Posted by Rojas @ 11:54 pm on July 13th 2013

Briefly on Zimmerman

Trials are not elections in which everyone with a two-bit opinion is entitled to a vote. They involve the application of principles of law to complex sets of facts. This is a difficult, time-consuming process. In particularly difficult circumstances such as the trial of George Zimmerman, it literally takes weeks to present the jury with all of the data involved and to make the principles of law involved clear to them. The system operates on the assumption that all of this time and all of this effort is necessary for an informed decision to be made.

If you spent even ten percent of the time that the jury did evaluating the facts of this case and applying the law to them, I will gladly hear your opinion of the verdict. If you spent less than that, I care about your opinion of the verdict to the exact same extent that I care about Bill O’Reilly’s views on climate science. And if you express a view on the verdict without having watched a single minute of the actual trial, I reserve the right to punch you in the throat and call it “standing my ground”.


  1. Additionally: Nancy Grace, SHUT THE FUCK UP. Do not ever say anything ever again.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/13/2013 @ 11:55 pm

  2. Fair enough. Can we have opinions on how Zimmerman’s decision that the black kid is obviously suspicious and a threat may indicate an issue with racial profiling of black teenagers?

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/14/2013 @ 4:22 am

  3. Were you waiting for the trial verdict to develop an opinion on that subject?

    You can feel however you like about whatever you want. The US criminal justice system, however, does not exist for the purpose of punishing people whose mindset you disapprove of.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/14/2013 @ 10:54 am

  4. I’m willing to accept the jury’s verdict; as you say, I wasn’t there, and we trust our juries to reach just verdicts. I’m not asking for punishment for Zimmerman, just because I still have questions. He is legally innocent.
    I do think it’s acceptable to say “Now that this questions has been decided, let’s use it as a jumping-off point for a discussion of how young black males are seen in our culture.”

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/14/2013 @ 5:55 pm

  5. Never mind. I agree with what you said in your original post; let’s leave it at that.

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/14/2013 @ 5:57 pm

  6. I am never sure I know what people think the “discussion” or “dialogue” on an issue of that sort is supposed to consist of. I imagine it goes something like this:

    “Young black males should not be seen as necessarily threatening, and should not be shot.”


    Comment by Rojas — 7/14/2013 @ 6:26 pm

  7. Oh right cause that as as much as any couple of intelligent people could cover in this. There isn’t any room for nuance or deeper analysis of what real disenfranchisement means, or the nature of both official and unofficial profiling, or the the way that the media from both sides covered this (whether it be race baiting on Fox or Hang the child killer immediately on some of the others.) The most we could every say on this is the incredibly simplistic and cant-we-all-be-so-wise two sentence exchange you provided there.

    Comment by Jack — 7/14/2013 @ 9:46 pm

  8. But that’s the thing, Rojas. Not everyone answers “Okay”. I’ve said more-or-less that exact sentence to people, and gotten a variety of responses, some of which were most definitely not “Okay”.

    One of the most common is “But black men commit more crimes; thus, it is reasonable to focus law enforcement on them” (although rarely in those words). That’s a debatable point, with a lot of other sub-points–and it’s a reasonable place to start an interesting discussion.

    If “Okay” were truly the universal response to that proposition (and I have little doubt it would be yours), we wouldn’t need any discussion because young black men would not be treated differently.

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/14/2013 @ 10:09 pm

  9. How about “the glorification of violence in rap music for commercial purposes is a contributing factor to the popular image of black youth”? Do I get to say that, or am I “victim blaming”?

    “Discussions” involve listening. I see a lot of eager talkers and few willing listeners. I am wary of a bait-and-switch.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/15/2013 @ 1:33 am

  10. Call me a willing listener. I’m not very familiar with rap music, but your statement seems likely to be true. Do you see it as a major component in forming that popular image, or a minor one?

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/15/2013 @ 1:54 am

  11. I’m not sure if you meant that as a reply to the previous topic, though. Do you think that glorification of violence in rap music makes people likely to regard young black men in general as a threat? If so, do you think that’s a good reason to so regard them?

