Way back in 2007, after 4 years in Iraq, after 6 years of jingoism and bully patriotism, I saw my country on a lazy path towards an authoritarian state where basic human rights would only be a memory. I wrote one of my very first blogs on this site named "Whither Now?"
. There are some who still believe that the power of the people matter not a whit over the power of the government, even though we have seen some seismic changes due to the decisions made at the polls over the years.
Unfortunately, we as a country have made other choices along the way that have driven us down the easy highway in the direction of a very dark place. The jury decision on Saturday in the Zimmerman case was the last straw. I have to ask once more - whither now America?
When we are young, our parents warn us about strangers. They tell us to be wary of adults in the dark who are creepy, stalky, and out to get us. To Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was that boogieman. For black parents, he was that ultimate boogieman: the guy who looks at their son and sees not the truth - an innocent kid on the way home from the store - but a criminal (an "asshole" per Zimmerman's words) - charged, tried, and convicted in his mind through the twisted lens of his hatred. After chasing down this unarmed innocent boy - barely 17 yrs old - he ended up on the losing end of some hand-to-hand combat, and shot him like Martin was just a dog biting his leg (actually - in America, dogs get treated better in the eyes of the law
than Martin did).
Zimmerman initially claimed the "stand your ground law", but then later changed it to simple self-defense. This seemed laughable to most people. How does one claim self-defense after chasing down an unarmed teenager (after being told not to by police dispatch)? In court, while the Stand Your Ground law was not overtly being used, it was always there, lurking in the shadows, whispering in the ears of the jury. They heard it, they listened to all the minutia of the trial, and ignored the big picture. They let a self-confessed murderer walk free.
The day before this verdict, another Florida court sent a woman to jail for 20 years for the "heinous" crime of firing a warning shot over her abusive husband's head
. Apparently, you only get off if you actually kill the person you're shooting at. Dead men tell no tales, and the survivor gets to write the script of what happened.
After the verdict, Zimmerman's brother said
"He's going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life". One can only hope. Perhaps he will finally understand how Trayvon Martin felt in those last few minutes of his life. Perhaps he will understand how ALL young black men feel when they hear footsteps behind them in the dark, or a slow-moving car following them up the street. This verdict only reinforces what their parents have likely already told them - people will automatically assume you're guilty of something.
This is the logical end result of those Stand Your Ground laws (now in effect in half the states in America
). This is the end-result of the obscene fetishization of the gun in the American zeitgeist. We look back wistfully at the Old West, where everyone had a gun, and justice was swift and only required a tree and a rope. The gun Zimmerman used was his tree and rope. Zimmerman was judge, jury, and executioner, just like in the old days.
Except - those old days didn't really exist, not the way people think. If you rode into a western town with a gun, you had to leave it at the sheriff's office, and pick it up when you left. What America seems to model itself on is a Hollywood fiction. Life imitates Art (remember Reagan and his Star Wars initiative based on an old science fiction movie?).
In a recent TX case, you could take a gun into the state Senate chambers, but not tampons. One can only assume the legislators would rather die a dignified death by bullet than suffer the indignity of having a feminine hygiene product thrown at them. In Atlanta, you will get a ticket for carrying a soda onto the MARTA train, but a gun is okay.
Whither now America? Do we take the smooth road back to a non-existent past of Frontier Justice? Do we ignore medicine and science and the reality that abortions are legal and condemn women to coat-hangers and back-ally butchers? Do we allow the 1st Amendment to be subjugated to Christian Sharia law? How much longer do we see a black person running and think "what crime did he commit?", not unlike 150 years ago when someone would've thought "runaway slave"?
Martin Luther King Jr once said "The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice". Perhaps in the long run it does, but in the short run it sure seems to be heading in the opposite direction.