Monday, April 2, 2012

We Are Zimmerman

The “difference … between man and other forms of life”
is that man has invented what he calls

“morality’ and ‘reason’ to justify what he is doing. …”

--Patriotic Gore
, Edmund Wilson

If you have the facts, argue the facts;
If you have the law, argue the law;
If you have neither, pound the table really loudly
--old lawyer's adage

The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
that we fail to notice,
there is little we can do to change;
until we notice how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds
--R.D. Laing

War is the spectacular and bloody projection
of our everyday life, is it not?
War is merely an outward expression
of our inward state,
an enlargement of our daily action
--The Causes of War, J. Krishnamurti

The U.S. serves as the neighborhood watchman of the world, proudly and without apology. We figure we are the Good Guys for trying to keep order and teach the heathens a better way. Unfortunately, since they often behave in ways antithetical to our neatly arrayed protocol and are full of tribal enmity and such, they get killed sometimes.

This neighborhood watchism of the U.S. is related to the outsized news coverage of a discrete tragic event which occurred in late February in a small town in Central Florida, a story which has quickly fired up most of the blogosphere.

We are outraged as a nation over the death of a single young black American shot by a supposedly self-appointed "neighborhood watchman." We know nothing beyond this fact, and the loud and persistent calls to bring Zimmerman to justice hinge on the following claims:

  • Trayvon Martin (TM) ™ did not present a mortal threat, therefore the killing was a criminal act
  • TM ™ was just a convenient target for Zimmerman's (Z) fantasy of being an American Super Hero
  • Firearms are too readily used in our society

All of these are clearly articulated presumptions of a civilized society and a liberal democracy -- all life is valuable, to include that of the most heinous criminals and low-life serial killers. The U.S. is a nation of law, and no individual transcends these precepts.

If TM ™ was not a threat to Z or to anyone's life, then his shooting was not justifiable and not in accordance with our societal values. However, into the simplicity of the legality of the issue creeps the fact that we are NOT a post-racial society
, and we are a violent one pretending to be otherwise.

Returning to our neighborhood watchman analogy, If TM ™ was killed illegally, then so too every Afghan, Iraqi and Pakistani whom we killed simply for being Afghan, Iraqi or Pakistani, for we just as assuredly racially-profiled them, too. It's quite simple on that level: We are hypocrites because get morally outraged over one act of supposedly inappropriate violence while supporting a national policy of inappropriate violence.

Yet we project our collective moral outrage and guilt upon Z for his willingness to apply deadly force in what we interpret as an illegal use of violence while we as a nation habitually murder the moral equivalent of
TM ™ every day of the week in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©), and do so without any self-mortification. And without the slightest irony, we figure if we stamp him (Z) out, we can gain some sort of vindication and atone for our transgressions. We love our martyrs, and if that were to happen, we would get a two-fer in the TM ™ saga.

The U.S. was on board with invading Afghanistan and Iraq and 10 years later is still killing people who posed no lethal threat to our national or personal well-being. Yet surely the Iraqis were simply trying to buy some Skittles and iced tea (biscuits and kaffir?) with rags and not hoodies on their heads, and we killed them as frivolously as Z. supposedly did an unarmed young man.

While the Afghanis never entered
the sanctum sanctorum of our protected personal lives -- the sacred gated community -- they did enter the symbolic sanctuary of our sacred financial and business lives when their supposed charges attacked the Twin Towers in 9-11-01. As a result of that violation and intrusion, our taxes and lack of outrage have allowed the U.S. to "go Zimmerman" on tens of thousands of hadjis.

We are all Zimmerman.


  1. I concur.

    Alas the transition from tragedy to statistics undercuts the impact.

  2. Nice post jim.

    This tragic event does bring up many interesting questions. Compare the coverage this story got with the brutal murder of Shaima Alawadi, the Iraqi-American mother of five who was beaten to death in her own home in El Cajon California right about the same time. A note allegedly left behind referred to the victim as a "terrorist". No one has been arrested . . . deafening silence? Who's surprised?

