Posted 12/20/2019 13:16:38
Category: Think Pieces
Before the verdict in America's most recent famous trial, my plan had been to write about dogs this month. Now, though, I find myself pondering systems of law, journalism, and justice which, with apologies to canines everywhere, appear to be going to the dogs. I cannot let this month pass without acknowledging the most tragic thing that happened in it, an injustice so outrageous it stops my ability to think.
Much has been made in news and social media about the case of State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. I imagine (hope) it will be a conversation that goes on for a very long time. In response to boycotts and other expressions of disappointment/outrage over the jury's verdict by those who'd hoped for a conviction, some, pleased with Zimmerman's acquittal, have posted, shared, tweeted and cited memes and court cases in which blacks were charged with committing violent crimes against whites, the implication being, apparently, that if the trial did have anything to do with race, what about all the examples of racism in reverse? But there are so many holes in that argument that I am rendered incapable of seeing how anyone other than someone lacking scruples, or a very ignorant person, could tell, or believe, such lies. Black defendants who’ve killed whites being held as examples of reasons why Zimmerman got a fair trial? What kind of vigilante justice is that? You can be sure that the black defendants didn’t walk free, like Zimmerman did. You can probably bet money that each of them, unlike Zimmerman, were convicted as charged and received long sentences.
The simple fact of the matter is that anyone with even a reptile’s capacity for empathy and awareness should be able to understand that in this country, black people live with the constant hum in the background of fear for the safety of their young men.
Generally, people who are "pro" Zimmerman” are also "pro" gun. With the philosophy of Stand Your Ground staunchly in their minds, they gloss over the indisputable fact that an innocent, unarmed, 17-year-old boy was stalked, pursued and ultimately killed for merely looking, in someone else’s mind, “suspicious.” The mean-spiritedness which has been directed at those who stood their ground for Trayvon sickens me. Why is it that such harsh lines have been drawn? Have people forgotten that two parents--who, by the way, showed super-human grace and dignity during the trial--tragically lost a child? Their son may have been guilty of things a lot of teenagers are often guilty of, but certainly not a crime punishable by death.
At the end of it all, the Zimmerman trial seems, to me, just another indicator of an archaic and broken criminal justice system in much need of reform. Maybe, as has happened in other criminal trials in recent history, a kind of justice will be sought, and delivered, in civil court. It will be interesting to see. These days I find myself wondering if punishment should be the focus of criminal trials at all anymore, but rather, healing. I find myself wishing I knew how to start meaningful dialogue about these things. Surely there is much to be explored about the fact that Americans make up just 5% of the world’s population but incarcerate 25% of its prisoners—and that over 50% of that 25% are black.
Black, brown, or white, the overwhelming majority of people in prison come from poverty. Who but the most ignorant and racist among us would claim that these statistics are so because people of color and people who live in poverty are more criminal in nature than any other demographic or ethnic group--any more criminal in nature than, say, affluent white people?
We need to make ourselves aware of the disconnects, the tangled knots, and reconnect them, smooth them out. Look who we allowed to be killed. An angelic boy. Sure, he probably had a little bit of devil in him too. Just like we all do. If we do not soon exchange fear, anger and judgment for compassion, fairness and reason, in an earnest search for common ground, as well as common good, my fear is that America, home of the free and the brave, the self-proclaimed leader of the world, greatest nation on the planet, might suffer not just a nervous breakdown, but a full-blown psychotic episode.
As an offering of comfort, may I still mention the dogs? Dog energy can be so soothing to humans; it's a wonderful balm for human pain. This month, my two grand-dogs stayed with me while their human parents, my son and his wife, spent time getting acquainted with the newest "pup" in the family, a baby girl. I'm afraid I have turned, overnight, from a reasonably mild-mannered woman into a shamelessly doting grandmother who finds it hard to resist going on and on about a baby who has completely enchanted her and captured her heart. But I'll spare you that, and talk instead about a big black Lab and a little French bulldog mix who, for three weeks, enchanted me as well.
So the Lab is all wagging tail, just as gangly and long-limbed as an adolescent child. He's a bit neurotic. The little bulldog mix is scrappy and wise, a matter-of-fact fellow, candid and unabashed. While the Lab is all legs and lean, hard muscle, from some angles the bulldog looks like a miniature hippopotamus, or a piglet. No matter which way you look at him, though, he’s darn cute. Both dogs are alert and curious. What mixture of devotion and neediness caused them to curl up by the door when I was in the shower, or at my feet when I sat at my desk? Do they have fun following me around all day? Is this what it feels like to be (forgive the pun) hounded by the paparazzi?
Keeping up with the dogs' exercise requirements caused me to reap the benefits of exercise myself. The big one loves to swim. He clears a lot of feet when he springs off the bank of the pond and swims to retrieve toys. For three weeks, dog hair was everywhere. Soggy chew toys left wet spots on rugs. But the delight of watching the bulldog mix amuse himself at the edge of the pond by slapping water and trying to eat the splashes, and witnessing the strength and athleticism of the Lab as he ran and leapt and swam, made the inconvenience worth it.
We've had autumn-like temperatures at the end of the month. Two days ago I stood on the dock at dawn and watched mist billow across the pond, rising in swirling plumes toward the sun. Later that same day I got to hold a baby owl. My neighbor discovered it on the dam and showed it to me. I cradled its small head in my hand and stroked its tiny yet already formidable claws. Unfortunately, the owl was dead. Something had broken its neck and wing. My neighbor pulled two feathers from the owl's wing and gave them to me. I continue to be drawn to them. Sometimes I hold the quills between my fingers as I contemplate the brown and white striations, the orange rim; as I grieve the loss of such a young life.
NOTE: Trayvon's parents, Saybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, have established theTrayvon Martin Foundation, a not-for-profit organization whose "purpose is to create awareness of how violent crime impacts the families of the victims…. The scope of the Foundation’s mission is to…increase public awareness of all forms of racial, ethnic and gender profiling, educate youth on conflict resolution techniques, and to reduce the incidences where confrontations between strangers turn deadly." Goals of the organization include the development of relationship, the transformation of young minorities from targets to agents of change, and instilling in people the ability to hear the hearts of others instead of always laying blame and making judgments about people they’ve never met.