Grappling.

I read this article yesterday while I was at brunch.
(Ha-ha, white girl on the North Side of Chicago out to brunch, reading about Trayvon Martin. GET OVER IT.)

And I got to thinking: America’s kind of an awful place.
I’m so disheartened sometimes that I don’t even know what to say.

 The 911 calls began at least eight years ago, with Mr. Zimmerman reporting on a range of non-emergencies, including the existence of potholes or someone driving slowly through the neighborhood. By late 2011, his calls were often about black youths and men, with complaints about suspicious activity or just loitering.

By the time he went on neighborhood watch patrol with his 9-millimeter pistol and spied Trayvon Martin, Mr. Zimmerman saw not a teenager with candy, but a collection of preconceptions: the black as burglar, the black as drug addict, the black “up to no good.” And he was determined not to let this one get away.

As recently as a few years ago, this case probably would not have been noticed outside Florida, which has a long and bloody history of sacrificing black lives without consequence. The country is right to focus on this case and to look for ways to prevent it from happening again.

People who are seeking to affix blame for this tragic death do need to bear one thing in mind. Gun laws that allowed a community watch volunteer to run around armed are, of course, partly responsible. But Trayvon Martin was killed by a very old idea that will likely take generations and an enormous cultural transformation to dislodge.

My family had season tickets to Kansas City Chiefs games when I was a kid. My most vivid memories of those games have nothing to do with Arrowhead Stadium; they’re of crossing Troost Avenue on 63rd Street in my grandparents’ Mercedes-Benz and watching my grandparents’ hands fly to the automatic-lock buttons. They’re of counting the number of tree-shaped air fresheners hanging from passing cars’ rearview mirrors.

Troost was our arbitrary dividing line between Kansas City’s racial no-man’s land and what I’m sure we so lovingly referred to at some point as “the ghetto.” (Which is hilarious in that completely horrifying, not-funny-at-all way now, because I don’t think I’ve come within miles of the real ghetto in Kansas City, if it even exists.)

We passed through, hopped on the highway and made our way to Arrowhead’s parking lot, locked safely behind the parking attendant’s stations, where we tailgated and then watched the game wrapped in blankets, cheering for our team and doing the tomahawk chop.

What do these memories say about me?
Have these experiences shaped who I am?

Maybe in some way.
But how?
I read articles like the one from the Times’ Sunday Review today, and I’m ashamed because I know the author is speaking directly to people like me. I’m not racist — never. ever. EVER. — but I know I hang on to some prejudices that will be tough to shake off.

Am I part of the problem?

I didn’t hear about Trayvon Martin until days after he was shot. I read about it on Twitter and didn’t understand why it was such a big deal; I was busy being enraged about yet another fat white man in Congress trying to take away all women’s hard-fought reproductive rights. Then I read more about it. Then, it was another few days before I saw anything about it on television. Finally, a month and a half after he was shot, George Zimmerman — who’s a year younger than me, who owns a gun and thinks he can play policeman, judge, jury and God himself — was charged with second-degree murder and taken into custody.
A MONTH AND A HALF LATER.

What does that say?
Really. If the situation had been reversed — if Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman or anyone else, for that matter — he would’ve been locked up in the blink of an eye. I’m sure of it.

How…
What.
I don’t know. I don’t know anything.

I don’t know whether Martin was shot out of racist hatred or singled out by Zimmerman’s prejudices and caught in the crossfire of self-defense.
I don’t know what happened in Sanford that night. Until they release all those 911 tapes, the autopsy report and call every possible witness from both sides, no one will know exactly what happened except for George Zimmerman.
Even then, it’ll be a neighborhood watchman’s word against a dead hoodie-wearing black boy’s.
Does it really matter whether it was racism or prejudice that led to this kid’s death? Because he’s still dead.

I picture the outcome of this case being utter horseshit. Nothing good can come of this. This will not be a “teachable moment.”
Sometimes I think we’re beyond teaching. Like it will never, ever get better. And that makes me want to throw things. Or curl up in a ball and cry.
Neither would make me feel better, I’m guessing. And logic has obviously worn out its welcome.

If you’re reading about the Trayvon Martin case, trying to make sense of anything at all in this ridiculous media circus, do yourself a favor: Don’t read the comments. Ever.
Whether you’re reading a blog entry or an article on Fox Nation or MSNBC, just do yourself a favor and skip the comments section. Just walk away.
People are horrible and hateful and violent with their words.

