Friday, July 19, 2013

Agreeing with the President and Reflecting on the Trayvon Martin case

Trayvon Martin and father Tracy Martin from family photos.
I don’t always agree with President Obama, but in this case, I think I have to.  He acknowledged that the judge did a professional job and the jury did its duty; that reasonable doubt was relevant. As the President he was right to affirm that our justice system must be honored. But he also talked about how the verdict made many African Americans feel and I think that is important to hear.  He is right that history and context make a difference.  I have witnessed the kind of fear of African American men that he talked about.  And I don’t think it is possible to argue that African Americans are treated differently in the criminal justice system. 

I accept that the jury had “reasonable doubt” and it may be that Trayvon Martin wasn’t particularly smart in how he reacted to George Zimmerman. But I don’t understand how it can be okay that George Zimmerman went after Trayvon when the 911 operator told him not to.  He could have walked away. Why didn’t he?

I read the Stand Your Ground Law and I am troubled by the paragraph that reads:

(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Maybe a person has no duty to retreat, but I don’t see that a person has a duty to move forward either.  This sounds more like vigilante justice to me. 

I also agree with President Obama that young African American boys and men need to be encouraged, mentored, etc.  Particularly now.  And I don’t think that mentoring should just be from African American men, but men of all cultures/colors/nationalities. This “crossover” mentoring wouldn’t just be for the benefit of the young, but for the benefit of the mentors as well.  I think it unlikely that a white, Hispanic (or any other brand of) male who takes the time to mentor an African American boy is going to see such boys as threatening and suspicious just because of their color or dress.  

Finally, I think the President is correct that we each need to look at our own biases and see how we are contributing to the racism problem.  While the issue of racism may be getting better, I just don’t think it is gone. For that I am deeply sorry.  

I have to say that my heart goes out to George Zimmerman and his family.  He may have been acquitted, but no one wins in this situation.  

But especially, my heart goes out to Trayvon's family. I look at those family pictures and see a young man who was at one time full of promise and joy.  His Dad was trying to get him out of a situation that was harming him by bringing Trayvon to live with him for a while. Instead his son wound up dead.  I can't even imagine how that must feel. 

May God have mercy on us all.


  1. 1/stand your ground was not an issue (except for the media) in this case and not a part of the testimony nor the trial. 2/why, if you want to have an open and honest discussion about this case, do you have a picture of trayvon when he was twelve years old (the only picture of him i ever saw in the media) on your blog? 3/do you and the media realize that a picture of trayvon as he was when he died might explain why anyone might be afraid of him... white, black, asian, or hispanic? 4/have you heard (likely not on the media) that trayvon was in sanford because he'd committed two crimes back home and been suspended instead of arrested so that the police chief in miami could report that juvenile crime was down 60%? 5/this is a tragic case of an overzealous neighborhood watch person, a police chief who transferred his responsibilities to the school system, a young black thug in the wrong place at the wrong time, a media filled with folks who'll lie and misrepresent the truth to get a story, and black leaders who'll do anything at all (except work) to raise money for their lavish lifestyles.

    1. 1) Yes, I know that Stand Your Ground was not a part of the testimony in the trial; but it has come up and I still think that the law is troubling and needs to be reconsidered. 2) The picture (which, actually I hadn't seen before) was intended to remind us that Trayvon, no matter how he wound up, was loved and at one time, must have featured in his parents' hopes and dreams. 3) I saw the pictures on his phone,which showed a more angry young man. 4) My reference to why he was with his father was because I did indeed read the part about him being in trouble. 5) I resist the string of stereotypes. I will agree that this was tragic. As I said, I have seen first hand how some people react to African American men, so my opinion about that aspect doesn't come from black leaders but from my own experience and those of my friends. (I am a middle-aged white woman, btw)

      Thank you for commenting.

  2. Thanks for writing this, Martha. You really cheered me up with it. I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions this week to the verdict by people more conservative than I am (which is well over half the country and about 97% of all Texans) but President Obama's remarks today have brought out loathsome levels of ignorance and denial. Racist-in-Chief? Oh really?

    It's amazing how many white middle-class folks don't believe there's any racism in the criminal justice system. I've presented or attended UMW programs and studies that the ladies didn't agree with -- like on immigration or Palestine -- but they always smiled through clenched teeth and said it was "interesting". Anything about prison reform, or the disproportionate rate of arrest, indictment, conviction and sentencing for African Americans is challenged and denied.

