who want to believe they are white cowboys of the wild west in a land full of non-white ‘savages.’

    If Zimmerman is arguing that he felt ‘threatened’ by Martin, Martin had far more reason to feel threatened by Zimmerman. Zimmerman is a private citizen with no legal authority to stop, detain or question people who just jumps out of his car and starts acting hostile.

    If Zimmerman spotted Martin and thought he ‘looked suspicious,’ he called the cops and they told him not to pursue him. Zimmerman would be pretty safe from a guy he thought was suspicious in his car, and if he felt ‘threatened’ by Martin he could have turned the car and drove away. He wasn’t in any way standing his ground – he was advancing his ‘ground’ up into Martin’s face in a threatening fashion.

  31. Leni says

    No Kidding. It would have been Trayvon standing his ground if he’d shot Zimmerman, but he’d also probably have been arrested on the spot.

  32. Art says

    Lessons for black teenagers:

    1) Don’t bring a bottle of tea and a box of Skittles to a gunfight. Arm yourselves.

    2) If you are followed by a belligerent white guy you have good reason to feel threatened. Trayvon Martin was, and he ended up dead.

    3) Shoot first and shoot to kill so you are the only one left to explain the situation. Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.

    4 Clearly announce to any and all witnesses that you felt threaten and were forced to shoot to defend yourself.

  33. Kevin Alexander says

    I’m pretty sure George Zimmerman hasn’t thought this through. Right now the best that could happen to him is that he gets to go to prison where they don’t allow guns. As it is he is a) known to carry a gun and b) known to use it with deadly effect.
    According to the enlightened Florida law anyone who sees him on the street is reasonably entitled to feel threatened and so to defend themselves.

  34. Stacy says

    And if that started happening, guess what?

    Conservatives would suddenly get behind gun control laws.

    As happened in California in the ’60s, in response to the Black Panthers (who did exactly what the gun culture says the 2nd Amendment is for: armed to protect themselves from oppressive government agents.)

  35. smrnda says

    All you above are totally right – if the situation had been reversed and someone who was Black with a legally-owned and legally-carried firearm shot a white guy who walked up to them giving them the “Zimmerman treatment” they would probably have been arrested on the spot, or shot by cops once they arrived.

    I’m pretty familiar with the beginnings of the Panthers regarding 2nd amendment self-defense and the heat they got from the government, but it seems white vigilantes get a free pass somehow with stockpiling weapons and preaching anti-government sentiment. Instead of a dangerous menace such groups are called “patriots.”

    Not that some of the groups don’t get some heat, but nothing like the Black Panthers, and the ‘gripes’ that white anti-government militias have are things like having to pay income tax or the existence of federal agencies regulating education, labor or the environment, not getting gunned down by the cops for no reason.

  36. Dianne says

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, but increasing the number of people of any race, sex, or situation carrying guns is only going to result in more gun violence. If everyone put this into practice, most of the now armed young black men out there would mostly encounter other young, armed, black men. And quarrel with them. If you want to know how that looks, take a look at the map of murders in Philadelphia or Detroit or Houston over the past few years: lots of stupid little quarrels, lots of dead people.

    I’m not sure having a gun would even have helped Martin. Being a nice kid, he probably wouldn’t pull the gun until it was too late anyway. And if he did manage to get the better of Zimmerman and shoot him, well, what are the chances a police department so racist that it would flat out ignore an obvious murder wouldn’t beat him up and shooting him for “resisting” or that a city that would hire a police department that racist wouldn’t put him on death row for the act?

  37. says

    I am in heartfelt agreement with everything you’ve said here, Dianne.

    Moreover, thinking and writing about this incident today made me recognize for the first time how nearly uniformly white the face of the American gun rights movement is these days, which caused me to realize how much white privilege is encapsulated in the ability to think of guns as a mere hobby, or as an unambiguous guarantor of security. I’d imagine that finding oneself on the wrong end of a police officer’s gun a few times as a kid just because of one’s skin color, seeing one’s neighborhood torn apart by gun violence, or realizing that a black man with a gun is seen as a “thug” while a white man with a gun is of course simply engaging in self-defense, might sour one on the notion that an armed society is a polite society. And of course there’s also the strain in the white gun rights movement that wants to have guns precisely so that they can defend themselves against the imagined threat of scary black people, just as Zimmerman did last month. The stuff about the Black Panthers that’s been mentioned in this thread also adds an interesting flavor to the mix.

    I’d be really interested to see someone more knowledgeable than myself do a deeper analysis of the interaction of gun rights, racism, and racial privilege in our recent history, because I suspect that there’s a lot of interesting (and probably unpleasant) stuff going on there.

  38. mouthyb says

    There’s never enough shuffling to ensure that some asshole won’t threaten, hurt, kill or maim a person they believe to be less than them, in my limited white girl experience of being poor and working blue collar jobs.

