Tag Archives: george zimmerman

America The Melting Pot

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Yesterday the President eloquently spoke about that Travyon Martin case and what it means for Black America.  For many African Americans including myself it felt as though our truth was being spoken at the highest level possible.  It was almost a relief to hear someone acknowledge what so many of our sons, fathers, brothers and friends have endured as African American men in this country.  For a second I thought, here is a Harvard educated man, raised by his White mother and grandparents, and the leader of the free world, surely no one will be able to refute HIS own truth.  Wishful thinking.
It is mind boggling to me that others have now attempted to disagree with his statements as if to say HIS truth cannot be true. If that sentence sounds odd to you realize it is because this viewpoint is not logical and not due to a poor choice of words.  A reasonable person could cite incidents in history and even current events for the basis of this opinion so it is not far fetched for the President to feel this way. More importantly, no one has the right to question another person’s experiences as an American because we all experience it differently.

 

Our country is so diverse and with that comes vastly diverse experiences.  I cannot tell an immigrant how it feels to come to this country and attempt to assimilate all while trying to hold own to the culture.  Nor can I fully express how it feels for Hispanic citizens of this country to be profiled as illegal or not belonging.  I cannot tell them about their own experiences in this country because they are not my own and are outside of the realm of my own experiences as an American.

 

When I think about this diverse country that I call home I remember as a kid watching the “Melting Pot” episode of School House Rock and loving what it symbolized.  It described how for the most part we all come here from different places, different cultures and even speak different languages but we “melt” together and form this great cultural fabric that is America.  When I think of this “melting “my favorite example is food. Consider the number of Italian restaurants or Mexican restaurants in your area.  These cuisines are so engrained into the American culture I almost forget that they are not labeled American cuisine. Despite that distinction you would be hard pressed to find an American who could not name a staple that would be served at an Italian restaurant.

 

The melting of different cultures is one of the things that I love about this country.  Unfortunately I think we can lose sight of what this melting actually means.  When we melt together it does not mean that we create one homogenous country similar to how many of us view Sweden.  We of course likely share similarities as Americans and value certain freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion.  Citizens of other countries who do not share these freedoms may find this odd but for us it is part of our shared identity as Americans.  Despite similarities we still can differ in many ways and it is our differences that make this country great in my opinion.  Our differences ensure that on a Friday night you can find a restaurant with an authentic cuisine from probably anywhere you can imagine in the world.  It is intellectually dishonest to not recognize these differences as a reality and how they shape the way many of us define being American.

 

As Americans I think we should not only be aware of this fact but be accepting as others open up about their own unique experiences even when it exposes a dark truth about our country.  During his speech the President alluded to our forefathers by stating that we are becoming a more perfect union not a perfect union. These imperfections have various impacts on us all.  If we are not honest and open then that means we are not moving towards a more perfect union as the President describes.

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Justice for Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin is dead and the man who killed him is still in the land of the living as a free man.  I am still wrapping my head around this reality. I am proud of our nation for standing up and fighting for justice for Trayvon Martin. Without the public’s initial disgust with no arrest, this trial would have never happened.  We would have still been dealing with what ifs. So that I say that is a step in the right direction.  Just hard because it does not feel like Trayvon Martin and his family got the justice they so rightly deserved.

My mind always looks at trends or deviations from history. After this verdict I immediately thought of cases from the 1960s such as Medgar Evers and Emmett Till.  Both black men killed in the South by white men.  Their murder trials were brought before an all white jury who would ultimately fail to return a guilty verdict.  These cases happened 50 years ago but I cannot help to see the similarities with Trayvon Martin.  We think about how far we have come but moments like this remind us about how far we still have to go as a nation.

As an attorney I hoped and prayed that our justice system could show not just Black America, but also the world that we are no longer the same system of the past but Lady Justice is truly blind in America for once.  I cannot say that happened tonight.  Hardest thing for me as an attorney is to concede to people that the system does not always work. It does not always put the guilty behind bars and does not always free the innocent.  African American men as defendants and victims in this justice system face different realities and are so often those who face the unjust “justice” system.

The NAACP is already calling for the Department of Justice to pursue federal charges.  The Federal government could chose to bring charges under civil rights statutes against George Zimmerman and not violate double jeopardy.  From the beginning I hoped the Department of Justice would be able to make a case.  I just do not think that they will be able to.   They need to show that he killed Trayvon Martin simply because he was black.  While his reasons for initially following Trayon would leave many of us to believe that, it is a leap in logic to use that to pursue federal charges.