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/15/2013 @ 1:56 am

  12. Criminal trials almost always make really lousy proxies for “larger discussions” about “bigger issues”. They can be very good at spurring water cooler discussion of the sort we’re doing right now, but all too often that goes too far into projection and, to Rojas’ point, a lot of people then work themselves into the point of view that the verdict can / will be be an affirmation of their broader stance on those “bigger issues” (or a rejection of them, which they take to mean something akin to “society / the powers that be have rejected that broader stance”). And like I said, criminal trials are just very, very lousy proxies for that sort of stuff.

    And it’s worth railing against for three reasons.

    One, what we’re talking about, just the basic efficacy of it – if you’re trying to make a point of the value of life there are better avenues than how many murder charges you can wring out of Kermit Gosnell.

    Second, there are actual human beings involved – they aren’t just character actors in a kabuki theater of society values – and by leaning on these criminal, technical, and very personal cases we create the “courthouse culture” that can be very, very detrimental to real human lives who have the bad fortune to get wrapped up in cases that seem to be of public interest (say, Duke Lacrosse, white chicks who have been kidnapped for years, the Rutgers kid whose gay roommate killed himself after being filled making out with a dude, whatever). (aside: Nancy Grace may be the single worst person – I mean just a horrible, horrible human being doing disgusting work – I’ve ever seen on television being rewarded for what makes her a horrible person). And of course we’re different orders of sympathetic to that depending on our judgements on how shitty a person the defendant is – say very sympathetic in Terry Schiavo’s case but not much in George Zimmerman – but of course that’s part of the point, we don’t get to make that determination and it’s horrible for everybody involved (Trayvon’s friends on the stands, the families, etc.). It’s one thing to make say a Supreme Court decision or piece of legislation into a battleground, but doing it in a private criminal trial using real Joe Schmoes for that is pretty shitty.

    And finally, waging proxy sociopolitical through criminal courts is crappy most fundamentally because the criminal justice system is designed to work as insulated as possible from that, and generally speaking the more insulated they are they better they work (the most “justice” we get) – the less insulated they are the worse they work and the less “justice” we get. All the people that wanted George Zimmerman (who is, again, a real human being) convicted of murder because it would make a point about racial profiling would do well to remember the days when young black men like Trayvon were tried in criminal cases in the South to make a point about the value of minorities and their standing in society relative to the white man. When criminal cases lose their clinical nature and instead become soapboxes, the political becomes the criminal. It’s one thing to wish for a particular criminal outcome or bend yourself into interpreting a case through a social agenda when you feel the cause is just, just remember that the cause isn’t always up to you.

    The more criminal trials shake off all the psychosocialpolitical

    Comment by Brad — 7/15/2013 @ 9:54 am

  13. Oh and lest anyone think Rojas and I are responding to a straw man.

    Comment by Brad — 7/15/2013 @ 10:13 am

  14. I’ll agree that arguing over the specific merits, problems, people, or outcomes in this case is probably not productive. Assuming that we can be reasonably assured that the justice system itself is fair, your point (and Rojas’s) that the specific merits of a case are best decided (can only be fairly decided) by the judge and jury in that case are well taken

    We don’t need to decide whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent, because other people were given the case and trusted to make that judgment.

    Nevertheless, it is not contested that Zimmerman identified Martin as a threat, and I haven’t heard any plausible reason for that put forward other than him being a young black man in a neighborhood where Zimmerman felt he didn’t belong (please correct me if such a reason has been presented). Zimmerman felt so strongly that he was a threat that he followed him and confronted him with a loaded handgun.

    Why did he regard Martin as such a threat, and one which he personally needed to confront?

    I don’t think we need to base that discussion over whether Zimmerman is guilty of murder, but I don’t see why it can’t be an introduction to consideration of why some people seem to regard men like Martin as inherently more dangerous than other people.

    Rojas, you suggested earlier that I needn’t wait until the Zimmerman case to have an opinion on the perception of black men as dangerous. I agree. But the Zimmerman case may be a useful illustration of the consequences of that perception.

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/15/2013 @ 10:59 am

  15. It’s fine to have conversations like that I think; my main point is investing or projecting those conversations directly into the outcome and proceedings of a criminal trial. Water cooler conversations using the perceived circumstances of a case is fine and natural. Protesting at the court house because you wanted a man to spend the rest of his life in jail to legitimize your larger feelings about racial profiling is different, and more what I think Rojas and I are talking about.