Is there a way to start calling people on their racist, ignorant fuckery, beyond posting to our own Facebook feeds and trolling comment sections to lob holier-than-thou word bombs into the ether? Would there be a point beyond making us feel better about ourselves, proving to the Internet we’re above it?

I don’t know. But that’s the kind of “Stand Your Ground” I can get behind.

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24 Responses to “Grappling.”

  1. Sean D. Francis Says:

    Here’s what I know.  I don’t know what happened that night.  Be that as it may, someone is dead and that to me means there should be a trial of some sort- not a shrugging of shoulders and saying “well, this happens sometimes.”  I have my standard prejudices against any man who thinks a firearm is a way to assert authority so I admit I assume Zimmerman’s guilt.  Not for me to decide… this is why we have a legal system. 

  2. @johntcarlisle Says:

    I have similar experiences from attending sporting events with family. The irony is so many  white people have no problem cheering on African-Americans (usually young, big, strong African-American men) when they’re leading their favorite sports teams to victory–at least they do now post-Jackie Robinson. But what if those guys weren’t famous millionaire but were just walking by your car when you’re stopped at a spotlight? Standing next to you on the train? Living in the apartment next to you? Then they’re scary, to be avoided. Hypocrisy.

    I also cringe when people throw around the word “ghetto.” That “ghetto” is someone’s home. If you want to call an area “low-income” or even “dangerous,” at least that can be verified by statistics. But driving/walking/riding through a predominantly African-American neighborhood and calling it “ghetto” connotes that “This is a place I wouldn’t live, that I’m too good to live in.” And I think that sentiment is why we have “ghettoes,” or forgotten areas with underfunded schools, pothole-filled streets and lacking police presence, in the first place.

  3. infinitejorge Says:

    It’s quite the anomaly (and dangerously misleading) this case is being held up as the poster-child of modern racism, when really it points to the absurdity of gun-laws and self-defense laws in general. Zimmerman is Latino… a minority himself, and every news media outlet seems to have this idea that they know exactly what was going through his head:

    “Mr. Zimmerman saw not a teenager with candy, but a collection of
    preconceptions: the black as burglar, the black as drug addict, the
    black “up to no good.” And he was determined not to let this one get
    away.”

    I hope it was Professor X that wrote the above, because he/she seemed to have an uncanny ability to read minds. Zimmerman is undoubtedly a nut, but when an innocent life is taken seemingly without reason, it’s so much easier for people to rally behind a sensationalized case of racism and prejudice than to admit that we have a problem in our country and definitely in Florida in particular with conservative gun laws and a loose idea of what constitutes as “self-defense.” You hinted at this yourself when you said:

    Does it really matter whether it was racism or prejudice that led to this kid’s death? Because he’s still dead.

    Exactly. The outcome is the same… But is it easier to feel self-righteous because we like to think we are above racism? The reality of it is America is one of the most ethically diverse countries in the world. I’m not saying racism is non-existent. It just seems to be more of a scapegoat to get people emotionally stirred up in this instance. If that is true I would ask, do the ends justify the means?

    • paigeworthy Says:

      I think the writer — a columnist, not a reporter, by the way — was extrapolating based on other 911 calls and Zimmerman’s track record as a neighborhood watchman. 

      This is absolutely an issue of conservative gun laws and bizarre self-defense laws, but it became much more about racism when the case was all but swept under the rug until members of the community took it upon themselves to bring it to light. 

      • infinitejorge Says:

         Paige, I urge you to read more on the issue. This for example:

        A NBC Producer was fired for
        editing Zimmerman’s call to 911 in a way that made him appear racist.
        NBC’s Today broadcasted only:
        “This guy looks like he’s up to no good … he looks black.”

        out of the less incriminating complete transcript:

         “This
        guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining
        and he’s just walking around, looking about.”

        The 911 officer responded saying, “OK,
        and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?”

        “He looks black,” Zimmerman said.”

        Which, if anything, makes the officer seem
        overly keen to determine race.If you want to read more about how the media is handling the case I urge you to read the post CIME made about it (this organization is a non-profit and does a VERY good job of asserting media ethics):

        http://cimethics.blogspot.com/2012/04/do-press-weild-gavel-for-zimmerman.html

      • paigeworthy Says:

        It’s great hearing people’s thoughts about this. Definitely going to try to learn more.
        However.
        It’s pretty hard to take a journalism blog seriously when the writer can’t even spell every word in the title of the post correctly.

