Staring it in the eye

Every time I try to start drafting a post about Trayvon Martin, I run up against the impossible reach of the issue.

There’s enough to say about the kid to fill an entire post, about the injustice of what happened to him. But I can’t tease those things out from all the other things: Zimmerman and his history of neighborhood vigilantism; Geraldo Rivera and the bullshit about hoodies; the appalling failure to investigate this crime as it should have been, when it should have been; the Sanford Police Department and their previous failures to deal appropriately with this kind of thing; the Stand Your Ground law in Florida and elsewhere (which I had not heard of before, and which makes my blood run cold); all the way out to parenting black children in this country, or ALEC and its influence on the legislative agenda of many states. It’s some kind of monster out of Lovecraft, with tentacles reaching everywhere — and I don’t mean that metaphor in a trivializing fashion. I look at this, and feel my sanity die a little. Along with my hope for humanity.

It’s too much to take in, let alone talk about coherently.

Especially when my thoughts sweep outward to take in Shaima Alawadi, or the people whose names no one asks about. And skimming through my browser window to find where those tabs had got to, I passed a bunch I’m keeping for a later post, about capitalism and economic inequality and I’m fooling myself if I pretend these things don’t tie together down at the root.

Fred Clark at Slacktivist was talking the other day about how depressing The Wire is, not despite of but because of its brilliance: it shows you how deeply ingrained these issues are in the institutions that make up our society, and how near to impossible change is. I haven’t watched more than maybe half a dozen episodes of the show because I can’t deal with looking that sort of thing in the eye; I need to stay away in order to preserve my belief that we can improve things. But the problem isn’t in the TV show — it’s in the real world. And sometimes you can’t avoid staring it in the eye.

The Sanford Police Department will likely face some consequences. Maybe we’ll get the Stand Your Ground laws struck down in a few places. But hacking out those roots and digging the whole mess out of the soil of our country . . . I don’t know how you do that. Days like this one, I wonder if you can.

0 Responses to “Staring it in the eye”

  1. alecaustin

    Whether these sorts of issues can be incrementally resolved is a hard (and open) question. What always gets me, though, are the people who throw up their hands, declare that reform from within the system is impossible, and that you have to burn the whole thing down and start over. Their intentions may or may not be pure, but that approach almost invariably leads to things like the Great Leap Forward and the Killing Fields – the latter of which was inspired by Pol Pot’s professors in France espousing the idea that the French Revolution led to Napoleon because Robespierre & co. didn’t kill enough people.

    The worst part about this stuff is that most such attempts to have a new broom sweep clean just swap one set of corruption issues for another. The Chinese Communist Party has now essentially replicated the social structure of the Republic of China, except without obvious warlordism, for example. See also: Russia. Plus ├ža change and all that.

  2. akirlu

    While The Wire can be depressing I think if you stick with it there are definite grace notes, moments of beauty and hope, and little steps forward. In the short term, I think it’s the grace notes, both seeing and providing, are what we have to hold on to because rooting out the bigotry and the violence takes time. Over the course of human history, human kind gets progressively ever less violent, less brutal. It’s not a perfectly straight line, but in the aggregate, things keep getting better. On the time scale of individual human lives, it’s not nearly fast enough, but little incremental changes do eventually add up.

    • Marie Brennan

      I will freely grant The Wire has such things; I just know my own tendency as a viewer, which is to become easily depressed by the kind of situation it depicts. I can deal with it in small doses, but a TV show is way too much.

      And you’re right that we’re less violent now than we were a few hundred years ago, let alone further back than that. But it isn’t much comfort to look at the situation and think, well, maybe it will be better two hundred years from now.

      • akirlu

        Oh, I understand, that’s why I say it’s good to focus on the grace notes when you can find them. I don’t have one to offer in these specific instances.

  3. almaeron

    I appreciate your trying to look this one in the eye, as difficult as it is. I’ve been struggling to find coherent words to express myself since a friend made comments almost exactly like Geraldo Rivera’s, and I’ve been hurt and saddened and outraged that a trusted friend could believe in that sort of victim blaming. And trying to be coherent past the outrage and the fear and everything else is very hard to do. But it gives me hope whenever I see anyone I respect posting about this sort of thing. Maybe, together, all of our voices will eventually be enough to really change things, if we can keep at it and not lose all hope for a better world.

  4. teleidoplex

    The infuriating thing is that this is a horrible and mistaken deployment of the Stand Your Ground laws. It goes against both the intent and spirit of those laws, which were developed to offer protection for women in situations of domestic abuse (where they can’t retreat to the safety of their home, because their home is the place of violence), when the women violently stand up to defend themselves. I wish more people would note this when discussing the Stand Your Ground laws. Using it to protect Zimmerman and his actions is disgusting, but the law itself is not.

    • Marie Brennan

      If it’s this easy for a law to be “mistakenly deployed,” then it’s a bad law. It opens the door to vigilante justice; if the shooter claims they “felt threatened,” then it’s on the prosecution to prove they’re lying. How the hell is anybody supposed to do that?

      The rate of justifiable homicides in Florida has more than doubled since the passage of this law. I don’t know how many of them are battered women defending themselves against their abusers, but it certainly isn’t all, because Zimmerman shooting Martin is not the only example of this so far.

      I am all for protecting women against domestic violence. But this is not the way to do it.

  5. la_marquise_de_

    It’s an appalling case: they both are. I hope that, unlike the equally appalling Steven Lawrence case over here, that Trayvon’s family and Shaima’s receive justice soon and fully.

    • Marie Brennan

      I think that in the case of the Martin family, the best we can hope for is societal justice. The deliberate mishandling of the case, and the wording of the law, makes it unlikely anybody will be able to nail Zimmerman for the murder. But possibly there will be bigger changes instead.

Comments are closed.