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Plaid Adder

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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 5,518

Journal Archives

If The Zimmerman Jury Was Right, Then A Lot Else Is Wrong.

Since the verdict, I have heard the following reasonable explanations for why the jury did the right thing (I'm going to ignore unreasonable ones):

* The jury had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman given the judge's instructions.
* The jury had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman given the content of the Stand Your Ground law.
* The jury had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman because the prosecution overreached by asking for 2nd degree murder instead of manslaughter.
* The jury had no choice but to acquit Zimmerman because the prosecution didn't make a good enough case.

And this is my response:

Let's assume for the sake of argument that any or all of the above statements are true. That does not make what happened Sunday night right. It only makes it more wrong. The more reasons we can come up with for justifying the jury's finding, the more institutions are implicated in this hideously wrong result.

* If the jury found him not guilty because of the judge's instructions, then the judge is wrong.
* If the jury found him not guilty under the terms of the Stand Your Ground law, then the Stand Your Ground Law is wrong.
* If in the context of the local justice system it is 'overreaching' to consider what happened to Trayvon Martin murder, then something is SERIOUSLY wrong with the local justice system.
* If the prosecution didn't make a case that could certainly have been made, then the prosecution is wrong.

Armchair lawyers, go ahead and have fun figuring out whether they delivered the 'right' verdict under the immediate circumstances. I don't hold it against you. But however you slice it, this verdict is a symptom of something wrong that goes far beyond the boundaries of that courtroom.

The Plaid Adder

I cannot believe the Zimmerman verdict. Except that I can.

I remember where I was on April 29, 1992 when I heard that the LA cops who were videotaped beating up Rodney King had been acquitted. I couldn't believe it. It seemed incredible to me that when there was actual ocular proof of a group of cops beating up an unarmed man, you could not get a conviction.

I soon noticed something interesting and, until I learned to integrate it into my worldview, painful. I was at the time living in a southern state and my social circle was about 50% white and 50% African-American. My white friends were shocked and outraged and could not believe it. My African-American friends were outraged; but they were neither shocked nor surprised.

The riots began and went on for days and my friends and I had a number of very tense conversations. I remember one of my African-American male friends talking about what it was like to walk down the street and see people start locking their car doors as you pass by. It was perhaps the first time in my life that I truly understood that there were basic things about this country that I, because I was white, did not understand. One of those things is how much fear is still mobilized against Black men. Another is that a Black man who has been beaten or--as the Amadu Diallo case later demonstrated--shot to death by the police generally does not, in this country, get justice, no matter how obvious or well-documented the evidence of police brutality might be.

That was 1992. It is now 2013. Twenty-one years later, this has gotten no better. No; it has gotten worse. Because now, in order to shoot an unarmed Black male and get away with it, you don't even have to be a cop.

That part of it, I have to say, is shocking. It is as surprising to me as the acquittal of the four police officers who beat Rodney King was back in 1992. But it shouldn't have been. We have all seen ample evidence of the power of the 'stand your ground' narrative in the post-Newtown conversations about gun control. All this verdict does, really, is reveal in an unusually stark way the racist anxieties, fantasies, and nightmares on which things like the "stand your ground" law are based.

With what I have lived through and what I have learned I ought not to be surprised. I ought to have known this would happen. I let myself believe that things like this could not happen any more. But they can. Just as the Texas legislature can pass a bill that effectively bans abortion in the biggest state in the nation. Just as the Supreme Court can strike down the Voting Rights Act. Progress is neither linear nor inevitable. The rights you win are yours only as long as you can fight off the people who still don't want you to have them.

Another thing that 1992 taught me is that no matter how much it hurts me to have my illusions about justice and the rule of law and the value of human life in this country destroyed, the news of this verdict does not and can never hurt me as hard or in as many ways as it will hurt African-Americans. My skin will always protect me from the worst this country can do, just as the life I have been privileged to lead inside this skin has protected me from knowing what that worst really is. To those of us who are not so protected, all I can say is that it makes me sick to think about what, if I had a son who was African-American, I would be telling him about what just happened. We try to teach our daughter, who like us is of mostly European descent, about justice and injustice and race and class and everything else and she does cognitively grasp these things. But we do not have to say: you will have to be careful now where you walk, because after this it is open season on people who look like us.

I hate this. I hate it all: the fetishization of the gun, the assumption that the sanctity of property outweighs the value of human life, the blatant fucking racism that is so heartbreakingly obvious not only in the crime but in the treatment of it everywhere from the police to the media, and most of all the way that blatant as that racism is people are still pretending it doesn't exist.

Normally I try to end a post on an up note; but at this moment, I've got nothing. This is a sad, sad, sad fucking day.