    Also compare the reaction of the Iraqi-American community with the reaction to the killing of TM . . .,0,5491221.story

    Even the way that Zimmerman was described brings up questions: he has been described as being "white" or "half-white", the other "half" being "Hispanic" which isn't a race, but a culture. So is someone from Spain, "white" or "Hispanic" according to our racialist notions? What's the pecking order, since that's what it is all really about . . . Is our current president "half-white" or "half-black"?

    What I think is really driving this is election year politics: get a lot of liberals feeling guilty, get a lot of black folks feeling angry, get the professional ranters like Sharpton out among the crowds . . . Let's all just ignore what's been done over the last four years, which essentially legitimized and expanded what had been done over the previous eight . . . and instead just feel all warm and fuzzy about ourselves for having a black, a half-black, or a half-white president in the White House . . .

    and ignore all those dead Muslims.

  3. Seydlitz,
    When we have movies like Act Of Valor that tell us that there are threats every where, and when we plaster pics of dead people on our magazine covers,that we killed in the name of safety, and when our SecState can say shit like-we came/saw and he died then how can all of this not flow over into weak minds carrying guns?
    We treat our ghettos like they are uw areas, and we protect out gated communities as if they are Ft. Apache.
    Chief doesn't agree with me , but i see budget cuts as a cause of TM &Z type incidents. If we had appropriate community policing then we'd be a little bit better off. This is not the problem in toto but it is a part of the ice burg.

  4. The reason I disagree, jim, is that regardless of how crummy the local LE budget the DA should have seen this for the potential landmine it was; local goofball (apparently this Zimmerman was one of those pestiferous wanna-be lawmen) gets involved in a squirrely shooting with racial overtones, in a Southern state, and the potential perp scoots after a brief Q&A. The possibility of the coppers looking like the LAPD on Rodney King doesn't occur to him/her? What world are they living in?

    But I agree on the similarity of the politics surrounding this stuff. Make the "other" scary, dangerous, and "foreign". Propagandize the hell out of the whole situation. Then when the inevitable happens - somebody, either from honest error, an excess of zeal, basthit crazy, or open hate of the "bad guy" - caps some poor joker just standing around...rather than take a hard look at the things that got you there, try and hide it...then try and blow it off...then try and excuse it.

    And it's gonna work. Hell, a clutch of greedy bastards strip-mining the edge of the country's laws tanked the entire damn economy so they could spend another week in the Hamptons, and what did We the People do?

    So you think there's some magic that's gonna make us care about some dusky natives?

    Not a chance...

  5. Hm, I should be hesitant to comment as an outsider, but having lived in Texas for quite a number of years, including the fateful 2001, I wonder if there is really hypocrisy involved or if one is not really a symptom of the other? Both the Zimmerman incident, the Iraqi invasion and a lot of the incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan could be abstracized to an attitude of "If there is any degree of doubt whatsoever, better they die than I die". And in a way, it could be argued as being driven by the same desire for "quick and dirty/easy" solutions that is behind racial discrimination - the "us vs. them", the quick filing away of people based on a handful of characteristics. It's easy, just as it is easy to settle a question with a pull of the trigger. Don't know if they are a threat? Pull the trigger and the question is answered. Don't know if someone is a good guy or a bad guy? Look at his physiognomy and the case is settled.

    So is it really hypocrisy? Or is it tackling the issue at an individual level? It might be called hypocrisy when compared to the incident in California, but then again, the African-American community has a long history of feeling victimized and a lot of experience speaking out against it. Plus Iraqi-Americans might fear what developments they'd unleash if they protested - after all, who knows how many others all too ready to do the same are out there.