In today’s society, being racist is not the politically correct thing to do.  The man who murdered Medgar Evers in 1963, Bryon De La Beckwith was very open about his hatred of African Americans.  We do not always see that today.  The scariest racist is often the one who you cannot see, the one who does not fully articulate their hatred. They may harbor ill will or truly believe certain stereotypes. In addition, they may act on these beliefs in ways that can be explained away with some legitimate reason such as you just were not qualified for the job as opposed to they did not want to hire a black person.  To some degree it is even unconscious for them. This is the racist of today and I think they are even harder to convict under a Civil Rights statute.  That is the difficulty I see here.  Even now, we do not fully understand George Zimmerman’s thought process that night. He very well could be harboring hatred towards African Americans but he never stated that and more importantly his actions can be explained away by “self-defense” and not purely a hate crime.

Going forward I think the best plan of action for those who want to ensure this never happens again through lobbying within the state of Florida to change some of their laws. With the nation watching you guys have dropped the ball twice, once with Casey Anthony and now George Zimmerman. Time to reexamine some things Florida.  First I think self defense should be rolled back to the common law version of self defense that worked just fine forever.  Under that, you have the duty to retreat if possible unless you are in your home. You cannot “stand your ground” and essentially have a modern day duel.  One of the biggest things that new legislation should highlight is that the initial aggressor cannot then use self defense after creating the situation.  Another interesting thing Florida could do,

Florida should also increase the number of members of a jury.  Six people is clearly not enough to get a fair cross section of the community.  I say clearly because the jury consisted of five white women and one woman who’s race has been debated.  She has been described by some as a Hispanic woman or black woman and others as a biracial woman.  When you have underlining issues of race I think it is even more important to have a diverse jury.  They all bring different experiences in with them to the jury box.  The prosecution also dropped the ball on their selection in this case as well but with only six spots there is only so much you can do.

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We Do Not Need More Guns!

Just a week ago our nation joined together in mourning the loss of twenty-six people to gun violence at an elementary school. Yes an elementary school one of the most innocent places in our society. Twenty of these victims were just six and seven years old, children lost to gun violence. Following this horrific tragedy our nation’s largest second amendment advocate, the National Rifle Association, remained silent. No press releases, no tweets nothing. They even went as far as deleting their Facebook account.  Then earlier this week they released a small statement saying they were committed to helping curb gun violence in America.  For a split second it seemed like NRA was going to have responsible and realistic contributions to the gun violence discussion in America. Oh were we wrong.  Today, in a mind boggling press conference the NRA laid out there plan to stop gun violence in America, essentially more guns.

The NRA is pushing forward with an idea to have armed volunteers in America’s schools.  They picked armed volunteers because they would not put any additional budget pressures on the federal government or local governments.  Armed volunteer.  That sounds a lot like George Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch captain who thought a young Travyon Martin was suspicious.  When all was said and done Travyon Martin was dead and an armed volunteer was to blame.  I do not trust armed volunteers. They often have not received the adequate training that is needed to carry a gun in a policing capacity.  An idea like this, without a doubt could lead to killing people who did not pose a threat to the school. I also find the idea of having armed volunteers policing schools ironic.  From the description it sounds an awful lot like a police state.  Is the NRA really advocating for a police state at our schools in order to defend the second amendment?  I just don’t think that is what our founding fathers had in mind.

In this same argument we have heard a push for more police in schools as well.  Although it is generally outside of the realm of gun violence, the school to prison pipeline raises other concerns. In short, there are students across America who are leaving school for the juvenile and adult justice systems. Often times their “crimes” are things that students for generations were disciplined for in the school through detention or suspension not jail. More police in schools could easily raise the number of students being funneled into the criminal justice systems.  Yes I realize the goals of the additional police are to ward off violent threats but lets be honest school shooting are rare. All these additional police are going to keep busy in the schools by policing students as well.  The current level of police in American schools has made the school to prison pipeline a national issue.  More police will only serve to aggravate this already troubling problem.

In so many words the NRA told Americans that they are okay with the homicidal maniac getting a gun as long as there is an armed teacher or volunteer there to stop him.  Sometimes I wonder if the NRA has a romanticized idea of “how the west was won”, the OK Corral or even when our founding fathers settled arguments with duels. More guns will not stop this problem in fact it likely could lead to more blood shed. When I think about this argument I think about Nancy Lanza an owner of several guns. I think about the armed police officers who patrolled Virginia Tech’s campus everyday. I think about the armed security guard that was present at Columbine High School on that fateful day. There have been more guns present in America and it has not stopped these mass shootings. I refuse to accept a bad guy getting a gun as long as a good guy is there to stop him. No, we need to stop this long before it gets to that point.