The Plaid Adder

Answers to Two Rhetorical Questions

I hear these questions in the media, social and otherwise, and I'm just going to answer them here:

"How come we can lock down an entire major east coast city over a bomber, but cannot get pitifully basic gun regulations through Congress? Why is something like Newtown, or like the New Orleans parade massacre, not treated the same way we treat incidents labeled as 'terrorism'?"

Well, this is an important question. It has a simple but terrifying answer:

Terrorism is a threat to the state. Gun violence, so far--and Republican rhetoric being what it is, we don't know how long this will remain true--is a threat to the citizens. The state, like any other institution, looks out for itself first. The state protects itself far more efficiently than it protects individual citizens.

"Why isn't the New Orleans parade considered a national tragedy on the order of the Boston marathon bombing?"

The Guardian piece that is currently asking this question gives us many useful answers, most of them boiling down to: New Orleans is poor and black and so the white middle-class Americans who are the target audience for media coverage do not care what happens there. I would refine this only slightly:

In general, in the eyes of enfranchised Americans--by which I mean that group of reasonably affluent Americans who are educated and compensated well enough to be full participants in the political system--the heinousness of a crime is not really determined by objective and measurable consequences. Enfranchised Americans divide crime into two categories: crimes committed against enfranchsied Americans, and crimes committed by the disenfranchised against each other. The second category--the disenfranchised attacking each other--is "normal." It can be explained by precisely the things that disenfranchse people: poverty, low educational level, unemployment, the environmental crime infesting low-income neighborhoods, etc. Though nobody acknowledges this openly any more, for many enfranchised Americans race is also one of the things that defines "normal" crime. Crime committed in low-income, depressed, blighted, overwhelmingly non-white areas of a city is 'normal'--even if in terms of individual motives it makes no fricking sense--whereas crime committed in higher-rent districts is extraordinary. This is why Newtown is a national tragedy, and the individual shootings of children that go on every day in Chicago is 'normal.' The kids at Sandy Hook were *supposed to be safe.* Kids on the Chicago south side, well, they are not safe, but that's 'normal.'

I owe this insight partly to the opening of Patricia Cornwell's 1990 novel _Postmortem,_ where her narrator/detective Kay Scarpetta lays this out in unusually blunt language in the opening chapter. Alas I cannot quote the passage from memory. But the passage is part of Scarpetta's explanation for why the murders she's investigating--all of professional women, in their own homes, tied up in an ingeniously sadistic way so that when the murderer rapes them they are strangled at the same time--garner so much attention. Murder in the poor and Black areas of the city, she explains, is normal. But these women, no, they are "somebody's sister, somebody's girlfriend, somebody's mother," etc. I imagine one out of about one thousand readers of that passage maybe stops to wonder what it takes, in this world, to become "somebody," as opposed to the nobodies who are losing their own loved ones to 'normal' crime.

All this contributes to the idea that crime amongst middle-class white people--especially if, as in the case of Newtown, it is also committed by middle-class white people--is somehow worse and more important and more devastating because it is 'crime out of place.' It's crime crossing the borders that are supposed to contain it. When people talk endlessly about the 'senselessness' of such crimes, part of what they are saying is that in the absence of poverty and all its problems (and, depending on who you're talking to, in the absence of brownness or blackness) crime does not 'make sense.'

I find this incredibly frustrating. To me murder never makes sense. Human life is so much more important than any of the reasons people take it, 'rational' or otherwise. To most everyone else in this country, murder is 'rational' (though deplorable) when it is committed for material gain (whether money, security, or power) and irrational otherwise (when committed either out of pleasure or compulsion, or where there is nothing obviously gained by it at all). And so a murderer like Adam Lanza provokes national fear and national curiosity, whereas a child killed by a man with a gun on the south side for equally nonsensical reasons is written off as part of an existing and comfortable narrative about 'normal crime,' such as the ever-popular "gang-related violence."

All crime is extroardinary to the people it happens to. It becomes 'normal' only at a distance. The farther away from you it seems, the more normal it gets.

The Plaid Adder

Thank you Boston police for taking him alive. Boston area DUers, I celebrate with you.

So glad this is over. So very glad.

The Plaid Adder

Looking to maximize the impact of our donation to the campaign against gun violence.

Mrs. Plaidder and I have decided to put some money into the cause. I thought I would consult the collective re the best way to get, as it were, the least bang for our buck.

There is the Brady Campaign, which has a track record. Then there are MoveOn and the other similar organizations from which I get approximately 1000 emails a day asking me to donate money to fight gun violence. However, it appears that the money you give to such organizations is usually fungible--in other words, there is no way to ensure that the money you donate actually goes to the cause you're interested in as opposed to entering the giant donation pool from which the organization draws. Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence is new and it's hard to know how effective they are.

