The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ten Thoughts on Trayvon

I think I need to weigh in specifically on the Trayvon Martin case on a variety of counts, but I wanted to wait until I had more data. There are so many aspects to it that unless I wanted to write a book, all I can do is enumerate points and speak briefly on each of them. This isn't a research paper, so I won't be able to supply some of the references, but I'll do the very best I can to be honest at each step.

1) I first heard about the shooting two weeks ago. Unarmed black youth shot by white patrol officer, was the impression I got. In Florida. Well, this automatically played into my feelings about the South, and those feelings came from my parents (especially my mother) who had fled it, making it clear in no uncertain terms that, in their opinion, violence against blacks was institutionalized and supported as late as the 1960's.

2) When I found out Zimmerman wasn't even a cop but a "neighborhood watch" guy, I thought, certainly he would be arrested. Apparently, due to a Florida gun law, what happened was legal--if it was self defense. Hearing that Zimmerman observed and stalked Trayvon, confronted him, seemed to weaken that case. The fact that he outweighed Trayvon by over 100 pounds made him a coward and fool at the very best. And at worst...again, I didn't want to think about that. Certainly justice would be done.

3) The fact that Police Chief Bill Lee chose not to arrest him is police business, and I don't know the laws involved. But yesterday I heard an odd comment from Lee. This isn't a quote, and anyone who can find the original comment, please post a link. A rough quote was "If Zimmerman is exonerated, I hope the community comes together to help him recover from this. If it turns out that there are good reasons to charge him, I hope he is incarcerated for his safety."

I was following that statement, and fully expected the Chief to say: "and if there are good reasons to charge and convict him, I hope he is punished to the full extent of the law." But this? WHAT? I have literally, in my entire life, never heard a police representative more concerned for the safety of a criminal than the life of the child he killed. Never. A gigantic red light went off in my head. Lee was concerned with Zimmerman's welfare, not the life of the dead child. Not the family of the dead child. Not the local or national community who sees their own children in Trayvon, and feel fear. Could this happen to their own child..?

Why? Why would he empathize more with the shooter than the child (assuming my reaction had merit). Because they were both gun owners? No, criminals often own guns. Both police

officers? No, Zimmerman wasn't a police officer. Let's see. What else did they have in common....hmmm.

4) I cruised around the internet, looking at discussions about it. Saw a heartening amount of agreement on the vileness of this. Saw that agreement coming from whites, blacks, Liberals, and Conservatives. But there were also defenses of Zimmerman, and attacks on Trayvon. That wonderful human being Glen Beck had attacks on Trayvon on his blog, speculating that his suspension from school might have been because of rape or assault. What a prince. And I saw an undeniable fact: while sympathy for Trayvon and his family came from all quadrants, DEFENSE OF ZIMMERMAN came from a single quadrant that I could see: white Conservatives. Mostly male. Let me clarify: most white Conservatives seemed appalled by what happened to Trayvon. So Vin diagram wise, the set of people who were horrified included all quadrants. The set of people who defended Zimmerman and attacked Trayvon was totally within the circle called "white Conservatives".

5) I started noticing a distancing going on, a drive to label Zimmerman "Hispanic" rather than "white." And people seemed to have the position that it would be easier to criticize Zimmerman if they no longer considered him "one of them." Now, there is no scientific agreement on racial groups or divisions, and I understand that people divide things up differently, for a variety of reasons. In all honesty, I tend to look at humanity as having three primary colors (white, Asian, black) and everything else seems TO ME to be a blending of those. This is not "scientific" distinction, it is sociological. In other words, I've observed that actions and attitudes WITHIN those groups seems qualitatively and quantitatively different than actions and attitudes BETWEEN them. That every family knows the names of all their own children, but the family down the block is just "the Jones". So white people will (in my thinking) separate out Jews, and "white Hispanics" and Arabs, and so forth, while clustering Blacks together as a group without differentiation, even though there is more genetic and in Africa than the rest of the world combined. They don't care. Not their children. So this distancing seems emotional: "we will defend our tribe unless there is no choice at all. And if there is no choice, we'll do all we can to say they were never one of "us" in the first place." Does this make sense? I remember years ago, Jerry Pournelle talking about some exclusive club or organization. Perhaps the Masons, I forget. Anyway, they had the position that no Mason had ever been a criminal. And they could prove this because as soon as a Mason was convicted (if it was Masons he was referring to. I'm sorry) they revoked his Masonic cred retroactively. Cute.

