It’s the Police Inaction, Stupid, Pt. II

Shelby Steele criticizes the exploitation of Trayvon Martin because, you know, there’s nothing to see here.

Two tragedies are apparent in the Trayvon Martin case. The first is obvious: A teenager—unarmed and committing no crime—was shot dead. Dressed in a “hoodie,” a costume of menace, he crossed paths with a man on the hunt for precisely such clichés of menace. Added to this—and here is the rub—was the fact of his dark skin.

Maybe it was more the hood than the dark skin, but who could argue that the skin did not enhance the menace of the hood at night and in the eyes of someone watching for crime. (Fifty-five percent of all federal prisoners are black though we are only 12% of the population.) Would Trayvon be alive today had he been walking home—Skittles and ice tea in hand—wearing a polo shirt with an alligator logo? Possibly. And does this make the ugly point that dark skin late at night needs to have its menace softened by some show of Waspy Americana? Possibly.

I still don’t get the thing with hoodies. As a woman, I am uncomfortable with being followed on a dark night by a man of any color, and I don’t much care what he is wearing. Especially when it’s raining, seeing someone with a hood over his head doesn’t in itself bother me.

What is fundamentally tragic here is that these two young males first encountered each other as provocations. Males are males, and threat often evokes a narcissistic anger that skips right past reason and into a will to annihilate: “I will take you out!”

And this is precisely why indiscriminately handing out carry permits to everybody and his uncle is a bad idea.

There was a terrible fight. Trayvon apparently got the drop on George Zimmerman, but ultimately the man with the gun prevailed. Annihilation was achieved.

We still don’t know for sure who got the drop on whom, but it’s a safe bet that had Zimmerman not been armed, both Martin and Zimmerman would be alive and healthy now. But no sensible person, according to Steel, would have made a racial issue out of this —

The absurdity of Messrs. Jackson and Sharpton is that they want to make a movement out of an anomaly. Black teenagers today are afraid of other black teenagers, not whites.

Sorry, I didn’t see the poll numbers telling us what black teenagers are afraid of. But, once again, a right-wing writer misses the point.

Whether Zimmerman racially profiled Martin is a matter that has bearing on what crime Zimmerman might eventually be charged with, but — one more time — if the Sanford police hadn’t attempted to sweep the matter under the rug and pretend it never happened, we wouldn’t be talking about it now.

Wingnuts, I will spell it out for you one more time: The central issue is not that a white guy shot a black guy. The central issue is that a white guy shot a black guy and the police were not pursuing a criminal case against the shooter.

And, sorry, but that isn’t that much of an anomaly. There’s a similar case now near where I live. The perps in this case were the police, and apparently the victim’s family has had to go to great lengths to get the shooting investigated and charges filed.

And there is a long history of violent white-on-black crime going unpunished, especially in the South. It may not be nearly as common as it used to be back in Jim Crow days, but it’s way too soon to call police inaction like this an “anomaly.”

And yes, black-on-black violence is much more common, but nobody seems to be finding examples of a black man shooting another black man and the police not bothering to prosecute.

Eric Boehlert:

It’s telling what Steele did not consider to be a tragedy in the Martin case – the fact that the man who admitted shooting the unarmed teen, George Zimmerman, hasn’t been arrested or charged with a crime. Indeed, the lack of an arrest is the central reason why the Martin story erupted into national headlines in recent weeks. And yet Steele, busy bashing Martin’s advocates as well as the press, raced right past that salient fact.

Steele is not alone. Within the conservative media, it’s now become commonplace to pontificate about the Martin story (while often condemning civil rights activists as “race hustlers”) without ever mentioning why the story became such a blockbuster; without ever mentioning that the man who shot Martin has not been charged.

That’s kind of a crucial fact. Yet conservative pundits seem eager to brush it aside. That amount of obfuscation raises doubts whether they even understand the fundamentals of the Martin story, or whether they are just choosing to ignore them because they raise difficult questions about the law and race in America.

And, you know, they will not see it no matter how many times you show it to them. I can promise you as surely as the night follows the day that this post will attract commenters who will refuse to believe that the controversy is over anything else but that a white guy shot a black guy.

This refusal goes beyond simple stupidity and strikes to the heart of what bigotry is about. It’s more about a kind of psychological block than an inability to reason. Of course, the block causes an inability to reason; but otherwise anyone bright enough to tie his shoes ought to be able to see that the central issue of the Martin case is the police inaction.

Boehlert again —

The conservative press has now spent weeks, in full force, trying to spin away the Martin controversy. The fact that so many far-right players won’t even acknowledge a key facet of the case suggests it’s a story they cannot deal with honestly.