    Jim speaks of the "neatly arranged protocol" - but isn't that the same at the basis of Zimmerman's actions just as much as at the basis of the actions of those publicly lambasting him? Neatly arranged protocols as to how the world is arranged that don't allow for nuances, for degrees and for the fact that from other perspectives, said protocol looks totally nonsensical or even if practical for very specific circumstances a recipe for disaster if applied indescriminately.

    The problem here is not hyprocrisy, in my eyes. The problem is the effort to fit the world both at large and in one's immediate surroundings into "neatly arranged protocols", into foes and enemies, threats and nonthreats, foe and friend, people whose life has value and people who should be glad we allow them to live.

    Now it's a given that there are situations in which such protocols can save your life. At the same time, if it is not such a situation, the point that routinely causes exasperation is people not stating "Sorry, we screwed up" but rather "Well, they should have complied with our protocol". And actually, some of the comments in the TM case are prime examples. Where's the difference between stating TM shouldn't have worn a hooded sweater, knowing fully well that especially in his age and social group, such attire is seen as "cool" and stating that the Afghanis are responsible for their wedding being bombed, given that they shot firearms into the air, while such practice is customary not just in Afghanistan? Where's the difference to suggesting Saddam still has WMDs even though there's not a shred of scientifically tenable evidence, just because he is unwilling to fully acknowledge he has none, in the knowledge that demonstration of weakness is a cultural no-go in the area and might even be seen as an incentive to invasion for Iran?

    In all cases, the problem stems from the expectation that the rest of the world should comply with one's expectations and protocols, whether they are reasonable or not. As such, I see no issue with exasperation over that fact in the TM case - it just should not restrict itself to that. Because the problem that the "failure" of others to comply with one's protocol is really a failure of the protocol, not of the others, is far more widespread. But as long as it is ingrained at the individual level, how the heck to you expect to tackle it on the national one?

  6. Claus-

    Nice comment.

    "In all cases, the problem stems from the expectation that the rest of the world should comply with one's expectations and protocols, whether they are reasonable or not."

    Yes, if I feel threatened, although I'm looking for trouble, I can use lethal force . . . It's all about me. Which follows jim's initial point which was what Bush/Cheney did on a grand scale, Zimmerman did on the individual . . .

  7. As a Floridian, not by choice, and as a retired CPO, I prefer facts. First neighborhood watch is supposed to watch and report. Second, they are to armed only with a radio or cell phone. Third, once they report, leave the area. By not following the protocal, he put himself in danger. End of story.

  8. SSDD is the simplest explanation.

    The sad thing about Zimmerman is that no one foresaw the inherent danger of having an untrained, unscreened, unsupervised quasi-policeman armed with a lethal weapon. He is as much of a victim as perpetrator. Doing an adult job with a child's mentality about it, and without the adult supervision that should have trained, screened and supervised him. Neighborhood "Watch" morphing into an armed neighborhood patrol. Carrying a firearm because, well, he could, because that's what the Constitution lets us do. But the Constitution does not mention the potential irreversible outcome of an intellectually ill equipped bearer of firearms.

    Zimmerman was probably oblivious to what the pistol could do, but simply carried it and fired it because that's what you do with pistols. My contempt for the situation is so great that I cannot credit Zimmerman with any process even approaching "thought".

    Just another mindless segment of the segmented worm known as the American people. We joked about them in 10th grade biology. Never did I imagine that it was a clear prediction of what our society would become. The Zimmerman segment. The Bush segment. The Cheney segment, and so forth. All equally creepy.

    Man, have I become a cynic.

  9. To all,
    Today i came to a epipheny.
    This whole scenario is totally screwed or skewed.
    To wit: usually liberals support the rights of the accused(Z) and conservatives espouse victims rights.(TM).
    This is NOT what we're seeing in this episode .

  10. Al,1:24 pm,
    Your comment is a perfect description of the pwot.

    I'm trying to keep my comments in the war arena. That's my only concern with this goat screw.

  11. "...liberals support the rights of the accused and conservatives espouse victims rights"

    Depends on what you mean by each term.