    And that, I think, is a direct result of being afraid to look at our own biases. We still have them. They've just become more hidden over the last 50 years, and it's time to do something about that.

    1. Rexi, I felt like I had to say something precisely because of the negative comments by the "conservative" media. Although I don't really consider myself "conservative" I know that others do.

      I think you are correct that our biases have become more hidden. Thus they are more insidious. I hope I can encourage others to take a hard look at themselves, as I have had to take a hard look at myself. It is uncomfortable, but the only way to move forward. I really hope and pray that my granddaughter will live in a world where the dream of MLK has finally come true.

  3. The current resident of the white house spoke for partisan convenience and political advantage. That is all. To suppose otherwise would require that one suspend reality.

    The levels of incarceration for various social groups reflects the rates at which persons in those groups participate in criminal conduct. If one wishes to reduce rates of incarceration for a particular group, it is necessary to reduce the rate of participation of that particular social group in criminal acts. It is that simple. To blame the legal system may sooth ones emotions. But it does not change anything.

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  5. I know it's been almost a year since you posted this blog, but I've "stewed" quite a bit over this issue since it occurred, and this seemed like a good opportunity to address how I personally feel about this incident and it's ramifications.

    Having read you blog entry and the comments made to it, I personally have concerns about views expressed on both sides of the argument.

    I'll start by giving my personal opinion of what happened that night. Some of this is based on what knowledge I have of the evidence presented, some of it from my 16+ years experience as a 911 Dispatcher, some of it from my own personal experiences and some of it is pure speculation on my part.

    George Zimmerman was driving home one night and sees someone he doesn't recognize as a resident walking in to the condo community. He knows there have been a problem with thefts in burglaries in the area and he calls 911. He answers the dispatcher's questions and, frustrated that the thieves haven't been caught, when he no longer can watch Trayvon Martin from his vehicle, Zimmerman gets out and starts following him on foot. At some point during that time the dispatcher asks Zimmerman if he is following Trayvon. Zimmerman says that he is and the dispatcher tells him to stop. Zimmerman then turns around and starts walking back to his car. At this point Trayvon Martin, who noticed Zimmerman following him, confronts Zimmerman. The confrontation becomes physical at Trayvon ends up on top of Zimmerman, punching him in the face, which results in Zimmerman's head being knocked against the concrete sidewalk. Zimmerman, in fear for his life, pulls his gun and shoots Martin.

  6. From the Zimmerman side, I agree with you that he should not have followed Martin. However, I disagree with your view that he followed Martin "when the 911 operator told him not to." The testimony in the trial was that Zimmerman stopped and started back towards his car when told by the 911 operator to stop following Martin.

    As Majac33 pointed out, the Stand Your Ground provision of the self defense law was never an issue in this case. Although you acknowledge that in your response, you connected it to this case both by citing it in this particular blog post and by your comment "Maybe a person has no duty to retreat, but I don’t see that a person has a duty to move forward either. This sounds more like vigilante justice to me." Part of the problem with this whole situation is that people are making things like "stand your ground" part of this case, when it has absolutely nothing to do with this situation.

    While I also don't believe that racism resulted in this situation on this night, it most certainly played a role in the response to this situation. Unfortunately, the role it played was not a productive one, and it only played a role because of MSNBC's altering the tape of the 911 call to make it appear that Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was black. This infuriates me. Racism is real in this country and anyone who believes otherwise has their head in the sand. We need to talk about it and we need to do what we can to have honest discussions about racism in this country. Not feel good discussions, not politically correct discussions, but HONEST discussions. What MSNBC did set us back. It didn't move us closer to a resolutions, it moved us further away because it turned a situation that was in no way racial and made it a racial issue. It did this for no other reason than to turn a tragic situation in to a national news story. They wanted a "good story", so they edited the tape, and in so doing made sure that there was no way that either George Zimmerman nor the family of Trayvon Martin would ever get a fair investigation.

    As for bthomas's comment that "The current resident of the white house spoke for partisan convenience and political advantage." I disagree. While being no fan of President Obama's, he had nothing to gain politically by his comments.

    I do believe there were people who took advantage of this situation for their own personal advancement and to promote their own agendas. That too is a shame. That too does more to hurt race relations than it does to help them.

    This incident was not a racially motivated incident, but the reactions to it were. If we're going to use this incident as a springboard for discussing race relations in this country we need to start with the media and go from there.

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