I don’t usually stray into politics on this blog, but the issue at hand is too important… I feel compelled to make a statement.
There is a cancer working its way into the vitals of our great nation. It is a particularly virulent strain of fear that has caused our cultural antibodies to kick into high gear. A fear that permeates the air here, from the living rooms of middle America to the vaunted chambers of Congress. It is a fear that causes us to look at anything that doesn’t look like us, anything that doesn’t behave like we do, anything that thinks differently… Anything that is not us… It causes us to look at these things as invaders – intruders…
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the reactions I’ve seen on social media to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.
In the majority of the reactions I’ve seen, the (generally) good people of this nation have constructed narratives that illustrate their fear: Trayvon was not a 5’11” 158 lb. 17 year old that was buying Skittles and iced tea, he was a 6’2″ 195 lb. pot-smoking thug who, even if he wasn’t at the time, was about to commit some violent crime. George Zimmerman wasn’t a genuinely concerned citizen trying to look out for the best interests of his community, he was a predator with a gun willing to provoke a confrontation just to get a chance to plug a gangsta. We don’t, and (I can’t stress this enough) we will probably never know what really happened February 26 in Sanford. But, I posit it went something like this:
George Zimmerman, a Barney Fife wannabe has appointed himself “Neighborhood Watch Volunteer,” though he does not do so in any official capacity. While driving, he spots a person who embodies his fear and looks like the image of a criminal he’s created in his head. Trayvon Martin, a teenager who at this point has done nothing wrong, spots someone following him who he perceives to be a “creepy-ass cracker,” bringing one of his primary fears to life. A confrontation happens (again, we don’t know how) and, as the violence escalates, the fears of both parties are made manifest. In the end, the one without a gun ends up with a hole through him.
So, when the verdict was announced, instead of taking a step back and saying, “what went wrong here?” We began this ipso facto creation of monsters to justify our preconceived notions. George Zimmerman became a vigilante who was deliberately hunting African-American youth. Trayvon became a killer-in-the-making that we were fortunate to have Zimmerman nip in the bud. We let the fear infect us. We reacted to fear with greater fear.
I had a high school friend post that if I didn’t agree with the outcome of the trial, I was either racist, blindly liberal, or some combination of the two. When I asked, “Do you think that if the only change you made to the story was the skin color of the players that the outcome would have been the same?” another person posted (and I shit you not) that “the only crime George Zimmerman committed was littering.” WTF?!?!
Close to the center of this debate was Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. I don’t like Stand Your Ground, because it makes fear actionable. The application of lethal force and the decision to do so is a highly complex matter. We train our law enforcement official ad nauseam how to leverage it and they still don’t get it right much of the time. When you put this decision making power into the hands of the masses, you make everyone a police officer. When everyone’s the police, no one’s the police.
I also find myself thinking of the SCOTUS’s decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act because the US was in a better place as far as race relations were concerned than when the bill was authored. Recent events make me think this was blindly optimistic.
I don’t think FDR realized how prescient he was when he said that, “the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.” We’ve become a nation of dissenting opinion-hating, hoodie/burka-fearing, gun-from-my-cold-dead-hands spouting pantywaists. The Senate recently avoided the “nuclear option,” by sitting down to dinner and explaining their concerns. If Congress, the most dysfunctional of all American institutions, can overcome a barrier through thoughtful discussion, the least we can do is follow suit.