Florida: race, murder, self-defense

“The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.”

After George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin death in Florida, the New York Daily News did a piece When will it end? Deadly racial targeting of black men and teens is hardly ancient history.

So I find it difficult to look at the case as a singular event but in the context of a social pattern. Black-on-black murder doesn’t make headlines, unless it hits an epic proportion, as it has in Chicago recently. Black-on-white murders statistically draw tougher sentences. So there is always uneasiness when a white-on-black killing takes place.

In the “good old days”, there were often no consequences, and in these days, laws such as Stand Your Ground can justify the same result.

Jelani Cobb has covered the Zimmerman trial for the New Yorker. Her stories are all worth reading. George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves has some quotable pieces.
“The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.”
“Yet the problem is not that this case marks a low point in this country’s racial history—it’s that, after two centuries of common history, we’re still obligated to chart high points and low ones. To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship… That [Trayvon’s shooting] occurred in a country that elected and reëlected a black President doesn’t diminish the despair this verdict inspires, it intensifies it.”
*”Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but it is certainly prone to extended paraphrases. Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away.”

Of course, the case may have hinged on the judge’s jury instruction, which was appallingly incomplete.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the review of the newly-released movie Fruitvale Station,- the true story of Oscar Julius Grant III, a young black man unjustly killed in California in 2009, notes how that story echoes the Martin case. “The film’s portrayal of a young black man as a complex human being– [not that] you’re either a thug or a saint, good or bad, black or white (sometimes literally), with no shades of grey between…. [T]he eagerness with which the pro-Zimmerman faction of the populace and media leapt breathlessly upon any scrap of negative information about his 17-year-old victim–he smoked pot! He talked like a thug on Twitter! He flipped off the camera in pictures! He may have stolen jewelry!… But even if every vile posthumous rumor that attached itself to Martin was true, even if he was a pot-dealing, thugged-out thief, what then? Is tweeting like Tupac a death-penalty offense?” Supporters of Trayvon have suggested he was a good son, someone who did well in school, who went to church, who did community service; assuming that’s true, that’s fine, but it’s just the “saint” side of the portrayal, and, for me, doesn’t materially affect the tragedy of the situation.

Another Florida case in which Stand Your Ground may be invoked is the first-degree murder case in which Michael Dunn, who is white, is charged with shooting into a car, killing 17-year old Jordan Davis, who was black, after an argument over loud music. (Sidebar: someone on Facebook complained about a person mentioning this case on FB, because the original story came out back in November 2012, as though it were old news, or resolved. Just this month, 2nd judge leaves the Michael Dunn/Jordan Davis case.)

Meanwhile, I came across this bizarre story from May 2013: Fla. mom gets 20 years for firing warning shots. “Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville had said the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law should apply to her because she was defending herself against her allegedly abusive husband when she fired warning shots inside her home in August 2010. She told police it was to escape a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had already taken out a protective order.” One is left wondering if she had instead killed her husband, she would be walking the streets, or whether her race (she’s black) or gender would have played into the case.
Related: this week is the 150th anniversary of the New York City Draft Riots. “With the ludicrous Newt Gingrich (who claims to be a historian) insisting the peaceful Trayvon Martin protesters were ‘prepared to be a lynch mob,’ it’s worth remembering that devastating eruption of white mob violence 150 years earlier when at least 11 black men were actually lynched.”

Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers Assaulted on Stage Dedicating Set to Trayvon Martin, with link to “Time has Come Today.”

Kids Who Die by Langston Hughes.

Talking with myself

Covertly? The Wife will tell you that when I’m composing a blog post, my talking to myself is QUITE evident.

Chris Honeycutt – wish you were still blogging, Chris – wrote to me, “Totally thought of you on this“:

“If you’re reading this sentence, chances are you’re reading it silently…”


“Your lips aren’t moving, you’re not making any sound that other people can hear. But are you making ‘sound’ in your head?”


“Many people who read silently do so by imagining a voice speaking the words they are reading (and often, it’s your own voice, so there’s even a specific ‘tone’. I wonder if this is what makes people react so strongly to some blog posts).”

Interesting. I usually DO read, hearing my own voice. It’s especially true when I write this blog; I try to have it sound like me talking to you; sometimes I read back what I’ve written and I’ve totally nailed it; other times, not so much. Hey. what do you want from a free daily blog?

“This could be because when we learn to read, we associate symbols with verbal sounds until the association is effortless.”

It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who loves the sound of his own voice, especially when I’m reading back my own words.

Chris thought the funniest line was: “The authors also comment that few would contest that most of our waking time is spent talking to ourselves covertly.”

Covertly? The Wife will tell you that when I’m composing a blog post, my talking to myself is QUITE evident. It’s especially true when I have an idea for a piece but lack either pen and paper or a word processor.

I was thinking of this because I read some Langston Hughes poems last week at First Friday in Albany. Someone asked if I had practiced reading them at home. No, all my practice was “in my head,” often on the bus. The ones marked # I read. The others were sung by baritone Christopher L. Trombley, accompanied by Todd Sisley on piano. (Pictured, clockwise from top left: Chris; Roger; Gloria Wood, who was displaying quilted wall hangings; and Todd.)

In Time of Silver Rain – Jean Berger 1909–2002)
#The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Death of an Old Seaman – Cecil Cohen (1894–1967)
#The Weary Blues
Genius Child – Robert Owens (b. 1925)
#My People
#I, Too
Lonely People – Jean Berger
#Let America Be America Again
Shake Your Brown Feet, Honey – John Alden Carpenter (1876–1951)
#Montage of a Dream Deferred: Harlem; The Ballad of the Landlord
Litany – John Musto (b.1954)
#I Dream a World
#Wisdom and War
Carolina Cabin – Jean Berger
Talking with others:
Take a Seat – Make a Friend?

Second photo by Ray Hendrickson, stolen from his Facebook page.

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Hughes was one of the first black authors, who could support himself by his writings.

Today would have been the 110th birthday of James Mercer Langston Hughes, “an American poet, novelist, playwright, and columnist.” When he died on May 22, 1967, I wasn’t that familiar with his work, but I knew that someone important had passed. He was born into abolitionist stock, had both black and white critics, but eventually became a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

Here’s the text of Let America Be America Again, which starts:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

Here’s a reading of the poem.
From Bizarro Books the GOP Reads (that’s print title Newsweek used), Paul Begala wrote: “Poor Rick Santorum has struggled with literature as well, taking his initial campaign slogan, “Let America Be America Again,” from Langston Hughes. But he later disavowed it after learning that the African-American poet was pro-union and reportedly gay. Should have Googled it, Rick.”

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