What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Heated discussion and some disagreement about the killing of Trayvon Martin has now reached my house and calls for comments here. This blog is devoted to commentary on "The Passing Parade" but this one story is going to take some time to pass.

Let me first comment on several things that I believe contributed to the young man’s death - none of them his "hoodie" - an expression I’d never heard before Geraldo Rivera made his ridiculous assertion that his clothing was as responsible for his death as was George Zimmerman. But one real contribution has to be the American love affair with guns. There were enough guns in the hands of individuals to conduct a mid sized war before the Supreme Court got in the act and decided that the framers of the constitution really meant that every citizen should to be able to own a gun, period - not that they should have arms available to perform military service as needed instead of relying on a non existent standing army. As if that ridiculous interpretation wasn’t enough, many states have enacted concealed carry laws, so we can all pocket a gun along with our credit cards and car keys and wander about armed and ready to settle arguments with bullets - as in the old west. And a third thing that I think contributed directly to Trayvon Martin’s death was Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law, which many have interpreted as an invitation to commit murder without having to answer for it and why Zimmerman may have believed that he had a legal right to use a gun to defend himself in any kind of altercation.

If not for the absence of any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Martin, this could easily be another Joe Horn case. If you click on the link you can read the whole story - which is one of a self appointed judge, jury and executioner, spotting two men breaking into a neighbor’s house who called 911 and then, despite being told to desist by the operator, confronted and killed them. Horn was never charged. He was protected by a law that allowed him to do what he did even though he was told, as was Zimmerman, to back off.

Similarly, there’s no guarantee that George Zimmerman will be charged or convicted of murder or manslaughter, despite the appointment of a special prosecutor and the convening of a grand jury. His is the only version of the events that led to Martin’s death plus that of a witness who allegedly reported that a physical conflict took place between the two men and that Martin seemed to be winning the battle before a shot was fired. There are those who say that Zimmerman’s action is protected under the "Stand Your Ground" law. There is also the possibility that the national hue and cry over the incident will stiffen the resolve of those Floridians who may be on a grand jury and resist what they may feel is an effort by "outsiders" to tell them how to conduct their affairs. Of course none of that will matter if the Justice Department determines that Martin’s civil rights were violated.

I believe, along with millions of my fellow Americans, that Mr. Zimmerman should be made to answer for the death of the young man - before a grand jury or a court of law. That would be the time for him to assert a defense of self defense. Police shootings are judged departmentally where decisions are rendered as to whether or not they were justified. Zimmerman is not a cop and should be judged by legal authorities beyond the local police force, although it has been reported that the police did recomend a charge of manslaughter be brought. Other than that basic agreement with those calling for Zimmerman’s arrest I hve some measure of disagreement.

From the beginning, this killing has been painted as being purely racial - that the young man lost his life solely because he was black rather than the law enforcer wannabe mentality of George Zimmerman. It has been asserted over and over that if Trayvon Martin had been "White" - Zimmerman would have been immediately arrested, thrown in jail and been indicted for first degree murder by now. I don’t know that to be true and neither does anyne else. I understand the number of Florida killings claiming self defense have increased dramatically since the "Stand Your Ground" law was enacted. It might be instructive to know the circumstances of those killings and the ethnicities of those involved. Were all those who killed in supposed self defense arrested and sent to trial - or where there some who were handled the way the police have handled Mr. Zimmerman to date?

Similarly, in the light of Martin’s slaying, African American mothers have been saying that they fear for the lives of their young sons whenever they leave their house. That may well be true if they live not that far from me - in certain parts of the south and west sides of Chicago where the slaughter of young black children is almost a daily occurrence. The difference between the sons that black mothers lose in those neighborhoods and the Martin case is that both the killers and the killed are almost always black. There is outrage of course at this carnage, but hard to find on national news casts or talk shows. But every so often, a killing or an abduction or some other event catches the imagination and interest of the American public and becomes a continuing item on the national news and on the talk show circuit. And every once in a while, when the story has involved - say, a pretty young white girl, one hears the complaint that it wouldn’t have been a big story if the subject had been a young black girl. Trayvon Martin’s slaying disproves that contention.

Although there’s no doubt in the minds of many that this was a hate crime - that Martin was gunned down because of the color of his skin, the question still needs to be asked - was this a racial crime? Would Zimmerman have shadowed a light skinned person unknown to him who he perceived to be in the neighborhood for less than innocent reasons? When Zimmerman finally faces some board of inquiry - a grand jury or a court of law - the answer may become more definitive. In the meantime, I may be a member of a minority that is troubled by how this event has evolved from a likely case of manslaughter or even murder with possible racial overtones to one of suggesting that no young black male anywhere in America is safe from white bigots capable of gunning him down for no reason other than the color of his skin. Some may even think of it as a "teaching moment" in race relations but I can’t see how the mass demonstrations calling for Zimmerman’s arrest are helping race relations. There is overwhelming national outrage at this young man’s slaying and overwhelming support for Zimmerman to be made to answer for what he did. Mass demonstrations will not soften the hearts or bring understanding to those who believe otherwise And now there is an offer of $10,000 on the table from the Black Panther organizations to anyone who can "capture" Mr. Zimmerman and turn him over to authorities.