We are working the Google, of course; but if any of you are already working with/supporting an organization dedicated to this issue, I would be interested to hear your opinion of where a donation will do the most good, and no doubt other DUers would too.

Thanks in advance,

The Plaid Adder

Watched the SOTU speech. Glad he ended with the appeal to go after gun violence.

It is depressing how very little he is really proposing, and yet how hard it will be to get even that much done.

I took the unusual step of buying <i>Rolling Stone</i> this week for the sake of their article, "The NRA vs. America." It was so discouraging it took me three tries to get through it. Briefly, what is wrong with our public policy on gun violence is what is wrong with all of American policy: it is dictated, through lobbying and the massive floods of campaign cash that go with it, by the industry owners, with no regard whatsoever to whether it is good for the American people. This fact happens to be more obvious re the NRA because what the gun industry promotes is so obviously and violently harmful to the body politic. But basically, a serious change in policy will require us to solve the problem of corporate ownership of the legislative process--a problem that has resisted most attempts to solve it so far.

But this is also good news, I guess, in that if the country remains highly motivated to deal with the issue of gun violence, then eventually that process will teach us how to cut an industry lobbying group off at the knees. And this would be information that could be usefully applied to other desperately important issues which have been stymied by industry lobbying, such as, I don't know, climate change.

Let's hope the new Congress is more effective than the old one,

The Plaid Adder

Yes. Drone attacks are bad. The Death Memo is bad too.

Now tell me what we can do about it.

That is not a rhetorical question. I really want to know. Unless your answer is "express outrage in online fora," because I've tried that and there is never any material result.

Also, if your answer is "public protest," I've tried that one too. The number of people in this country that you can get together for a march to prevent an actual, overt, about-to-be-declared war, such as the war in Iraq, is too small to make any political or media impact. The number of people you're going to be able to get together to protest a memo authorizing future abuses of power is going to be even smaller.

Fundamentally, most Americans do not care what we do in the rest of the world. It doesn't matter how atrocious it is. Violence done by our military against other people does not matter to most Americans. Yes, you would think that the knowledge that they can be targeted for death without due process once they leave US soil would make most Americans think that this is an issue that affects them. But they will not. You watch. Most Americans will think, well, I'm not working with Al Qaeda, nobody is going to kill ME in a drone attack. And really, most of them will be right. The purpose of this memo is not to terrorize American tourists. Its purpose is to remove limits on the use of force against people identified by the administration as enemies of the country. Or, naturally, of their administration. And most Americans will not fall into that category, because most Americans are not involved or even very well aware of what their government does overseas.

Yes, I'm angry about the way the Obama administration has betrayed the promises they made about restoring human rights and liberties after the Bush era. I'm very angry about the fact that Guantanamo Bay is still open. I'm angry about the drone strikes in general and angry about this memo too. Plenty of anger over here. What I do not have is faith that anything can be done about this. And another thing I do not believe is that anybody who does NOT fall in line with this foreign policy could ever or will ever become President of the United States.

Belief in the right of the US to be supreme military and economic ruler of the world is a prerequisite for that office. Things like your party affiliation or your race or your gender are much less important, in terms of your ultimate chances, than signing on to this hideously durable version of American exceptionalism.

Yes. It is bad. I do not need to be told that it is bad. I want to know how it is ever going to get any better.

The Plaid Adder

Have Yourself A Merry Little...ah, @#$! it.

This has been one humdinger of a Christmas season.

I don't know about you all, but I have not felt this far away from "peace on Earth, goodwill toward men" since the beginning of the Iraq war. I still think about Sandy Hook every day; the deaths of those children haunt me every time I look at my own. And now there is this horrible thing in upstate New York.

Here is the only thing that will make Christmas work for me this year: believing that on the other side of it is the beginning of change. That we will in fact come together around gun violence and that maybe this time next year there will be no shootings at malls, no shootings at elementary schools, no snipings at volunteer firefighters. Maybe this time next year it will be harder for people who want to kill other people to get their hands on guns. Maybe that will be this Christmas's gift to next Christmas.

I've been thinking about what I want to have happen in the coming months. What I want, first of all, is to see the power of the gun lobby broken. I would like for accepting campaign money from the gun industry or its advocates to become as politically toxic as accepting campaign money from the KKK. I want all the lobbyists who work for the gun industry to become well-known to the public and I want any politician who is seen having lunch with one or attending one of their cocktail parties to be publicly shamed and electorally punished. I want it to be impossible for the NRA to hold a rally without attracting a massive protest. I want the people who have bought and shaped and rammed through Congress and the individual state legislatures the ruinous policies that have led to an epidemic of gun violence which has been a problem for a long damn time before this Christmas season to be treated the same way we treat other predators who hurt children.

