Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Post Racial America? Really?

I had every intention to write about something entirely different than this and do so much earlier on Saturday.

But as soon as I got home, about 7:30pm, I learned that a 6-member Florida jury had acquitted George Zimmerman of both second degree murder and a lesser charge of manslaughter for having killed Trayvon Martin in February 2012. I then watched (and participated in) lengthy discussion threads on Facebook where strong emotions and opposing views took center stage for several hours.

There have been and will be many others more eloquent than me to draw out the reasons why this verdict was both inevitable and a serious miscarriage of justice. There may not have been any way for the jury to have decided differently on the very narrow questions of law presented to it about the two individuals (Martin and Zimmerman) in particular. But there was and is a stark and disconcerting mismatch between those legal issues and the underlying questions of who owns or enjoys personal power in American society.

Here's Cord Jefferson, one person of color's take:
Tonight a Florida man’s acquittal for hunting and killing a black teenager who was armed with only a bag of candy serves as a Rorschach test for the American public. For conservatives, it’s a triumph of permissive gun laws and a victory over the liberal media, which had been unfairly rooting for the dead kid all along. For liberals, it's a tragic and glaring example of the gaps that plague our criminal justice system. For people of color, it’s a vivid reminder that we must always be deferential to white people, or face the very real chance of getting killed. (emphasis added)
Is that not really the bottom line?

About two hundred thirty-seven years ago, another Jefferson wrote,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 
Any student of American History knows that ideal was not immediately achieved. It took decades, the dedicated persistence of many Americans, and ultimately the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the Civil War just to bring a legal end to slavery.

Yet, even after abolition of slavery, people of color were denied the rights of citizens of the United States. One hundred years later, oppression persisted in many regions.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was an incredibly flawed human being and a flawed president. There is plenty to criticize about his presidency. But he accomplished some amazing and incredibly important things while in office. Without Johnson's leadership, we would not have had the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Actual practices in American cities and towns did not immediately change when laws changed. In fact, Johnson noted, toward the end of his remarks upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
...This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us, to go to work in our communities and in our states, in our homes and in our hearts to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country. So tonight I urge every public official, every religious leader, every business and professional man, every working man, every housewife; I urge every American to join in this effort to bring justice and hope to all our people and to bring peace to our land. 
My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing. We must not fail. Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great works ordained for this nation by the just and wise God who is the Father of us all.   
Some say that we, in 2013, live in a post-racial America. Only some. I won't delve very deeply into that debate right now. But I will say that a number of clues exist suggesting we are not there yet.

In Maricopa County Arizona, voters have elected and re-elected a race-baiting sheriff six times now. Finally, because of amazing persistence of activists to overcome Arpaio's popular mythology, US District Court Judge G. Murray Snow just two months ago issued findings that the sheriff consistently violated the Constitution with the policing practices and policies on which he built his popularity?

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion striking down Section Four of the Voting Rights Act.

Last night's Zimmerman verdict exposed a nerve, a deep division of opinion in the way Americans look at the world we live in. Marissa Alexander's case, also very recent and also in Florida, provides a stark contrast.

TAMPA -- Marissa Alexander had never been arrested before she fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. Nobody got hurt, but this month a northeast Florida judge was bound by state law to sentence her to 20 years in prison.
Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of a toddler and 11-year-old twins, knew it was coming. She had claimed self-defense, tried to invoke Florida's "stand your ground" law and rejected plea deals that could have gotten her a much shorter sentence. A jury found her guilty as charged: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Because she fired a gun while committing a felony, Florida's mandatory-minimum gun law dictated the 20-year sentence.
Her case in Jacksonville has drawn a fresh round of criticism aimed at mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. The local NAACP chapter and the district's African-American congresswoman say blacks more often are incarcerated for long periods because of overzealous prosecutors and judges bound by the wrong-headed statute. 
The admitted killer of black teenager Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman is acquitted of all criminal charges. Marissa Alexander, a black woman whose "crime" caused NO ONE any physical harm was sentenced to 20 years in prison for protecting herself and her children.

The bottom line right now is that President Johnson's words are as timely today as they were fifty years ago.


By the way, Stand Your Ground and mandatory-minimum sentencing laws both have been pushed -- in EVERY state legislature in the country -- by ALEC, apparently to provide a solid economic foundation for the private prison-industrial complex.

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