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Monday, July 15, 2013

ZIMMERMAN VERDICT REVEALS
AMERICA’S RACIAL CHASM

Justice—as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, it is:

1. The quality of being just; fairness.

2.         a. The principle of moral rightness; decency.

b. Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness.

3.         a. The attainment of what is just, especially that which is fair, moral, right, merited, or in accordance with law.

b. Law The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law.

c. The administration, system, methods, or procedures of law.

4. Conformity to truth, fact, or sound reason.

On Saturday, July 13, 2013, a jury of six people delivered the verdict of ‘not guilty’ concerning the trial of George Zimmerman, who was charged with 2nd degree murder regarding the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.  State prosecutors had successfully given jurors an additional optional verdict, one of manslaughter, but jurors decided that Zimmerman was not criminally culpable for shooting the teenager.
“All of us are endangered, damn!” - Chuck D, “Tales from the Darkside”
The basis sketch of the case concerns this:  On February 26, 2012, the then-28-year-old Zimmerman, a resident of Sanford, Florida, and the son of a retired judge, spotted Martin walking home on the night of their confrontation.  Zimmerman, a self-described neighborhood watch volunteer with a concealed pistol license, called 911 and proceeded to rant about alleged criminals in the neighborhood.  He was advised by police not to follow Martin, but did so anyway, apparently at one point leaving his car to pursue Martin on foot.  Martin was unarmed, only having a canned beverage and a packet of candy on his person.  The specifics of the fight that progressed were in dispute during the trial, including the source of a voice on a phone call that Martin made to classmate Rachel Jeantel as he was being followed by Zimmerman.  Ultimately, Martin died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
“They shot down one, they shot down two, now tell me what the $&@# am I supposed to do?”  Boogie Down Productions, “Love’s Gonna Getcha”
Initially, Sanford police did not charge Zimmerman with a crime, simply sending him home after a brief interview at police headquarters.  The subsequent explosion of public attention brought to the case, including local demonstrations in and around Sanford prompted a special prosecutor to be appointed by Florida’s governor—months later, the investigation resulted in charges of 2nd degree murder for Zimmerman.
Racial conflict was at the forefront of this case from the beginning.  The shooting victim Martin was black; Zimmerman identifies as Hispanic via his mother, who is reportedly of Cuban background.  Also at issue was the so called Stand Your Ground law, which exists in Florida and dozens of other states.  Effectively, the law—an extrapolation of the Castle Doctrine—says that any person who is under attack, anywhere, is at liberty to use lethal force against his or her aggressor.
“Your honor may it please the court, swear me in on a book full of 2Pac quotes..” Street Sweeper Social Club, “Fight! Smash! Win!”
In court, state prosecutors deemphasized any racial context to their portrayal of Zimmerman’s behavior.  Prosecutors said that Zimmerman profiled Martin, but not racially.  As the trial progressed for four weeks, numerous witnesses were called to the stand, including residents of the gated community where the incident occurred and Martin’s friend Jeantel.
The defense team “highlighted” its assertion that Martin was the aggressor in his confrontation with Zimmerman by pointing out Martin’s previous brushes with mischief:  a school suspension for Marijuana residue being discovered in his book bag; a school investigation into stolen jewelry that resulted in neither suspension nor criminal charges; most spuriously, separate photographs of Martin wearing a hooded sweatshirt and smiling with a gold-plated “grill” mouth insert.
After the prosecution and defense both concluded their cases, the jury was sent to deliberation on July 12, delivering its verdict the following evening.
“They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror but what it really did was let the police terrorize whoever…”  Killer Mike, “Reagan”
The ‘not guilty’ verdict spawned protests in several American cities, including New York City, San Francisco, and Atlanta.  Thus far, the public demonstrations have been largely without violent incident.
Zimmerman, legally, is a free man.  Some observers, especially on social media, have expressed the idea that he will be a pariah for the rest of his life—fairly or unfairly.  As of this week, the U.S. Justice Department confirmed that it have reactivated an investigation into whether Zimmerman violated Martin’s civil rights by accosting him on the night of February 26.
“It's just I'm getting heated by the way things is, who says racism ain't the same biz?” King AdRock, “Kickin’ Wicked Rhymes”
Considering the Zimmerman supporters who are now lauding him, his defense team, and even possibly the jurors to a certain conservative-culture superhero status, one suspects that their economic future may be more prosperous than not.  Given what often transpires in the aftermath of such high-profile court cases, several among them may soon become published authors and paid lecturers.  In the case of Zimmerman himself, his acquittal means he can bypass any sort of restrictions like the 'Son of Sam' law that prevents convicts from profiting off any sort of subsequent business deals related to their crime.  Double jeopardy status is also in effect, so he cannot be tried again for the same charge.
The Martin family, who established a nonprofit foundation in Trayvon’s name, have vowed to advocate for the repeal of Stand Your Ground law.  They are also exploring the possibility of a civil suit, according to Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump.
Justice, despite the dictionary definition, is a severely subjective concept.  It is an abstraction, yet rooted in the deep structures of any given culture.  In a country like the United States, its multicultural masses of varying ethnicities, economic strata and career conditions make for what can be wildly divergent interpretations on what justice—legal, moral and ethical—can or should be.
“Your laws are minimal… ‘cause you won’t even think about looking at the real criminal.”  KRS-One, “Sound of da Police”
Justice does not exist until laws like “Stand Your Ground” are declared unconstitutional and voided.  In essence, these laws (which often find their origins in the lobbying by well-funded policy think-tank organizations like The American Legislative Exchange Council) have enabled people to effectively kill others unprovoked, and provided that the incident occurs in isolation, the surviving party can create any story that fits a convenient narrative.
In the Zimmerman trial, the US justice system failed to protect one of the country's most vulnerable demographics: its children. Post-verdict statements by the defense team and others who support the acquittal seem to be not only celebrating the exoneration of Mr. Zimmerman, but also apparently celebrating the shooting death of this unarmed 17-year-old boy—who is black.  As such, a ghastly, abhorrent ideology being uplifted here, the likes of which is scarcely addressed in the mainstream of the culture, but which is frequently discussed in black households:  the idea that African American life is considered by the majority culture to be cheap and unworthy of mourning, and that black males in particular are assumed to be of a criminal class by their very existence, even as early as childhood.
“…But I suppose the color of my clothes match the color of my face as they wonder what’s under my waist..” - Chuck D, “Tales from the Darkside”
‘Sundown towns’ are an almost forgotten part of American history.  These were cities—statistically, largely in the North and the West— and to be clear, many of them still exist—where African Americans were openly told that they were not welcome except as daytime laborers or servants.  To be seen “after sundown” was to be met with arrest, assault, or, yes, murder.  The Sanford police department’s already reportedly strained relationship with African Americans is perhaps now irrevocably conflated with sundown town policy.  Ironically, the new chief, replacing the fired former chief Bill Lee, is Cecil Smith, who is black.
“Is it because I was caught in production, when a young black life means nothin’?”  Ice Cube, “The Product”
The jury’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial reinforced the loathsome narrative that African Americans—especially if they are seen in a neighborhood where they are not the dominant ethnicity—by default are to be feared, surveilled, provoked at will, and if so desired, killed with impunity.  Justice does simply not exist until cultural narratives like the one Zimmerman’s defense team promoted, and the jury to all appearances accepted—that Martin was a vicious hoodlum on a rampage with intent to commit mayhem— are also voided in the hearts and the minds of Americans writ large.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CARD'S ON THE TABLE