    In the U.S. "liberal" has come to mean "assumes that the system is biased against the poor/racial minorities/foreigners/etc" - which means, in most cases, the accused. It would fit here if the shooter was a cop instead of a wannabe; the "accused" would be the dead black guy (that's how we roll here in Portland, BTW; you want to commit suicide, be black and reach for your wallet in front of a cop at night. Bang, you're dead).

    "Conservative" has come to mean "supports the power/goodness of the State so long as the people that power and goodness are being used on aren't wealthy and/or white, and "victims rights" as long as the "victims" aren't protesting Big Oil or Wall Street, hippies, commies, uppity nigras, or A-rabs."

    So what we're seeing in this episode is the "liberals" coming at this from the standpoint of "white faux-cop guy shoots black kid = we hate that" and the "conservatives" coming at this from the standpoint of "scary black thug gets what's coming to him = what's wrong with that".

    Meanwhile I come at this from the standpoint "We've got an economy in the toilet with the prospect of a decades-long jobless recovery, we're spending blood and treasure trying to shovel fucking water in central Asia, and one of our two major political parties is about to nominate (for the umpteenth time since Saint Ronald Reagan) a guy who, to please his masses, has to profess belief in ridiculous fantasies, disavow the scientific method, and promise endless imperial wars on foreign tribes until everyone gets a pony, so why the fuck are we spending so much time on this when the Florida State Attorney could simply say to the County DA; "Yo, dumbfuck, grand jury? Heard of it? Get one." and then maybe we'd found out what the fuck happened that night...

    WASF. Seriously. WASF.

  12. The question is, though, whether I can hope to succeed adressing the problem at the national level as long as it is so rampant on the indvidiual. After all, someone elects these folks - and I have sincere doubts that Mahatma Gandhi would find a lot of voters in the US. And that despite the fact that he followed a very simple protocol, and one that in some aspects could even be called Christian. Of course, a lot of the so-called Christians rather read in the Old Testament about the battles of the Israelites rather than studying the Sermon on the Mount - one of the reasons I like to whack these folks over their head with Matthew 5-6
    But things are as they are, and without changes at the grassroots level, I doubt you will get changes at the governmental level. As the saying goes, in a democracy, every people gets the government they deserve....

  13. Chief,
    Forget Romney. He doesn't have a farts chance in a windstorm.
    My concern is the Dems who have also embraced elective aggressive first option war way of viewing the US place in the pantheon of warrior hood.
    Wow , that was a mouthful.
    NEITHER PARTY is operating in reality. Nor governing as a centrist force.
    Neither, and we the citizens are caught in the cross fire.
    Here's a thought Clausewitz- what if America at grass roots is moving to a hip hop culture and the violence we are seeing is a last shot white reaction to this reality?
    That's how i see the conservatives in the US of A.
    They know they are the last gasps of white is right rule in the Homeland.
    That's the uncompromising fault line in our politics,AND IDEOLOGY.

    My theme is -either you are or you aren't.

    And per Clausewitz we do get the govt we deserve,EXCEPT IN THE CASE OF GWB in which the SC shit canned 50 million votes and outvoted the citizenry 5 to 4.In 2000 we got a govt that was criminally INFLICTED on us.Literally.

  14. Clausewitz,
    Let's talk grass roots.
    Look at movies/tv/games and the common denominator is guns and violence. Literature has a big bite in this arena also. So why bust Z's ass?
    That's grass roots America , and we embrace it.
    We're sitting on a fault line and it ain't in California or centered on Yellowstone.

  15. jim:
    That's the uncompromising fault line in our politics,AND IDEOLOGY.

    It's the blind adherence to ideology that has the populace tripping down the path. BELIEVE something and it will take care of itself.