Our country lost little innocent children last week.  We cannot ignore this as we did with other tragedies. I will not lie, I would love to see the second amendment changed but I know that is not realistic in America today.  What I do believe can and should happen is another ban on military like assault rifles. At Sandy Hook elementary school, the good guys with guns, as the NRA calls them, arrived quickly after receiving reports of shots fired at the school.  In the short amount of time before the first responders closed in on him, the perpetrator was able to shoot and kill twenty-six people, shooting each victim multiple times. Some victims were shot as many as eleven times. No gun with these capabilities should be in the hands of an average citizen. In my mind they serve no legitimate purpose for everyday use.  I hope that Congress and the President really stand up this time and get this done!

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Raising African American Males in America: The Trayvon Martin Case

The Travyon Martin case has truly shaken me to my core.  As an African American woman I think about the potential of bringing African American males into this world and the problems they may face simply because of their race and their gender.  I can tell my hypothetical son to pull up his pants, be polite, follow all rules and laws, and be respectful to authority figures especially cops. I can even provide the best education that money can buy perhaps even an Ivy League education and yet someone will still look at my hypothetical son as a potential criminal or a threat.  Simply walking down the street with a hoodie on a rainy night in his neighborhood could raise suspicions.

After reading this case the thought crossed my mind of how do you prepare your child to go out into a world that has already judged them before even knowing his name?  I come from a law enforcement family and never feared law enforcement like many of my African American peers but I was still taught the realities that African Americans face during interactions with law enforcement.  The ironic thing is despite instilling African American males with morals and encouraging them to respect the laws of the land you have to tell them that despite following the law they still may be questioned as if they are a common criminal. That seems to put young black men in an awkward place that regardless of their efforts to live a virtuous life they may be treated the same as a criminal by the police and even self appointed neighborhood watch captains.

I look at the Martin case and say based on the facts that we know what could Trayvon have done differently?  How could his parents have prepared him for this type of situation, a young black male walking alone with a hoodie in a gated community?  I am at a loss.  In a statement the Sanford police chief stated that George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon, wished he could change his actions that night and he Trayvon probably would as well. I disagree. Trayvon was walking to the store to pick up a drink for himself and a pack of Skittles for his brother.  He was walking in the neighborhood that housed the home he was visiting.  He like Zimmerman had every right to be there.  Zimmerman admits that he was following Trayvon and also stated Trayvon was looking at him.  Is that not what Trayvon would have been taught by his parents? Always be aware of your surroundings are things my parents told me.  From there Zimmerman states that Trayvon began to run.  Toddlers are taught to run away from danger.  I would imagine that Trayvon thought a man staring at him from a vehicle was a potential threat to him.   Trayvon’s family likely told him how to handle interactions with police officers but it is important to remember that Zimmerman is not a cop and Martin’s response to him should not be judged as if Zimmerman was.

Then we know that an altercation ensued between Trayvon and George Zimmerman.  In a statement from his father, Zimmerman claims that he did not follow Trayvon or approach him but from the 911 tape it is clear that the initial interaction between Zimmerman and Martin was initiated by Zimmerman because HE got out of his car and followed Trayvon Martin.   Think back to what your parents told you to do in these types of situations.  A strange man who is significantly larger and older than you approaches you.  Zimmerman may have asked questions or he may have jumped to trying to physically apprehend Martin because it is clear that he thought he was a cop.  First it was instilled in me to not speak to strangers, or answer questions. In addition my parents told me to scream for help, and finally if all else fails you fight off the stranger.  That is what the evidence, particularly the 911 tapes, tells me that Trayvon did.  Trayvon did exactly what his parents likely told him to do; yet he is no longer here.

So again I say how do we prepare our young black males for the scrutiny that they ultimately will face?  They can approach a situation with all the things their parents taught them and still be murdered and the justice system is unable to pursue charges.  I honestly do not know the answer and that is truly what scares me.   So many young black men could easily be Trayvon Martin.  In addition to charges being brought against George Zimmerman, I hope that this case brings racial profiling to the forefront again, encourages changes in Florida’s self defense laws and even potentially regulations for neighborhood watch vigilantes.

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