DC Comics is being targeted by an online campaign for the publisher to drop one of its writers.  DC, one of the publishing arms of Time-Warner, Inc., owns the Superman character and has recently hired science fiction author Orson Scott Card to write a series of Superman stories, "Adventures of Superman" for its digital-exclusive publishing endeavors.

Card, who has dozens of novels, short stories, stage plays and non-fiction works to his credit, is perhaps best known for his Ender's Game series of novels and short stories, the eponymous first of which is currently being adapted into a feature film by Summit Entertainment.  He is also known for his conservative social activism:  Card is a board member for the National Organization for Marriage (which formally campaigns against gay marriage policy in the U.S.), and he has reportedly written a number of essays sharply criticizing gay marriage and other LGBT rights issues.

Some in the comic book fan community (notably, a recent editorial published on ComicBookResources.com) are calling out Card as a bigot and suggest that DC cancel Card's contract, citing in part the Superman character's lean toward social tolerance (a famous Adventures of Superman radio serial was produced in the 1950s pitting the character against the Ku Klux Klan).  To this end, an online petition has surfaced directed toward DC comics calling for Card's ouster.  Some are even calling for a boycott of DC Comics should the publisher continue its relationship with Card.  Still others have cited freedom of speech issues, and that Card's political views should not be a determinant on being able to write Superman stories.

Apropos of nothing, while perusing biographical informatoin on Mr. Card, it seems that he is of the Mormon faith (reportedly a direct descendant of LDS founder Brigham Young)– which is his business, of course. But I think it’s important to look into the backgrounds of various authors before people consider themselves “shocked” that he or she might have certain social views that the observer may disagree with.