    An acquaintance tells me that America's health care problems would be solved if only the government was totally withdrawn from it. I ask how that would solve it, and he responds, "Because that's the principles the Founding Fathers espoused." I ask him for a citation of any principles of health care from the Founding Fathers, and he replies, "None. They did not support the notion of government involvement in health care, thus they were silent." All we have to do, he offers, is "Return to First Principles" and market forces will deliver healthcare. Government involvement distorts market forces. The "invisible Hand" and "Judeo-Christian Principles" will get the job done. Don't bother with explaining where the money will come from to pay the invoices issued by all those private sector providers that represent the cost of health care. Mathematics have no bearing on ideology.

    Now, apply such idiocy to other issues, and there you have it.

  16. P.S. In all messages back and forth, he either ignores any quantitative data, or responds with ideological generalizations. Never once has he provided a quantitative source. Lots of OpEd articles spouting ideology and generalizations, but the minute I hit him with real and actual numbers from un-biased sources, he changes the subject.

    That is the future (of lack of) of the US of A, and it ain't pretty.

  17. What I take away from this discussion is that what the TM/Z episode and the war in Iraq both indicate is an inability to deal with the limitations and direct consequences of using force/violence. What GWB did with the US military in Iraq, Z did with a pistol in a Florida backyard. The difference is that TM has a constituency to demand justice, whereas the dead and broken Iraqis don't even rise to the level of statistics, since we consciously choose not to acknowledge or even accurately count their losses at all. We have been conditioned to see force/violence as the preferred means of settling disputes . . .

    Ah, the racial angle? While we think in racist terms all the time, race isn't really what separates the have lots from the have nots imo, it's the money and the opportunities to make money, the ability to buy your own justice/influence/"freedom" for instance, that marks the insiders from the outsiders. Playing race cards is a distraction from that basic fact . . . as it was in the past.

  18. To all,
    Concerning racial aspects here in FL(US?)
    At FAMU in Tallahassee we had a hazing death , black students all. NOBODY got very wrapped tight about this death. After all it was just hazing. Some folks were fired/relieved ,but NOBODY was prosecuted for negligent manslaughter. Why the out cry with TM, and not in the Champion episode?
    It's a double standard.
    I guess the intent was not present, but somebody is still dead.
    Both incidents show a lack of thinking things through.

  19. I'll just let Charlie Pierce sum it up:
    "The national outrage over the shooting of Trayvon Martin for the crime of carrying Skittles and iced tea in a neighborhood where George Zimmerman thought he didn't belong is about the abandonment of justice. (It may also be about typical small-town backscratching, which would make it all the worse. A shooting of an unarmed black kid gets treated like it's a local zoning problem to be solved over lunch at the Rotary.) If Zimmerman were in jail, or if he were free on bail awaiting trial, this would have been a one-week story back in February. It might have come back to life when and if a trial was held. But the Sanford cops let the man go without even pretending to investigate. There was a story yesterday that the FBI is going door-to-door in the neighborhood, looking for other witnesses. A kid shot to death, and the shooter in custody, and the local cops didn't even do a canvass? Lt. Anita Van Buren would have had somebody's head on a stick. Yeah, but all the fuss is really about white liberals who hate America."

    Read more:

  20. Well, Jim, itÄs really going on quite some tangents, but let's look at your suggestion. What if America was moving towards a hip hop culture. But what hip hop culture is that? What defines it? Is it the kind of hip hop culture that Jam Master J, Tupac Shakur and others lost their lives to? Heck, Wikipedia has a whole category "Murdered rappers" - and that's just the rappers, not those on the sidelines not falling under Wikipedia's concept of notability. Precisely what is gained if you switch one side for the other? Yes, I know hip hop culture is much, much more than that, but if you're in for the goose, you're in for the gander. There's just as much sense of entitlement and "us vs. them" in hip hop culture than elsewhere.