  4. infinitejorge Says:

     @1c8b4dbba48c6b9bc97ecb8735cea7e8:disqus “Ghetto” is just a colloquialism for “low-income,” at this point. Many people even seem to be proud to be from the “ghetto.” I don’t think semantics so much is the problem as it is the system that offers little to no help to the mentally disabled, terrible rehabilitation, gentrification etc.

  5. Steve Stearns Says:

    Honestly posting to Facebook, etc, may be one of the more effective things we can do as silly as that sounds.  Take a look at the statistics on people’s support for gay marriage as an example.  Only a few years ago the numbers were solidly against it, but now they are in favor of it.  Why?

    I think social media is a big factor in why it’s become more accepted.  Simply put, it’s a lot easier to know people who are LGBT now.  Even if you don’t interact with people day to day in the real world, there’s a decent chance you have connection to somebody.  At the very least you’ve probably seen a viral video about it, etc.  
    Think about the Trayvon case.  If this was 20-30 years ago, you wouldn’t know about it.  You could stay in your safe northside Chicago neighborhood and be completely ignorant that something like this still happens today.  This would have been swept under the rug in Sanford and nobody would know.  Today though it has spread like wildfire and now everybody knows about the case.  No matter what actually happens, it can be safely said that Trayvon died because he was black and wearing a hoody.  It’s a stark realization for many in the country who thought we’d moved on a bit more than that.

    We are making progress, but incidents like this remind us that we aren’t at the end goal yet.  Tragic as this is, I suspect, in the end, it does our country some good by awakening us to the fact that while racism is less overt these days, it hasn’t gone way.  

  6. Coachalpo Says:

    1. What the **** does the make and model of your grandparents’ vehicle have to do with the Martin incident or anything?  That’s a rhetorical question.

    2. I couldn’t get through half of this entry because, as usual, it became all.  about.  the.  “writer.”  Snoozeville.

    3. “Would there be a point beyond making us feel better about ourselves.”  Oh, how I just love the sanctimonious irony of it all.

    • paigeworthy Says:

      I have been waiting for this comment for…let’s see, almost 24 hours. Where have you been? 
      Tell you what, bucko: Why don’t you submit a guest post and I’ll publish it to show everyone how it’s done. My e-mail is readily available on this website. Because, you know. I actually PUT MYSELF OUT THERE.

      Oh, and by the way. I had the best birthday. You should be so jealous — my friends are amazing. And I got all kinds of money to spend on fancy bicycle accessories. So I can pedal anywhere I like to write more sanctimonious, self-absorbed shit.

      • Coachalpo Says:

        Contrary to what you think (or, more likely, what you want everyone else to think), the world doesn’t revolve around you or your incessant quest for attention.

        You’ll show everyone how what’s done?  Perhaps, you could tell me in English what this means in a complete sentence?

        Your life is amazing?  Who knew?

        I’m gorgeous, smart and amazing myself.  And that’s final and sacrosanct because I just typed it on the internet.

      • Goosebucket Says:

        Are you in high school? You act like a teenager. That’s not a compliment.

      • DoctorPurina Says:

        Unintentional irony is the funniest part of the internet.

      • Coachalpo Says:

         Point of order.

        The funniest part of the internet is laughing at those who don’t understand or comprehend obvious sarcasm.

        Thanks for playing, doc.

  7. Goosebucket Says:

    It’s funny you mentioned growing up and crossing over to that side of the city that made cause for sudden car door locking. I had a similar upbringing in that respect and I always cringed every time I heard those doors lock as soon as we got on Kingshighway in St. Louis. I always hope that none of it rubbed off on me. Time will tell. Oh, and Coachalpo needs to get a freaking life.

  8. littledanic Says:

    I understand that the media has made this about racism, and that the public has no option but to believe the media or not believe it.  As an attorney in Chicago, I often encounter the frustrating conversation I am forced to have when something like this takes place in the media about how the public should leave the law to the lawyers. Period. I am a licensed attorney: I spent years in law school, a summer sweating over the horrible bar exam, and now practice law. However, I don’t practice criminal law in Florida. Furthermore, even if I did, I don’t have any evidence in front of me aside from what the media has given me. Therefore, I make a regular habit to not comment on cases that I am not professionally involved in.

    Legally, however, this is a certainty: There is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion. There are a million reasons why the State’s Attorney/DA’s office would make the decision to charge or not charge a person with a crime. Most of these reasons the public does not understand. 