Because I think that is what it will take before we see real reform coming from the politicians. Change doesn't come from them. We make change, and we make the change visible, and we make the change unavoidable, and then they finally follow us.

I believe it can be done. Maybe even by next Christmas. As long as we don't forget what this one was like.

Celebrate what you can, mourn what you have lost, and I'll see you on the other side of Christmas. I will be looking for ways to make this happen. I hope that together we will find them.


The Plaid Adder

It is time to put the NRA beyond the pale.

So the NRA's solution to school shootings is more guns. Well, that figures. That's the NRA's solution to everything. And that's because the NRA's mission is to sell guns. As many as possible. No matter who it kills.

The idea of arming elementary schools is ridiculous on its face. It is worse than that; it is terrifying. If you cannot send your kid to school without an armed guard, you are living in a failed state. And our state may indeed be failing; but giving the NRA more power and more access to our children is only going to accelerate the decline.

Legislative efforts to control the proliferation of lethal weapons in this country are underway, and we need to support them as much as we can. But while that unavoidably messy process takes place, here's one thing we can do: start calling the NRA out for what it is.

It is an organization that exists in order to sell as many lethal weapons to as many people in this country as possible. It is an organization that has bought large numbers of our politicians, and intimidated a large number of others, in order to make itself more money by selling more lethal weapons. It is an organization that is holding the rest of the country hostage in order to increase its coffers. What the NRA does is create a climate in which ordinary citizens of something which is not SUPPOSED to be a failed state are nevertheless at risk of being gunned down in public places. What the NRA does is buy or intimidate our politicians in order to stifle proposals for common-sense gun control which, if the experience of other industrialized nations is any guide, would lead to fewer people being killed by gun violence in this country. What the NRA does is endanger us for their own profit.

What the NRA does is inimical to the public health and to the well-being of this country and its citizens.

The law cannot destroy the NRA. What is going to destroy it is public opinion. And something we can do--those of us who accept the evidence that suggests that more guns means more violence and not less--is help shift public opinion.

It's already happening. Somehow last Friday was the last straw for a lot of people. We can help it along. At the very least, we can stop being afraid to talk about gun control.

Do not worry about "politicizing the tragedy." This is bullshit thrown at you by the gun lobby, who have a strong interest in preventing people from expressing the outrage, shock, grief, and anger that we all feel when we see one of these mass shootings erupt and are reminded of who is holding us and our children hostage. The idea is to make us feel bad for wanting to actually DO something about this problem, as if taking action to ensure that this horrific thing never happens again is somehow disrespectful to the victims. I personally cannot think of any more useful way of honoring their memory than working to ensure that no other six-year-old ever has to die this way. I believe that the most effective way to accomplish this would be to reduce the number of guns in this country. If the NRA wants to call that "politicizing the tragedy," that's the NRA's prerogative. I would rather help stop the next tragedy from happening than worry about what the NRA thinks of my manners.

The Plaid Adder

There is just one thing I want to say to Mike Huckabee

and then i will be on my way:

If indeed God exists, then God IS in the schools. What is not in the schools is your church. And that is as it should be.

I don't know if I count as a "person of faith." My belief in the existence of God is day to day. Nevertheless, I was raised Catholic, and go to church, and am having actually a surprising number of conversations with my daughter about God these days, and when I see someone like Mike Huckabee trotting this "God did this to punish us for abandoning Him" bullshit out, all I can say is: to say that God is not in our schools just because public schools do not coerce our children into praying to God in language of which you approve is not only an insult to our children and their teachers, but an insult to God. And when you say that this putative absence of God from our schools is responsible for the mass-murder of 20 children and 6 of their teachers and administrators, that goes way past insulting, offensive, or any of the other terms we normally use to describe an asinine public comment from an asinine elected official.

Because if God exists, then God has to be bigger than your petty political bullshit. If an all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent God exists, then God cannot possibly be bound by your tiny-hearted rules or your tunnel vision. If such a God exists, then neither you nor I can tell that God where to be or what to do or who to bless.

If such a God exists, that God would not slaughter twenty children out of some kind of generalized anger or nonsensical logic. That is the kind of thing human beings do.

If God exists, then God is with and in our children and their teachers, whether or not they are saying what you think they should be saying, whether or not they believe what you believe. If God exists, then God is with us at the worst and darkest times of our lives--not to miraculously intervene and save the innocent from evil, because clearly in this world that does not happen, but to love and sustain and bear witness to the suffering of those who are beyond the reach of human help and comfort. If God exists, then God was with and in the children in those classrooms at Sandy Hook, with and in those who lived and with those who died. If God exists, then God was with and in the adults who risked and gave their lives for those children. If God exists, then God is with them all now, the living and the grieving and the dead.

And I really hope right now that God does exist, because there are a lot of people out there who need more help than humans can give.

The Plaid Adder
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