As a communications graduate, this author can't help but to notice that this unfolding situation actually presents an interesting challenge (of sorts) from a public relations standpoint. Many comic book fans wish that they could work for DC or Marvel. So if you were working for DC in their PR department, and you were tasked with handling this should the press come calling (comic-industry press, fan websites, mainstream news outlets), then how would you handle this? Bear in mind, whatever your personal take is on Mr. Card or his political views, this is about servicing the client (DC Comics). Your bosses say “we’re publishing the series as is, uninterrupted. Handle this.” Okay, now what?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

DEATH BEFORE DISARMAMENT:
America's Reluctance to Confront Gun Legislation

“Just throw your guns in the air, and buck-buck like you just don’t care!” Onyx, “Throw Ya Gunz”, 1993
In Chicago, teenager Hadiya Pendleton, who performed at President Obama’s second inauguration was murdered this week by gunfire. In Detroit, nearly 400 gun-related criminal homicides were recorded in 2012. In Phoenix, an office-building confrontation has, as of this writing, left one person dead and two injured by gunfire. The gunman is currently at large, and in the meanwhile, U.S. Congress is poised to debate new, nationwide gun policy. Dismally—and perhaps predictably—despite President Obama’s signing of 23 executive orders directly aimed at gun policy, the prospect of comprehensive gun control legislation is widely speculated to fall apart before it even begins.

It is abhorrent that intellectual dishonesty tends to dominate of the hand-wringing that goes on with both elected officials in this country as well as much of the general public about evolving our national gun policy into something that’s much more progressive and practical than the hodgepodge of state-by-state statutes that exist now.
Much of the dishonesty is coming from public officials. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has yet to definitively say what specific measures—if any—he supports regarding new gun policy, including revisiting a ban on assault rifles. Incidentally, Reid routinely receives a ‘B’ rating by the National Rifle Association’s assessment of sympathetic legislators. He has never being officially endorsed by the NRA, though it has been documented that he has accepted campaign donations from them. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has similarly demurred on saying what he and the Republican House members are willing to embrace on gun policy.

“I take seven (kids) from (Columbine), stand ' em all in line, Add an AK-47, a revolver, a nine, a Mack-11 and it oughta solve the problem of mine, and that's a whole school of bullies shot up all at one time...” Eminem, “I’m Back”, 2000.

In fairness, however, the dishonesty goes well beyond public officials, and lay squarely with the public in general. For sure, guns are virtually deified in the national mythology shared by many Americans. The Puritan expatriates who originally founded Plymouth Colony; the rebel forces of the original 13 colonies fighting against the British; the pioneers of Western expansion; the “bombs bursting in air” of our national anthem. Indeed, when one takes into account the war campaigns against Native Americans and the forced enslavement of Africans, the gun was perhaps the most potent instrument—not the shovel, the scythe, the saw, the hammer, or even the mighty pen—to be used in the founding of the country and enforcement of its worldview. Then again, this last point isn’t likely to be uplifted in the average Independence Day speech.

“When I pop the trunk, hit the deck, John Wayne couldn’t even stand the reign of the Tec…”  Beatnuts, “Rein of the Tec”, 1993
Hearing gunfire going on just outside your house means one thing if you live in a rural town or outer-rim suburbia, and the source of the action is Dad or Grandpa (or nowadays, even Mom) teaching Junior how to take out tin cans at a distance with the Winchester (and it certainly helps if your ‘back yard’ is at least a few acres in diameter). Hearing gunfire means something else altogether if you live in an urban neighborhood and the source of the action is one or more knuckleheads with a beef (whether real or imagined) whose first, second and last means of conflict resolution is to shoot and kill the offender—and woe to anyone who stands within the bullet’s travel radius, intended target or no.

“Rat-tat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat like that (what?), never hesitate to put a ni**a on his back..” “Rat-tat-tat-tat”, Dr. Dre (w. Snoop Dogg), 1992.
There is a spiteful arrogance that informs the attitudes of all those who aren't willing to acknowledge that gun proliferation is a problem at all—or if it is, that only mass-armament is supposedly the only practical solution (essentially the position of NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre). Unfettered escalation of gun manufacturing, gun access—and gun usage—cannot be divorced from being acknowledged as a core component of America’s ongoing gun-related tragedies.