    And actually there are two interesting conversations that I think can spin out here. The first is that which you mentioned. I am against, as you might imagine, racial profiling of any sort (incidentally, let’s not let it pass without mentioning that Bloomberg has been using this case as a springboard to discussing gun control policies he favors while totally ignoring the stop and frisk policies he also favors). But living in West Philly now and Chicago prior, I do also understand social signals – including race, gender, and age – that just create a different gut reaction if you’re being shadowed by say an old white woman versus a young black man. I consider myself a pretty savvy urban dweller at this point, and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said that an important part of living in sketchy neighborhoods or parts of a city wasn’t taking stock of whatever cues you can, and I’d be further lying if I said that the sort of cues we objectively object to – a person’s race, demeanor, dress, all that stuff – are also those that can become most salient walking around by yourself late at night. For the record, young black men are perfectly aware of this too, and do it themselves – I don’t think that kind of behavior is restricted to white people and, in fact, minorities that live in neighborhoods like mine are probably sharper on this than anybody (check out the footnoted aside here for that kind of socially cued “dance” I’m talking about). It’s easy to have principled opinions about treating everybody equally sitting in front of your computer at home during the day – it’s a lot different walking through West Philly on a quiet night and catching in your peripheral vision a few dudes falling in step behind you. You wouldn’t be a human being if you didn’t try to immediately reach for any cues you could to determine the threat level, race among them.

    But there’s an equally and maybe even more interesting conversation that has actually occurred mostly in the black community from this case that fascinates me and I think may actually be more valuable in the long run – the conversation about “The Talk”. Primarily in reference to talks that black parents have with their own children about how to react to situations with police, or more generally about how to de-escelate situations particularly in situations where the other party may have power over your life in that moment in some fashion. That most frequently occurs with law enforcement, although it certainly applies to overzealous proxies (weekend warrior types like Zimmerman, over-paranoid property owners, whatever). And, in some way, maybe there’s a parallel between that and the point I made above about social cues as well. Namely, “right” or “fair” aren’t always the dominant principles in an exchange, even when they should be. You could be righteously justified in any given exchange and also get yourself dead, and you have to recognize that. I think it’s wrong to judge people by the color of their skin – but I damn well know that mine (being a white guy alone) enters into other people’s heads as I’m strolling along 52nd street and I’d be a fool to let some kind of righteous liberalism talk me off taking that into account. Likewise, I think the number 1 problem people who have bad reactions with law enforcement is a believe that being in the right, uh, matters, and reacting with righteous indignation when that fact isn’t recognized. He’s still the one with the gun.

    But, I ramble.

    Comment by Brad — 7/15/2013 @ 11:38 am

  16. Deciding how to react to others based on their behavior, or other cues which might give you a clue as to their intentions, is entirely reasonable. In the incident you describe (walking alone at night in a poor neighborhood and noticing that several young men have started following you), it is entirely reasonable to consider them a potential threat, and to be extra aware.

    Whether their skin color should influence that decision is an interesting question. Rationally, I can’t see any reason why it should. But I look at how I would behave, and I admit that it probably would. What I’m trying to do, in my own life, is question *why* it would make a difference–whether there is any good reason for it, or whether I am reacting based on how I have been told to regard black men, without any actual defensible reason. I’m coming to believe that the images I hold of black men are influencing my behavior in an illegitimate way.

    I know it’s not just me, though. My wife (Latina) receives a lot of hostile reactions at her work and on errands until she speaks. While working retail in her past, she was told to keep an extra close eye on black customers–not “customers whose behavior might indicate that they are likely to steal”, just black customers in general.

    I am also interested in the second point you’ve mentioned, regarding “The Talk”. It is a fascinating area. And I can’t help but notice that I never received it; I have always been able to make the assumption that I would not be pulled over for driving in the wrong neighborhood, and that I don’t need to make any extra effort to be treated respectfully by police.

    It seems to me that the fact that black families feel the need to have “The Talk” is a reason to suspect that there is still systemic racism, but I am open to disagreement on that conclusion.