A prediction: if it becomes impossible to pretend Zimmerman is innocent, watch the "hispanic" meme spread like wildfire across certain quadrants of the blogosphere and cable news. Faster than a speeding bullet.

6) Was Zimmerman acting from racial animus? It is impossible to mind read, or see what is in his heart. Looking ONLY at the actions that evening, some interesting things arise. If we study what Zimmerman said, during his 911 call and afterward, the fact of Trayvon's race seems to be very very important to him. When describing him, race came first, before age, gender, or anything else. At one point he says "he has his hand in his waistband. He's a black male." It is an assumption that these two comments are linked by some unifying thread, and not randomly thrown together under stress. If a description for the sake of police identification, why "his hand is in his waistband"? Did he expect Trayvon to still have his hand in his waistband minutes later when the police arrived 5-10 minutes later? Seems far fetched. I suspect he was describing WHY HE THOUGHT TRAYVON WAS A THREAT. "He has his hand in his waistband" means that he may be concealing a weapon. "He's a black male" may mean black and therefore probably a criminal. He brings up race again a minute later. Then when the 911 operator basically tells him to chill out, the kid is probably just walking (and she sounded like a white lady. I was proud of her!) Zimmerman began to flip, mumbling to himself about how "they" always get away with it. Which "they" would that be, Zimmie m'boy? Criminals in general? Boys in general? Let me see...

Then he mumbled something deep under his breath. There has been argument about what he said. Here is a link to a variously equalized version of it:

He says "fucking XXX." What is XXX? Room for debate. Someone said "tools." I heard a "c" or a "k" as the first consonant. Not a "t" at the end. Definitely an "n". Now, that first consonant MIGHT have been a "g". It really might. They're so close together. Say "goon" and then "coon" and notice how similarly your tongue positions itself. So plausibly, independent of everything else, he might have said "fucking goons." In combination with the other references, that becomes hard to believe, but possible.

I have zero respect for a grown ass man who voluntarily accepts being a Neighborhood Watch officer and chooses to confront a kid he outweighs by 100 pounds, and then wants me to believe that he felt so threatened he had to pull a gun and kill him. AUTOMATICALLY, this guy has lost all my respect, even if what he is saying is 100% true. I mean, if Trayvon was champion of his boxing squad, or a black belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, I might have a good laugh about him getting his ass kicked...but there still is no excuse for shooting him, when you can lock yourself in your car. Or just not confront him in the first place, if you are such a wussie that getting a bloody nose gives you internal permission to kill. At the LEAST, he is a disgrace to gun owners, Neighborhood watch people, and men all over the planet. Good lord. And at worst? He was offended that this little black kid was in HIS neighborhood. Followed him, confronted him, and was not given the respect he thought he deserved. Started a confrontation. Either began to lose it and panicked, or killed the boy for disrespect, believing that the local police would look the other way. And he almost got away with it.

8) Enough about this piece of human garbage. And the police chief whose department has had racial problems in the past. And a part of the country that has a 400 year history of violence toward black people without the intervention of law enforcement, only curtailed in the last 70 years or so, when the Federal branch had to come in and shut the shit down...triggering that mealy-mouthed "States Rights" complaint. And while we're at it, may I assume Ron Paul believes the Fed shouldn't get involved, and should never have? Thanks, Ronnie.