Similarly sinister is the notion that the current conversation about guns should exclusively about mental health. To the degree that mental health is certainly a major issue worthy of consideration this author feels compelled to point out that political conservatives regularly rail against expansion of health care coverage, ongoing grudges against the Affordable Care Act merely being the most obvious of its manifestations. For decades now, governors and state legislators from both major parties have cut funding to publicly-supported mental health facilities. Prevention resources never seem to be a priority, but building more prisons to house the often mentally-ill perpetrators of violent crime doesn’t seem to cause much a stir.
“So what’s the use, go and ban the A-K?  My sh*t wasn’t registered any fu*kin’ way…” Ice Cube, “The Ni**a You Love to Hate”, 1990

Where the premise of self-defense is concerned, pragmatism is also lacking. More often than not, the “…from my cold dead hands” coterie offer only an absolutist position that rejects outright any form of gun-restriction legislation whatsoever, based on the premise that an Orwellian nightmare scenario will immediately begin to take place. Whenever anyone mentions the phrase “gun control”, the immediate kneejerk reaction is to assume that this means banning all firearms in all forms and issuing a nationwide confiscation campaign. Ironically, this stance provides a mutual rallying point for rural and suburban survivalists, neo-Nazis, Tea Partiers, youth gangbangers, organized crime, and Afrocentric militants alike. Curious.
“And who’s behind puttin’ the guns to the young ones; the ones that make ‘em is the ones that take ‘em…
Rugged for no reason, down it’s duck season; I don't want my mama on the street wearing armor…”
Public Enemy, “Give it Up”, 1994.
This week, some honesty was delivered by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Both delivered testimony to a Senate subcommittee speaking of pragmatic but firm gun policies. Giffords was gravely wounded in 2011 by a shooter who also took six lives in an abrupt killing spree outside a grocery store in Tuscon: http://tinyurl.com/bzk9qvo
“I got seven Mac-11s, about eight .38s, nine 9-mills, Mac-10s, the sh*ts never end…” Notorious B.I.G., concert freestyle, circa 1993.

If the let-the-status-quo-be rationale is to prevail, then it should be declared publicly that Americans are willing to give inanimate, death-dealing constructions of metal, plastic and wood more of an inherent right to exist than, well, the humans who reside here.
As of this writing, it has been roughly six weeks since a one-man shooting spree at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut took the lives of 27 people, including 20 children (the gunman, Adam Lanza, had earlier killed his mother and committed suicide as first responders arrived, bumping up the total body count to 28). In 2001, It took 35 days for the Patriot Act to be signed into law after being introduced less than two weeks after the events of the terror attacks of September 11. Shame on America if it cannot enact national gun reform in the aftermath of the latest, albeit staggered out, mass loss of its citizens. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

FIND A SOLUTION

It's a new year, but some old issues unfortunately have tragically come to a head in the past month. In Newtown, Connecticut, a disturbed young man, Adam Lanza, committed a heinous act of seemingly wanton murder, laying siege to an elementary school, killing 26 people on site, and at home, killing his mother Nancy as well, before finally shooting himself dead as police authorities arrived.  President Barack Obama subsequently charged Vice-President Joe Biden to lead a task force that would come up with comprehensive proposals for public policy legislation related to gun access and mental health, to present before the new Congress.
 
This author wrote the following in response to the mass-shooting which grievously wounded Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011.  In full acknowledgment of the horrific human tragedy that unfolded in Newtown and in other recent gun-related violent crimes, it seems appropriate to reiterate the issues therein:
 
Mental Health- The 2010 Health Care Act must be defended against repeal efforts by those in opposition to it. In particular any statutes concerning mental health coverage should be scrutinized and bolstered with amendments. Publicly funded mental health facilities in the United States facing drastic budget cutbacks and outright closings has been a quiet, disturbing trend in the past 15 years. Mental-health coverage in self-purchased or employer-paid health insurance through private firms is often modest, at best, with high-co-pays and deductibles. Lack of mental health access has, in part, reputedly led to a spike in homeless populations, particularly in Southeast Michigan.
 
Gun Control- This ongoing issue in American politics is always contentious and brings out very emotional responses. But if there is going to be any genuine progress in addressing gun proliferation in our country, elected officials must be bold enough to take a stand on enacting new regulations. More stringent background checks are needed to make sure that a person is not of unsound mental health. The trend of self-described collectors owning high-powered weaponry is extremely disturbing. The purchase and ownership of military and paramilitary weaponry by civilians must be analyzed and curbed. The mantra of gun-rights absolutists and lobbyists that any and all firearms are okay for anyone to own should not be allowed to define our culture. If there is anything to be learned from the recent tragedy, it is that disagreement with others, even drastic disagreement, should not be a justification for violent aggression against our neighbors.