    Furthermore, It is very optimistic for everyone to say that just because a person is dead, the law is required to do something. On the first day of law school, law students are taught that not every wrong has a remedy, unfortunately. Even if the public “knows” that Zimmerman is guilty, the State’s Attorney has to prove this BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.  This might not mean much to the public, but in the legal field, it is the highest standard that exists. There are a million legal hurdles that each case  encounters, of which require semesters in law school and years and years in practice to understand. My point in explaining this is that I feel like you drastically oversimplify the issue.  Thus, my comment can be boiled down to the following: I respectfully request that you (and the public) leave the law to the lawyers. The only two people who know the truth of what happened that night are Martin and Zimmerman. The lawyers will do their best to piece together all of the evidence, but I can tell you that the public will never fully understand exactly what happened. It NEVER does.

     To me, this discussion is one of justice. I understand people are upset that a boy is dead, but Zimmerman has a constitutional right to his day in court. And with every discussion we have about this, his fair trial is being slowly chipped away. I promise you we (attorneys) are doing the very best we can to make the world a
    better place to live, but I feel as though the public is making our job
    more difficult.

    • paigeworthy Says:

      I think you oversimplify by making this just about the law…as some laws are unfair or created to protect people who really aren’t the ones who should be protected, and should be changed.

      Some lawyers are trying to make the world a better place — I respect what you’re doing, and I thank you for leaving this comment.

      But I don’t think sitting down and shutting up about this is going to make your job easier or our lives better.

      • littledanic Says:

         The issue is 100% about the law. Even if it’s about how Florida officials “swept the case under the rug.”  No one swept anything under the rug. *You* just didn’t know about it until the media got involved.

        I’m not certain of the precise method in which Florida uses to investigate a crime, but in Chicago, if  someone is shot, the police conduct an investigation and alert the State’s Attorney that there was possible foul play. The State’s Attorney makes the call on whether to charge an individual.

         This is where prosecutorial discretion comes in:  without having any of the evidence in front of me, I can tell you that the prosecutor has the POWER to decline to charge a person. This is an executive branch power, flowing from the US Constitution.

        What I am saying is that no one but the lawyers tying the case know enough about the case to even have an informed opinion.

        Social media is an amazing tool; however, I think it sometimes acts as a really extended version of the game of telephone.  I have not been an attorney very long, and I can tell you that the cases I have handled that have been in the news are 100% of the time portrayed inaccurately.

        We can sit here and talk about racism all day if you want, but continuing to weigh in on your opinion is, like I said, affecting an individual’s right to fair trial.  I understand that the general consensus is that the constitution should not apply to certain individuals. It doesn’t work this way. If you have that right and I have that right, so does an alleged racist.

      • paigeworthy Says:

        I know better than to try to argue the law any further than I tried earlier. So I’ll just say thanks again for your comments.

      • Jimmy H. Says:

        You use a lot of words but your argument comes down to “I’m a lawyer, there is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion, and now shut up because you blogging about the case is hurting George Zimmerman’s right to a fair trial”

        Let’s discuss each of your three points in turn. First, you’re a lawyer. Congratulations. That said, the fact that you started law school at Thomas Cooley (which shouldn’t even be accredited), finished at a second-tier school like Michigan State, and have less than a year of actually working as a lawyer cheapens you’re whole “I’m a lawyer” schtick, no?

        Second, you don’t need to be a lawyer (or even one with actual experience) to understand that prosecutorial discretion exists. Nor do you have to be a lawyer to understand that prosecutors abusing their discretion, particularly in cases where black victims are involved, is and has long been a massive problem in this country. Exhibit A: take a look at the correlation between race of the victim and the prosecutorial discretion involved in when the death penalty is sought. Your claim that we should all just shut up because prosecutors know best is unfounded in logic, unfounded in history, and unfounded in an understanding of the relationship between the citizenry and the people hired to represent them in court.

        Third, the idea that a food blogger in Chicago who posts a personal story about her experiences with race that was inspired by media coverage of a crime in Florida is going to affect George Zimmerman’s right to a fair trial is laughable. Do you have anything to back up that claim? Is there a single legitimate study you can point to that makes the connection you’re claiming exists? Or are you relying on some version of common sense that a random blog post that barely touches on the details of the case is going to so taint a jury pool across the country that has already been exposed to an obscene amount of media coverage that it’s going to affect Zimmerman’s ability to get a fair trial? If so, please explain to me how that works.

    • Coachalpo Says:

      Standing ovation and a case of beer for this post.

  9. Molly Spring Says:

    You might be interested in this article by essayist Eula Bliss. Her collection will be the firs Freshman reading requires for KU students. This piece is about race and specific to Chicago…it might also help you put your tomahawking in perspective. 🙂
    http://www.believermag.com/issues/200802/?read=article_biss

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