9) Enough of that. This will play out the way it does. Perhaps justice, perhaps not. I don't know what "justice" is here, because I wasn't there (although witnesses seem to indicate that Trayvon was on the ground, begging, when he was shot. Maybe the witnesses are lying. Right.) I don't care about Zimmerman. Or Lee. Not really. What I care about is my own son. I've always known, or believed, that the institutionalized racism in the South (and elsewhere) placed me at greater risk for dying than I would have were I white. And before someone trots out the truth that blacks are capable of racism, and commit racist acts against whites, might I say that this is true: but they are hardly protected by the white establishment. Every stat I've ever seen says that whites routinely are arrested, convicted and sentenced for killing blacks at a lower rate than blacks are for killing whites. And that all other things held constant, if you are rich, white, and/or female you will be arrested, convicted and serve time less than if you are poor, black, and male. Anyone who wants to believe that whites are somehow at a disadvantage uses anecdotal evidence, and with that you can prove anything you want. I remember a white college (high school?) class in New York asked how much money they would have to be offered to start their lives over as black. The number they came up with was a million dollars. THAT was their perception of the value of white privilege. Kudos.

10) Lastly, and most importantly. What do you say to your children about this? Especially if your children are black? And male? I mean, I have a son who looks just like Trayvon to me. That could have been him, in our housing complex. This shit isn't theoretical at all. And I've had many, many friends, readers, and FB fans ask me what the hell they do. I had a flame war with a white guy who basically said Trayvon should have Yassuh'd his way out of it.

And what I'm about to say is un-PC as hell, but I hope everyone will understand that it comes from the heart:

I would be proud for my son to die as Trayvon did. Injustice of any kind depends upon fear, upon backing down. In other words, bullies and monsters count on never running into a warrior.

How do you make a slave? The same way you make a dog. You get them to forget that they used to be wolves. You capture human beings, and kill anyone who won't stop fighting. Shoot them, stab them, throw them over the side of the ships, whip them to death. Torture them in front of their families. Break them. Cull the later generations of any of that 5-10% of natural warrior archetypes. Convince the others that they are inferior. Why the hell do you think America was so reluctant to allow blacks to fight in their wars? Blacks came back from WW2 with the fascinating, visceral knowledge that whites were no braver or tougher than they were, despite centuries of conditioning to the contrary. That white boys cried for their mommas when their intestines spilled just like everyone else. That they died just as easily. There is no accident that after centuries of oppression, the civil rights era blossomed just one generation of black men returned from Europe knowing how to kill white men. Trust me.

Trayvon had every reasonable expectation that an adult who outweighed him by over 100 pounds would consider that sufficient advantage. And apparently, he refused to shuffle, drop his eyes, or act in a way that would have mollified Zimmerman. Which, apparently, enraged him to the point of homicidal frenzy.

Given what I know, or think I know...what will I tell my son? I will raise him to be a warrior, as I have been doing. To be strong, and confident, and deadly. The only mistake Trayvon made was not carrying a knife and gutting this cowardly cow-pie of a man.

And you know what? Jason might run into a Zimmerman one day. And Zimmerman might kill him. Oh, well, everyone dies. But here's the point: when one generation stands up, more of the NEXT generation survives. Being a man, being a warrior, increases the risk for that man, but decreases the risk for future generations, can you grasp that? This has ALWAYS been true for warriors: if you stand up, you might get shot down. But if you don't stand up, the forces of evil will take and take and take until there is nothing left. And then they will grind you into the gutter, and piss on you. And then they will say: "look at that broke, broken, stinking thing in the gutter. That is his natural state. He must LIKE being like that. Tsk tsk."

I've heard that all my life, and for most of my life I didn't speak my mind. I'm closer to death than birth now, and have run out of bullshit.

My son will be proud of who he is. He will offer insult to no man, but accept none. John Wayne is probably the greatest archetype of the white male. What did he say in his final film, The Shootist? How did he sum up his life, a credo I've heard countless white males hold up as the epitome of manhood?

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them."

How dare anyone suggest I should raise my own son any differently.