    I always tried to sort-of be less conspicuous (say little, ignore certain kinds of statements, not be alone with my boss if I could help it, carry a weapon at all times), but I’ve got a big mouth and can’t quite make docility or compliance convincing. I’m not very large, so I’m not terribly intimidating; the only real way I had of discouraging persistent harassers was to be mean as hell, not that it worked but half the time. The rest of the time, it was all about endurance, and crying when I got home or sitting there, staring at the walls, waiting to be able to function again.

    I can’t imagine where I would be if I were black; not in grad school, that’s for damn sure. I’m currently out of situations where people are threatening to beat/rape/stab me into compliance. My experience with those environments, limited as it was, make me sympathetic to Trayvon’s experience and yours, I hope (though I know I cannot understand the experience of being black).

    I really, really wish justice for his family, and enough outrage to make this kind of thing unthinkable to do. And I’m sorry that this is the situation that you and everyone who is part of a historically (and currently) oppressed minority has to deal with. Even my little experiences are godawful enough.

  39. crissakentavr says

    My father was shot and killed by a police officer in a failed traffic stop in a supermarket parking lot – the police officer, on foot, shot at the back of our station wagon, killing my father instantly. There was no indication my father even knew the officer wanted him to stop. And he wasn’t the perfect victim – a hippie, a veteran, a newcomer to town, his friends were into drugs – and it took us years to manage a wrongful death suit.

    One of my friends, one I’d lent my big hi-res monitor to incidentally, was shot and killed on her doorstep. Police, over 50′ away responding to another call told her to drop the phillips screwdriver she’d come out of the door holding and shot her in the chest when she approached to hear what they were yelling.

    These things happen every day in America. And we don’t know about it. And we don’t seem to care, either.

  40. crissakentavr says

    It doesn’t matter what a perfect interpretation of the law is, it matters how the law works in practice.

    It was illegal for nearly a hundred years to deny people the right to vote, and yet denied they were. The law is still to blame, even if applied incorrectly. Especially because it’s applied incorrectly.

    There’s been hundreds of extra shootings in Florida with no police investigation because of this law. So the law is to blame. In this case the police chief and city manage blamed the law as being why they did not continue the investigation The law gave them cover, therefore the law is at fault.

    This isn’t to deny that the police aren’t in the wrong for not investigating; they are are at fault, too.

    But if it weren’t for the protests, Trayvon Martin would have never had justice, or even an investigation. And the stand your ground law is what allowed that to happen.

  41. crissakentavr says

    The gates aren’t generally posted with guards, no one signs to get in, and pedestrians aren’t usually stopped. (If they are, you often have to figure out how to contact whoever is inside to let you in Many of the gates out here in CA don’t have fancy push-buttons to call residents. You just can’t call on them, period.) No list is maintained of who is in or out. And no private citizen has the right to ask you for your ID to see if you’re on a list to access a public place. Zimmerman wasn’t a guard, after all.

  42. Pteryxx says

    actually to Anne C. Hanna:

    I’d be really interested to see someone more knowledgeable than myself do a deeper analysis of the interaction of gun rights, racism, and racial privilege in our recent history, because I suspect that there’s a lot of interesting (and probably unpleasant) stuff going on there.

    One of shargash’s links led to this in-depth summary:

    Atlantic – The Secret History of Guns

    From the article:

    Their instructors were sympathetic black veterans, recently home from Vietnam. For their “righteous revolutionary struggle,” the Panthers were trained, as well as armed, however indirectly, by the U.S. government.

    Civil-rights activists, even those committed to nonviolent resistance, had long appreciated the value of guns for self-protection. Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a permit to carry a concealed firearm in 1956, after his house was bombed. His application was denied, but from then on, armed supporters guarded his home. One adviser, Glenn Smiley, described the King home as “an arsenal.” William Worthy, a black reporter who covered the civil-rights movement, almost sat on a loaded gun in a living-room armchair during a visit to King’s parsonage.

    The Panthers, however, took it to an extreme, carrying their guns in public, displaying them for everyone—especially the police—to see. Newton had discovered, during classes at San Francisco Law School, that California law allowed people to carry guns in public so long as they were visible, and not pointed at anyone in a threatening way.


    THE PANTHERS’ METHODS provoked an immediate backlash. The day of their statehouse protest, lawmakers said the incident would speed enactment of Mulford’s gun-control proposal. Mulford himself pledged to make his bill even tougher, and he added a provision barring anyone but law enforcement from bringing a loaded firearm into the state capitol.

    Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

    There’s much more in the article, which itself is excerpted from the author’s book.

    Adam Winkler is a professor of constitutional law at UCLA law school. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, to be published by W. W. Norton in September.

  43. audiolight says

    Here’s what got Trayvon killed: he didn’t ‘shuffle his feet’ enough.

    If you didn’t catch it, I’d highly recommend you listen to the interview with Charles M. Blow on Real Time with Bill Maher from Friday (March 23rd) – he made very similar observations and remarks on the very same phenomenon.


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