    Which is why I actually objected to the criticism towards the Occupy movement a while ago accusing them of not having a solution. Totally aside from them having suggestions to a lot of issues, in my eyes even if they didn't, I believe it's better to say "No, I don't have a solution, so let's sit down and talk so we can come up with one". It's quick judgements based on cliché, prejudice and superficial appearances that causes one mess after the other after all.

    As for US conservatives - and I dump Libertarians and Republicans into one pot here, because for all differences, in my eyes they have a common problem - let me tell you how I see them as a foreigner: When I talked to a Libertarian on an online forum a while ago, telling him "Dude, this isn't the Old West anymore", he replied "Yeah, but would that it be!". Both groups are mired stuck in the 19th century, just different aspects of it: One in their home on the range, out on the frontier where the government is far away. The other in their industrial revolution palaces, possessed of all the bluster of manifest destiny, White Man's Burden and American exceptionalism as well as railing at the unreasonable demands of the unruly bluecollar mob which dares expect health and safety standards as well as decent pay. If it wouldn't have been so sad, it would have been hilarious hearing Rumsfeld talk about "Old Europe", when he himself was trying to get away with his own little Ems dispatch by misrepresenting the WMD situation in Iraq. The difference being: Bismarck had a clear political goal and once he achieved it worked towards stabilization, going so far as quitting when that was no longer possible. For Donnie, the word "enough" isn't part of his vocabulary. Incidentally, it was also Bismarck who introduced health insurance and social security in Germany - and it's difficult to be more conservative than the Iron Chancellor. He DID have solid values and he DID trigger wars to push his ideals down other people's throat, but once he achieved them, he settled down, and more importantly, he didn't sell his values to the highest bidder...

  21. bread and circus

    TM/Z and SSgt Bales [and our continued adventure in Afghanistan] are all part of the circus to keep our minds off of the country being raped and looted. Pretty soon it will be all circus and no bread.

    Having said that - and regardless of race or political outlook - I wonder if it is true as alleged that Z had in the past assaulted a police officer? Or was it interfering with a police officer during a nightclub fracas? If so then why in the sam hill did FLA give him a concealed carry permit or any permit at all? In my book he appears to be a wanna-be cop who could not hack it and with a chip on his shoulder as mentioned above by FDChief.

    Am I reading Florida stand-your-ground statute correctly?

    It seems to make Z immune from prosecution and civil action and even forbids the police from arresting him unless there was probable cause or the use of force was unlawful. And without other witnesses at the time there appears to have been no probable cause and no hint that Z was the aggressor. So the FLA legislature is at fault imho and not the Sanford PD. Only later after TM's parents started looking into the killing, the 911 tapes, and the call to the girlfriend suggest that perhaps Z could possibly have been the aggressor. I myself think the law is flawed and should be rewritten. Most states have a 'duty-to-retreat' clause written into their self defense laws. Which btw does not mean you have to turn around and run like a rabbit in a fight, just tone down your own anger and reasonably try to talk your way out of it. We as a culture put too much emphasis on fight or flight. There is a third way especially if your perceived opponent is a 14-year old.

    But I have to say that Jim does have a point regarding the double standard. If TM was the white/hispanic and Z was the black, then this would have been on page 12 below the fold and never been on tv except perhaps one local station. Except then of course then the black Z would have been arrested - but nowhere near the wolfpack publicity. Or even more so if they were both black there would probably be zero publicity.

  22. To all,
    Let's take this incident(TM&Z) and balance it with another fl. crime. That is the stealing of an election in fl. in 2000.
    That was a monumental crime , but TM/Z got more play time than did a national event that was so significant that we all pretended that democracy did not die that day. This transcends TM's death. Our existence doesn't hinge on TM's death, but did on the election fiasco.
    We have a strange sense of reality in present day America.

  23. Clauswitz: It's quick judgements based on cliché, prejudice and superficial appearances that causes one mess after the other after all.

    But life is so much simpler if freed from the burden of thought, fact, and analysis. Where coincidence and correlation suffices over causation. Where "I told you so", serves as a thorough explanation.

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