    Comment by Talarohk — 7/15/2013 @ 12:21 pm

  17. Rojas @9: Sure you can! Just like Ta-Nehisi Coates does, rather frequently! So while your pontificating about violence in rap music and the imagined martyrdom this provides for you, you can also hum a few bars of Johnny Cash “I Killed a Man in Reno Just to Watch Him Die” or ACDC and Hell Bells, or any death metal, or an unending supply of violent and misogynist imagery or concepts in both country and rock music.

    Brad @12: Concur with everything you said… about Nancy Grace.

    Brad @ tldr… I will just assume it was reasonable.

    Comment by Jack — 7/15/2013 @ 8:18 pm

  18. My night is wasted. Rojas sent me down a youtube black hole of incredibly violent or sex filled lyrics and imagery in hard rock and heavy metal. I’m about to switch from Iron Maiden to Led Zeppelin, but initial impressions are that not a single major group in the genre will disappoint. Squeeze my lemon until the juice runs down my leg. Bring on the serial killers, the rapists, the abusers, the slaughterers, its all here. But oh! That rap, its so dirty!

    Comment by Jack — 7/15/2013 @ 8:36 pm

  19. I’ll try to be more clear.

    Since the emergence of gangsta rap, there has existed a very active and lucrative market for the image of the young African-American man as a thug. Entertainers are encouraged to adopt the persona because it makes it easier for them to get paid. Record executives, both caucasian and otherwise, have an incentive to promote the imagery because it confirms existing stereotypes, and the public will always be more likely to buy into that which supports their assumptions.

    So you wind up with a situation in which the public is actively encouraged, by hundreds of millions of mass marketing dollars, to see the young African-American male as dangerous. If the system is successful–and it has been–it rebounds in the form of FREE publicity, as young men who have been denied any other form of identity by the market choose to coopt the message themselves–at least a figure of menace has SOME power, SOME cultural currency, as opposed to being invisible.

    Those who profit by this system are, to the greatest extent, the marketers, and to a lesser extent, the entertainers. Those who pay the price are young African American men who are treated as a menace without cause. I submit that, from a perspective of societal costs and benefits, this is a bad trade-off.

    And no, this DOESN’T excuse the perpetrators of violence, and it DOESN’T suggest itself as the sole cause of racism in America. I shouldn’t have to say those two things explicitly but I am learning the hard way on other forums that it’s necessary to do so to avoid being pilloried.

    Is this worthy of your consideration, Jack?

    Comment by Rojas — 7/15/2013 @ 9:24 pm

  20. Case in point. Jason Whitlock, an African American and a six-foot-six inch three hundred pound former offensive lineman, is more that a bit tired of people crossing the street to avoid him. He expresses his concerns regarding the cultural factors involved here. Suffice to say that he (and Dahveed Nelson of rap pioneers The Last Poets) do not consider modern hip-hop to be quite so innocuous as Johnny Cash.

    Mr. Whitlock is interested in a discussion of ALL of the factors that have turned him into a societal bogeyman. I am interested in listening.

    Comment by Rojas — 7/15/2013 @ 9:31 pm

  21. And I very specifically mentioned a prominent blogger who also regularly comments on exactly those aspects of hip hop music. I would submit that the industry is changing as many of the consumers have aged out of the thug marketing demographic and now demand something more from the medium. My point is that in addition to the growing pains of what is still only a two generation old genre, there is an awful lot of it that is dismissed or pilloried merely because of the language and directness of the lyrics though they are expressing quite legitimate observations about society, culture and race. Further, you could take your entire comment @19, back up 40 years, substitute country & western for hip hip and a few other word changes and say the same thing. To wit: there has existed a very active and lucrative market for the image of the young Southerner or cowboy as a violent, booze swilling, womanizing outsider. Entertainers are encouraged to adopt the persona because it makes it easier for them to get paid. Record executives, both Southern and otherwise, have an incentive to promote the imagery because it confirms existing stereotypes, and the public will always be more likely to buy into that which supports their assumptions.

    Country has evolved beyond these tropes, and so to is hip hop. I get your point, I just don’t think is needs to be positioned as rare and dangerous speech when it is pretty mainstream observation embraced by plenty of black culture critics.

    Comment by Jack — 7/16/2013 @ 11:45 am

  22. Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman with their races changed.

    Comment by Brad — 7/17/2013 @ 1:24 pm

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