Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Exorcist

I was waiting to gather my older daughter and a friend from a One Direction concert last night, idly flipping through Facebook on my phone when I saw the news: George Zimmerman was found not guilty. I happened to be standing next to an African-American man at the time. I must have said something because he looked over at me and asked me what was wrong (he and I had chatted briefly about kids these days and how happy we were our children had the chance to go to a show like this). I hesitated for a moment, then told him. At that moment I wanted to be anywhere else, be anyone else. Emotions passed over his face so quickly it was impossible to say what they were, or even if they were. Then he sighed, shook his head, and said, "It's OK."

I didn't ask and there was an uncomfortable silence for a couple minutes afterward, but his statement had to be directed to me. The fact is, it is not OK. It will not be OK. Charlie Pierce, as usual, is most eloquent on how and why it is not now and will not be OK.
Some night very soon, if he so chooses, George Zimmerman can load his piece, tuck it into the back of his pants, climb into his SUV, and drive around Sanford, Florida looking for assholes and fucking punks who are walking through neighborhoods where he, George Zimmerman, defender of law and order, doesn't think they belong. He can drive around Sanford, Florida and check out anyone who is dressed in such a manner as might frighten the average citizen who has been fed a daily diet of "Scary Black Kids" by their local news and by their favorite radio personalities, and who is dressed in such a manner as might seem inappropriate to their surroundings as determined by George Zimmerman, crimebuster. He can drive around Sanford, Florida until he spots an asshole or a fucking punk and then he can get out of his SUV, his piece tucked into the back of his pants, and he can stalk the asshole or the fucking punk, the one who is in the wrong neighborhood, or who is dressed inappropriately, at least according to George Zimmerman, protector of peace. If the asshole, or the fucking punk, turns around and objects to being stalked -- or, worse, if the asshole, or the fucking punk, decides physically to confront the person stalking him -- then George Zimmerman can whip out the piece from the back of his pants and shoot the asshole, or the fucking punk, dead right there on the spot. This can happen tonight. That is now possible. Hunting licenses are now available and it's open season on assholes, fucking punks, and kids who wear hoodies at night in neighborhoods where they do not belong, at least according to George Zimmerman, defender of law and order, crimebuster, and protector of the peace, because that is what American society has told George Zimmerman, and all the rest of us, is the just outcome of what happened on one dark and rainy night in February of 2012.

We should be able to do better than this. But we can't. Some people, some lives, just aren't as valuable. At a time when crime has become far less common than a decade ago, and rare compared to a quarter-century ago, there is still this lingering fear that none of that is true. We still live in fear of the All-American Bogeyman - the young black man.  Where he is, how he's dressed, these are always changing because at the end of the day it comes down to the same monster stalking our national dreams.  Perhaps it was to much to ask of those six women on the jury, to let George Zimmerman and America know there are no such things as monsters.  Perhaps it was asking too much of these six women not to hear "black youth" and "hoodie" and "crime wave" and not see in George Zimmerman someone who acted as any of them would, as any of us would.

We are a nation that lives in fear of monsters.  Even as the reasons for that fear shrink with each passing day and year, we seem to want monsters to be out there to justify the fear we continue to feel.  To some of us, at least, George Zimmerman demonstrated a recklessness that should have led to his conviction.  To the six people on that jury, the only ones whose opinion mattered, it was far better that George Zimmerman be told he committed no crime.  Exorcising monsters, after all, is an honored profession.

Virtual Tin Cup

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