Trayvon Martin and the Overdue End of Excuses
The national uproar over the murder of Trayvon Martin grew louder today with a host of rallies, a shifting media narrative triggered by leaks, an appalling smear campaign against Martin, appearances by Dick Gregory and other civil rights icons, a remembrance by Alan Grayson of Robert Kennedy's speech on the murder of Martin Luther King, and much moving commentary. There has also been a flood of visuals - powerful, furious, heartbreaking, bitterly funny.
Trayvon Martin and the End of Excuses
By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Magazine
We have become a nation in which children have become expendable. Trayvon Martin is just the most recent example.
We executed children in this country until long after the rest of the world - except Iran - thought that was a good idea. Almost six million children live in poverty in this country. Almost six million of them are without health insurance of any kind, and that's reckoned to be an improvement. None of this is accidental. These children are expendable because the people we elect make policy decisions of which we approve - or, at least, of which we do not disapprove. The Republicans in Congress - behind the "leadership" of zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan - would like to zero out the SCHIP children's health-care program. If they do that, it will not be done by accident. The Florida legislature, behind the leadership of the National Rifle Association, passed the "stand your ground" law, despite the fact that even police and prosecutors were warning that it amounted to a hunting license for anyone who had both a gun, and the ability to concoct a good story. Trayvon Martin is not dead by accident.
But, already, even in the face of widespread outrage, the notion is continuing to circulate through the country, like topical anesthetic working on an open wound, that what happened to Trayvon Martin was, if not entirely accidental, then merely a combination of unfortunate circumstances culminating in an entirely regrettable event. (That's not even to mention the wilder precincts of mouth-breathing public commentary. If you ever needed proof that whatever consulting genius came up with the idea of having a Comments section follow every newspaper story deserves to die a slow and painful death by honey and fire ants, this story is pretty much what you're looking for.) Conservatives caution the president not to "inject race" into the incident any further, because, as we know, we can't tell how much of a factor "race" was, because George Zimmerman was half-Hispanic and because of the backward masking on the Sergeant Pepper album. (I am not kidding.) Geraldo Rivera, looking for relevance in all the wrong places, blames hoodies:
But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was.... Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie.... When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation.
(And every time I see someone convicted of ripping off pension funds, he's wearing a $500 suit. Don't wear $500 suits!)
For his part, the president was calm and measured, because that's the way the president is, and because he is rather circumscribed in what he can say publicly on topics like this because of factors that should be obvious from the Comments section above. Nevertheless, he neatly put Florida's deeply unpopular Republican governor, Rick Scott, on the spot:
"I am glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into this, but the governor of the state of Florida has put together a task force."
Translation: Make it a good one, Rick, because your ass is in this jackpot, too.
Well I certainly don't feel calm and measured, and it's not because my kids "could have been Trayvon." No, they could not have. My kids are white. They lived in the suburbs. They could wear their pants anyway they liked. They could have worn hoodies to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and nobody would have looked askance at them, let alone blown them away with a handgun. (As I recall, I once wore a black hoodie to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.) The worst threat to my children's lives in the big wide world was that some suburban matron who couldn't see over the steering wheel would run them down in the family SUV. They didn't have to worry about running into some trigger-happy, half-mad wannabe on the way home from the convenience store. And that's what keeps me from being calm and measured.
I am sick to death of people who celebrate "the family" making excuses about why other people's children are expendable. I am sick to death of politicians who are more concerned about protecting zygotes than about the teenagers on whom they seek to balance their budgets and advance their careers. (Barney Frank's line about conservatives's believing that life "begins at conception and ends at birth" was not entirely a joke, although it's always been treated as one.) I am sick to death of opportunistic yahoos who can look at this country's unhealthy attachment to firearms and declare that the actions of George Zimmerman, while unfortunate, were pretty much what the Founders had in mind. I am sick to death of the steady drip-drip-drip of all the topical anesthetics we mix up whenever something like this happens. Had Emmett Till been killed in 2012, there'd be at least three people sitting in the CNN Green Room right now - and probably 15 of them sitting offstage at Fox - waiting to explain how unfortunate it was that the lad so transgressed against local custom that circumstances dictated that he be beaten to a pulp and tossed into the river tied to a cotton-gin fan. I am sick to death about how we can argue about anything simply to argue about it, and then move along to the next argument, as though anything at all has been settled.
I think this controversy has some legs to it. What alarms me is not that Zimmerman hasn't yet been arrested, but the awful feeling that the Florida legislature, with the approval of the people of Florida, may have passed a law so idiotic that it prevents local law-enforcement from arresting him at all. (I can't imagine what the good cops in Sanford must be feeling today. The dispatcher told this clown not to pursue Martin, and he did it anyway. They must simply be angry at the world at this point.) And what makes me angry down to my soul is not that my children could have been Trayvon, but that, because of the way we have ordered our politics and our society, only someone like Trayvon could have been Trayvon.