Trayvon is a hero. I say it again and I mean it: I would be proud for my son to die as he did. Homicidally angry at the system that raised Zimmerman to think he could get away with it...

but prouder than hell.


Shady_Grady said...

Really powerful post. Thanks for writing this.

Art said...

Thanks for writing this, Steve. As the weeks have gone by, I find my anger growing over this. It is an illustration of everything that is wrong with this country, and at the same time shows us how far America has come. Fifty years ago this would not been even a story, or at most a page seven story in the local paper.
You last point will draw critism, I have no doubt, but I must agree. I have raised my sons as warriors, too, but the dangers for my youngest seem much more real and palpable since this story broke.

Anonymous said...

I posted on your FB that the very best this could be is imperfect self defense and voluntary manslaughter.

That is if the young man had a knife and was defending his life from his attacker, who then shot him to save himself in a combat the aggressor initiated.

Why did he come so close to the juvenile he was following? Either to arrest him (for what?) or to attack him.

To be clear, the juvenile would have done nothing wrong to defend himself by brandishing a knife and shouting "Stay away from me!". Maybe he'd get charged later for possession but he'd be alive to take the rap.

And now we know why people choose to carry illegal weapons ... because there is nothing a court can do to you that is even close to what a criminal can do - even one who abuses a CCW to hassle his neighbors.

Sonja E. said...

Completely on point, especially your last point. Respect!

inye said...

Amen! On your last point! Too many articles have focused on how to instruct black boys to shrink in order to get home safely. I understand this impulse, emotionally, but it leaves a vile taste in my mouth as well. Our black boys are meant to grow up to be black men. There should be no compromise in negotiating that truth. No white, hispanic, asian or man of any other ethnicity has the right to deny them that. We should not position ourselves so meekly.

Thank you for posting this.

inye said...

In the end I am not interested in supporting any kind of response that re-enforces the old caste relationships of the Jim Crow South. Just. Not. Interested. We deserve more and should demand more.

The Janitor said...

Great post. You chronicled the thought process on this case of most of the nation down to the letter.

As far as the law underlying the case, I'd invite you to take at a recent blog post we did:

Anonymous said...

"I tend to look at humanity as having three primary colors (white, Asian, black) and everything else seems TO ME to be a blending of those."
Really? You never spent much time in South Texas I guess.

Steven Barnes said...

Anonymous--please direct me to a picture of a human being who cannot be produced by a blending of black, white, and Asian. Never seen it. Unless it's someone green with three arms, what in the world could you be talking about?

Anonymous said...

"please direct me to a picture of a human being who cannot be produced by a blending of black, white, and Asian"

Google "Chief Sitting Bull" and you'll get a slew of such photos. I wondered how many Native Americans might feel the same reaction I did when you broke down all of humanity into black, white, Asian, or some combination of those. When "anonymous" referred to south Texas, I presume s/he was referring to people of Mexican ethnicity, most of whom are descended from natives or a combination of natives and Europeans.

Still, I don't want to derail an otherwise excellent post over a relatively minor oversight.

Steven Barnes said...

It wasn't an oversight at all. It was an opinion. Native Americans crossed from the Baring Strait, and are a combination of Asian and Northern Russian genetics, broiled in the sun for a few thousand years. Nothing unusual there.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean when you say that the only mistake Martin made was not gutting Zimmerman? Is that pre scuffle when challenged, during the scuffle, when Martin saw he had a gun?

Secondly, you said you would be proud to have a son who died like Trayvon. What advice would you give to any child about confrontation? I want my children to be strong as well, but I also never want to have to identify them in the morgue because they said dad always taught me to never back down.

Of course I am not saying this is Martin's fault. To the contrary it appears it is Zimmerman and I hope that he is prosecuted. At the same time as a general rule, I would also impart to my children that you never know what someone will have so be careful.

Steven Barnes said...