I find myself bothered by the non stop protests and non stop national news coverage of this tragic event. Any reasonable person would want Zimmerman to answer for the death of Trayvon Martin, but - if you’ll excuse the expression - a lynch mob atmosphere has been created by the mass protests and by media outlets. Over and over, the radio and television reports of Martin’s death speak mockingly of him being "armed" with a bag of skittles, emphasizing and reemphasizing that he had no weapon with which to defend himself agsinst Zimmerman. Some have appeared on camera wearing hooded sweatshirts in a show of sympathy for the young man. On more than one telecast, pictures of Martin at various ages were shown while the case was being discussed by news anchors and talk show hosts and guests - some of them as little more than a young child. It has been allaged that the picture of Martin, presumably furnished by his family, is that of him at a younger age and not that of a seventeen year old. Again, I don't know that to be true. But I do know that Zimmerman has already been found guilty by many in the media and by the thousands protesting in the streets. It is against this background of near hysteria that a grand jury will convene next month and as it does, another question begs to be asked about what might happen next. The pressure to indict will weigh heavily on those called upon to make judgments - prosecutors and grand jury panelists. But - as the title of these comments says - there is a "what if" that needs to be considered.

Let me repeat that I believe George Zimmerman should be made to answer for the death of Trayvon Martin in whatever fashion the legal authorities determine is appropriate. But what will happen if he is not? What will happen if the grand jury declines to indict? What will happen if the grand jury indicts but Zimmerman pleads self defense and is found not guilty at trial? What if he is found guilty of a lesser crime than murder of manslaughter and not sentenced to jail time? Obviously any of these outcomes would not satisfy the thousands who have rallied in the streets and demanded justice. Obviously it would not silence the demands of those who have organized and spoken at these rallies or the radio and television talk show hosts who have tried and found him guilty on the air, including one who has been and still is a paricipant in and a leader of the street rallies!!

These are questions that I have not heard raised by anyone in the media or by any political or civic leaders and perhaps one shouldn’t expect them to be raised - at least not publicly. But as I sit and watch the pictures of the crowds calling for justice for Trayvon, it worries the heck out of me to think how they might react if their demands are not met. There have been reports of death threats against Zimmerman and that people he has asked to come forward and speak on his behalf have declined because they feared for their lives - and of course, the reward offered by the Black Panthers for his capture is hanging out there like a sword of Damocles.

I hope I’m wrong to be worried and that the outcome , whatever it is, will be accepted as reasonable and in accordance with the law, given whatever provable facts come to light - and that Trayvon Martin’s death won’t lead to more violence and loss of life. Far too many mothers have had to mourn the loss of young children to senseless acts of violence for far too many years in this country. It is a national tragedy. The last thing anyone should want is for the tragedy of this young man’s death to lead to another senseless tragedy.

Monday, March 12, 2012
He might have been better off….

Three days from now, former Governor of the State of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, will become prisoner 40802-424 as he begins to serve a fourteen year sentence for alleged crimes for which a jury found him guilty in June of last year. On March 15, 2012, he will join another former Illinois Governor currently serving time in a federal prison - though not the same one. I would imagine it’s something of a record - two ex-Governors in prison at the same time and successive Governors at that!!

Following his conviction nine months ago, I wrote Farewell to Blago. It wasn’t the last piece I wrote about the ex Governor. There was a sentencing hearing about which I had some observations and advice for Blagojevich - but it was a prelude to what perhaps will be the last thing I write about his trial and conviction.

Over the weekend the Chicago Tribune gave extensive coverage to the impending incarceration, including descriptions of what 40802-424 can expect from prison life and a piece by columnist Eric Zorn with suggestions of what Blago should say when he makes a statement that he is scheduled to do some time today. He wanted Blago to do a mea culpa which at this moment in his life would do him as much good as praying to the tooth fairy, particularly because he has appeals pending . I have great respect for Zorn but I think he missed an opportunity to talk about the fairness or lack thereof of Blago’s indictment, trials and above all, his 14 year sentence. There’ll be plenty of ridicule and fun poking about Blago in jail courtesy of another Tribune columnist who writes such stuff regularly and for whom I do not have the same respect.

