Calhoun's Cannons for July 15, 2013
This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
George Zimmerman went looking for trouble. Trayvon Martin was out looking for Skittles and an iced tea. Zimmerman found his trouble. Trayvon found his death. Trayvon's parents then went looking for justice. Their community went looking for justice. What they found instead, was The Law.
It was The Law that operated differently for black and white, rich and poor. It was The Law blind to human bias, bigotry and racial profiling. And it was The Law that had been poisoned by Florida's ALEC-led "stand your ground" rules, a gun-lobbyist's wet-dream, a license to pack heat and kill with impunity because the ALEC laws bestowed authority upon any gun-packing fool and turned a civilian into an untrained, armed militiaman, a cop wannabe who knows that he can act with impunity. A law that protects unconscious race bias, unwarranted lizard-brain fear, and appalling carelessness.
In Florida, as in other states with ALEC-led pack-your-heat and stand-your-ground anywhere-you-like, if you foolishly and wrongly profile your fellow citizen as a scary black man, a punk, "one of those," provoke a confrontation and then shoot him dead, The Law allows you a get-out-of-jail free card. Especially, if you're white. I mean, this is Florida, after all, and there's a history there.
Which is what made this case so bizarre. It was a drama absolutely brimming with racial fear and back-story animus, (All those f--ing punks getting away with it.), awash in the politically generated fear and paranoia that animate so much of our society nowadays. (Just who are those ALEC-led laws aimed at? Against whom is one standing one's ground? Martians?) Yet all parties utterly denied that such a thing could possibly be going on.
And, like many cases involving white and black America, the narrative changed during the trial from one involving an innocent dead kid into the narrative of a dangerous black man responsible for and deserving of his own death. The victim became the perpetrator and the perpetrator now became the victim. And nobody wanted to deal truthfully with what really happened that night. Or why. All critical elements if you're looking for justice.
But who and why and what happened are irrelevant if you're looking at The Law.
And when the verdict came down, it was another national O.J. moment. A familiar narrative of two nations: one white, one black, both viewing a single case through their own historical lenses.
The verdict also became the new Law-sanctioned narrative of the now transformed Zimmerman who, through his lawyer and Robert, his spokesman brother, re-tell the story of a totally innocent man who, through no fault of his own, was wrongly set upon by a dangerous young man and so he had to shoot. It's a story that I don't buy, but I can't blame Zimmerman for sticking to it so fiercely. Far better to go through your life thinking of yourself as an innocent victim than face the terrible truth that it was your own foolish actions and bad judgment that set in motion events that resulted in the death of an innocent young boy. That these tragic events would never have unfolded. Until it was started by you.
Zimmerman's path forward will not be an easy one and that, I suppose, is a kind of rough justice. Scant consolation to Trayvon's family. But for the rest of black America, the verdict was an old, familiar tune. And for them, their way forward is also an old, familiar path: work to change The Law into something more like Justice, eliminate the un-civilized ALEC-fueled license to kill laws, continue to counsel their young sons not to be caught Driving While Black, and seriously consider outfitting their children with Kevlar vests whenever they go out for a snack and a soda at the corner store.
New rules for an all-American post racial world.