Giggling Wizard:
I see nothing in those pictures of Sitting Bull that doesn't look like a combination of old Japanese fishermen and Slavic mountain types. Really, I see a blend, plus weathering. I can respect that people disagree, but I don't change my opinions because people disagree with me. The ancestors of Native Americans came to the Americas some 15-30,000 years ago, not long enough to become a distinct racial group at all. Ethnic? Sure. But we have hundreds of those.

Steven Barnes said...

What is my advise to a kid about confrontation? To avoid it when possible, but to do it from a position of strength: "I don't want to hurt this guy" as opposed to fear. To think tactically and strategically--all children, all human beings should have the knowledge that they can defend themselves. That said, not all human beings are warrior types, and the ability to communicate and develop rapport is critical. And as for Trayvon? In that specific case, he would have been better off killing Zimmerman at ANY point in the engagement. At least he'd still be alive, and in this case, that is indeed the highest value. The best thing? Kill him after the fight began (assuming that Zimmerman started it, began to lose, and panicked). If Zimmerman did NOT put his hands on Trayvon first? (Hard to believe: you can hear him revving up his adrenaline on the 911 call) Then Trayvon was in the wrong, and shouldn't have put his hands on him. In that case, it is a matter of two people who each made mistakes,and Trayvon paid for his with his life. In which case...I still side with Trayvon, because the kid was still only bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Anonymous said...

"...Blacks came back from WW2 with the fascinating, visceral knowledge that whites were no braver or tougher than they were, despite centuries of conditioning to the contrary. That white boys cried for their mommas when their intestines spilled just like everyone else. That they died just as easily. There is no accident that after centuries of oppression, the civil rights era blossomed just one generation of black men returned from Europe knowing how to kill white men. Trust me..."

Hey! Quite a number of black men came back from *the U.S. Civil War* with the fascinating, visceral knowledge that whites were no braver or tougher than they were!

Read Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 for more on that and on the civil rights activism that *these* veterans inspired...

"...I want my children to be strong as well, but I also never want to have to identify them in the morgue because they said dad always taught me to never back down..."

...and I bet you also never want to have them feeling, after surviving fights by backing down, that their father thinks they'd be better off dead. He (or she) who runs away will live to fight another day, after all.

Jaime Andres said...

I must say that this was a really disappointing article by one of my favorite authors. But, then again, I do have the benefit of hindsight, so let me point the many ways Steven missed the point.

Zimmerman wasn’t White. He was a multiracial young man who had a White father and an Afro-Indigenous Peruvian mother. He was as White as Obama.

Zimmerman observed a few things. He observed his wife freak out as an eyewitness to the fleeing perpetrators to a home invasion that left a mother and child hiding in their closet. He called the police when his wife later saw one of those perpetrators again. He called the police a second time when his wife, again recognized this perpetrator who had not been caught. That is when the NW was created because of multiple crimes occurring in the neighborhood. The next time Zimmerman called the police was when he saw a suspect casing the window of the house of a fellow NW member. This suspect, Emmanuel Burgess, would eventually be caught and tied not only to the casing of this house, but to the home invasion months before. But his accomplices were still at large. A few weeks later, Zimmerman would observe a suspect near the same window of the same house. That suspect was Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman never stalked Martin. He observed and reported according to NW protocol. At no point did he approach Martin.

When he informed the dispatcher that Martin was running, the dispatcher asked Zimmerman in which direction Martin was running. As Martin ran between the houses, Zimmerman exited his car trying to keep a line of sight. The dispatcher, hearing his heavy breathing asked if he was following. When told yes, the dispatcher told Zimmerman it wasn’t necessary. To which Zimmerman acquiesced. We know this because the heavy breathing stopped and he had a long conversation with the dispatch in which he was no longer moving enough to hear wind go by, and in which he stated twice that Martin was gone. How much time was he ‘following?’ Exactly 14 seconds.

The time that Zimmerman took of 14 seconds was enough to carry him the distance from where we know he parked his car (video) and the T where we know the altercation would occur (where keys and other items were dropped).