I have never met Blagojevich and I don’t know anyone who knows him. My observations of his governance and his arrest and trials have all been from a distance, but from reading, hearing and watching the case unfold, I have felt that it was an unwarranted prosecution. Others have made the observation with which I agree that had prosecutor Fitzgerald waited for the ex-Governor to actually conclude an arrangement to "sell" President Obama’s former Senate seat, it would never have happened. The heart of the case against him would not have been there and without it - and the telephone conversation that sounded like the seat was up for sale , I doubt if he would have been convicted. Blago might have been able to wiggle some advantage out of appointing who the White House wanted to see appointed, but it would have taken a stretch to interpret it as "selling" the seat.

There’s no question that Blagojevich was less of a Governor than a man with big ambitions, both political and personal and that he crossed the imaginary line between "accepted" political behavior and old time wheeler dealer politics many times. But to classify those crossings as criminal also takes quite a stretch, of which Mr. Fitzgerald is more than capable of doing. However, after two trials, during the first of which Fitzgerald put Blago’s brother through hell, only to drop all charges agsinst him as a matter of convenience for the second trial, he was found guilty on numerous counts and sentenced to the fourteen years that he will begin serving on Thursday.

During the trial, it appeared to me that Judge Zagel was sometimes acting as an arm of the prosecution and indeed, an initial appeal of the verdict cited his alleged unfairness which was quickly dismissed by Zagel. As if he would rule any other way. Appeals will continue of course, though unlikely to succeed and the unfairness, in my opinion, will continue throughout Blago’s years in prison because those years are perhaps the most unfair aspect of this whole sorry affair. No one could be identified by the prosecution as being hurt by any of Blago’s actions as Governor - financially or any other way. He didn’t get rich off of any graft. There were no shoe boxes full of cash in Blago’s attic or basement - a reference that will be recognized by old time Illinois politicos and those who follow the game. He was disgraced with an impeachment by those who wanted him gone long before the indictments against him. He’s lost his law license and will likely lose pensions that he had coming. He had been severely punished before his sentence hearing - but that mattered little to Judge Zagel.

Murderers sometimes serve less time than 14 years. There are violent criminals of all stripes - people who have caused grievous physical harm, who are sentenced to less time. The worst sub humanoids on earth - people who inflict horrible torture on helpless animals get slapped on the wrist - at worst only get sentenced to months in jail. Former Governor Ryan who also was no arch criminal, was sentenced to less that half of Blago’s sentence. Judge Zagel had many options beyond this incredibly stiff sentence - but his choice was to punish and punish severely. I wonder if the members of the jury in the second trial had known of the severity of the sentence that a guilty verdict would bring, if every last one of them would have voted to convict.

If Blago survives and gets out of prison after the twelve of the fourteen years that he’s required to serve, he’ll be 67 - a little old to be starting over. A stiff punishment for being ambitious. The ex Governor has been known for comparing his troubles to those of great figures of history who have faced adversity and is fond of quoting from great works of literature to describe his struggles, so perhaps it would be appropriate to bid him farewell by paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 111 Scene 11 - Mark Antony speaking at Caesar’s funeral -
The noble Fitzgerald hath told you Blago was ambitious. If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Blago answer’d it.
Grievously indeed. And speaking as one who was once in Blago's shoes but with a different kind of judge and a different outcome, I’d advise one and all to keep a watchful eye on Judge Zagel - and to stay as far away from his courtroom as possible.

Friday, March 02, 2012

This will be as short a blog post as I have ever entered but little space is needed to make the point that needs to be made.

The President called Sandra Fluke today to express support and to thank her for speaking out on the need for women to have access to insurance for birth control medications. If you don’t know who she is, this will mean nothing to you and you shouldn't be reading this blog.

Naturally, the sub humanoid known as Rush Limbaugh mocked the President’s natural and human response to his sick, vicious attack on the young law student as I am sure he will do to anyone who condemns his quantum leap - not a "step" over the line between barely acceptable and totally unacceptable behavior.

Speaker Boehner termed Limbaugh’s comments "inappropriate" as was any effort to raise money based on the attack. What a hero. Calling an innocent young lady a slut and a prostitute was "inappropriate" - about on the same level of inappropriateness as fund raising on behalf of issues advocated by her. Rick Santorum said "he's being absurd, but that's you know, an entertainer can be absurd." Another hero.

But my question is - where are the cowards? Where are the Republican Senators and Congressmen whose wives may have used birth control medications covered by insurance which, in Limbaugh’s dark and distorted world, makes them sluts and prostitutes whose sex acts should be posted on the Internet?

Where are the Republicans who would be President? Where are former Presidents George W Bush and George H W Bush? Where are all the Republicans who accuse Democrats of being "soft" on crime or defense. Where are all the Republican moralists - the "family value" preachers? Where are their condemnations? Nor "inappropriate" or "absurd" but beyond the pale. Are vicious and disgusting attacks on Miss Fluke not worthy of condemnation because they were made by the unofficial head of your party?

The silence has been deafening. And as long as it remains that way and Limbaugh continues his cowardly attacks, the question needs to be asked. WHERE ARE THE (Republican) COWARDS?```````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````