We know that Martin was no longer there from Zimmerman’s statements and from Rachel Jeantel’s statements that Martin said he had made it to the back of the house he was staying in.

For this reason, we know that Martin, left the area of altercation and then went back. We also know, per Rachel Jeantel, that Martin was the first to speak, considering the fact that he came back and that He spoke first, it is safe to say he was the one doing the confronting, not Zimmerman.

Jaime Andres said...

A few good reasons why Martin might have felt quite comfortable returning to confront Zimmerman for the affront of staring at him while on the phone: Martin was an avid practitioner of MMA. He watched it constantly and practiced it with his peers in rounds, even to the point of reporting that he made his opponent bleed. Martin was also larger than Zimmerman. In an interview with People, the family reported him as 6’3. The police report stated he was 6’0. I think the family was more accurate than the police as a vector analysis of the 7-Eleven video estimated his height at 6’2 is easily replicable. The police reported his weight at 160 lbs. that was naked and desanguinated after the bullet hole to his heart and lungs. That makes his weight with clothing (2.5 lbs. for sneakers, 2.5 for average clothing and anywhere from 2 to 5lbs of blood lost). A decent guess would be at least 167 lbs. We know Zimmerman was 5’7.5 to be exact and we know he wasn’t actually weighed that night as he wasn’t arrested. When he was eventually arrested, he weighed 185 lbs. So, Zimmerman was a pudgier, shorter man.

We also know that Zimmerman weighed 250lbs in 2005 and was trying to lose weight. He later enrolled in cardio boxing but was never allowed to spar because he didn’t know how to throw a punch. So, we know where the assumption of a 100lbs difference came and why it was inaccurate. We also know Zimmerman didn’t throw the first punch. In fact, Jeantel would later admit that she thought Martin threw the first punch as well.

Jaime Andres said...

No, the defense of Zimmerman did not just come from White Conservatives. They were just the loudest because, 1. The media called Zimmerman White, and two, the media equated Zimmerman with Stand Your Ground, even though it was traditional self-defense (he was mounted so he could not retreat). When the Pro Arms group saw this case made into an NRA battle, they jumped all into it. In contrast, because Zimmerman was portrayed as a White racist, Hispanics and Multi-Racials steered clear. Including me. Until I saw all the evidence.

There was no evidence of racial animus. Zimmerman grew up, not only with an Afro Peruvian mother, but the vast majority of his friends being Black and/or Latino. In fact, he called one if his friends who happened to be White, his token White friend. Zimmerman was active, not only in protesting the beating of a homeless Black man, but he also mentored two Black kids whose father was serving a life sentence in jail.

Zimmerman did not volunteer Martin’s race. He was asked what it was point blank. He responded, ‘he looks Black.’ That would indicate he wasn’t sure. In the prior calls, when asked, he stated that the person was Black or White or Whatever. Yes, he called the cops of Whites and Hispanics as well. In fact, until the year before, he never mentioned a Black man before. But he had mentioned Whites and Hispanics. It is only when Martin approaches him and he gets a good look that he states, ‘and he is a Black man.’

The claim on fuckin’ blank as racial holds no water. Filtering for noise, the first vowel is a composite ou sound. Not uu. ABC filtered and determined he said Cold.

Jaime Andres said...

Martin was not brave, nor a hero for jumping someone smaller than him. Nor was Zimmerman a hero for surviving. But he had a right to defend himself when a bigger man mounted him, slammed his head into the cement and put him in fear of losing consciousness. And when, in the struggle, his holster was revealed, it became a struggle to make sure his gun wasn’t taken away and used against him. Zimmerman had been pummeled for at least two minutes when Jonathan Good saw Martin mounted on top of him reigning blows on him. No gun visible. That gunshot was fired after Good told Martin to stop and then he went in to call the police. For Zimmerman, it must have been wrenching to see someone come out, see he was in trouble and then leave. Yes, he had every right to pull that trigger.

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