Years ago someone I know coined the phrase “premeditated incompetence” to describe the phenomenon of a college-educated husband who could not figure out how to run a vacuum cleaner or use a dishwasher. The right-wing reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin is more like premeditated blindness, or an inability to see even the plainest and starkest facts if they contradict their biases — in this case, that racism isn’t real but is just something minorities complain about because they enjoy being victims.

Note: Anyone who wants to argue with me that I don’t understand what happened is encouraged to read the Mahablog archives of posts on the Martin shooting. If I can tell by what you write that you haven’t read any of it, your comment will not be approved. See also the Mahablog comment policy.

I see also that people are still spinning their wheels over whether Zimmerman used a racial slur while on the phone to the 911 operator. I’ve listened to the recording and, frankly, can’t tell what he said, which is why I haven’t brought this point up before. But iMO it’s unimportant to the central issue of the case, which is about the non-response of the police.

The alleged racial slur may be important when (or if) they get around to deciding what crime Zimmerman may have committed, but that depends on Florida’s hate crime laws, with which I am not familiar. Otherwise, I don’t see why it makes a dadblamed bit of difference whether Zimmerman said “effing coon” or “claire de lune.”

35 thoughts on “It’s the Police Inaction, Stupid, Pt. II

  1. I’m curious, did the police pick up Martin’s cell phone when they had his body removed? If they had his call, why did they take days to notify his parents of his death. And/or, lacking the person’s cell phone, does it normally take ‘days’ to find the parents of a dead teenager?

    Was the delay in calling the parents the time needed for the police to work on being able to clear Zimmerman? Was it simply a matter of who cares, it’s just a dead black kid? I have to agree, maha, that the behavior of the Sanford police will be key if the case ever gets to trial.

    • Felicity — my understanding is that they did have the cell phone. The question of why it took so long to ID the victim hasn’t been answered, I don’t think.

  2. I may be able to explain the thing with hoodies. Obviously (at least to me), if it’s raining or cold, wearing a hood is very reasonable. When someone is wearing a hood when there’s no obvious need, it looks like he’s trying to hide his face, and that’s when I start asking what this person is up to. If I see someone on the street wearing a ski mask in nice weather, I assume that person is doing something bad. A hoodie is not a ski mask, and should certainly rate much lower on the freakout-o-meter, but it does appear on the same continuum of face covering and it’s not hugely unreasonable to treat it with suspicion (at least until it becomes fashionable and everyone is doing it).

  3. “Annihilation was achieved.” Good God. Knowing that he’s capable of writing such a sentence, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with being followed by Shelby Steele on a dark night.

    Not to mention: “And does this make the ugly point that dark skin late at night needs to have its menace softened by some show of Waspy Americana? Possibly.”

    Yep. Shouldn’t have worn that dress.

  4. Emmitt Till didn’t have a hoodie.
    But he did know how to whistle.
    And ended up just as dead.


    I saw this small, late-teen, early 20-something, very attractive,young lady in the check-out line at a supermarket last week. As I was finishing placing my items, I saw her pick-up a “People” magazine from the rack, and turn to her boyfriend and say, “The press is trying to make a big racial deal out of this, buy people don’t even know this other guys Hispanic, so I don’t know what the big deal is. They’re trying to say he’s white, but he’s not, but they’re still trying to make a big racist deal out of this whole thing.”
    I was about to say something to the effect that the problem wasn’t the press, but the Sanford PD who mishandled this case – AS IF they wanted to cover-up a racist episode.
    But then she said something that really got my goat. She said, “I bet his family got paid a lot of money for this talking to this magazine for article!”
    I was flabbergasted, and all I could think to say was “Why would you think that?”
    And she said, “A lot of “people” do that.”
    To her credit, she didn’t say “those people” – but the way she said “people” said it all for me.
    I wanted to turn to the guy next to her cute little self , and ask if he was her boyfriend. And if he was, to say to him, “I’d ditch her. Sure, she’s cute, but she’s got no heart, no empathy. You can do better.”

    Instead, I walked out of the store, just shaking my head.

    And, if the Martin DID get paid for it, what does this little idjit think they’re going to spend the money on?
    T-bones, Caddy’s, and Colt-45?
    Or a damn f*cking good lawyer?

  5. The central issue to me is a dip-shit with a gun shot a minor who was doing nothing wrong.
    This ain’t Bagdag, for crying out loud!

  6. The related problem is the righties who keep saying “We should stop screaming about this until the investigation’s over!” and continue to ignore that there wouldn’t BE an investigation without the screamers.

  7. A 17-year-old male is aggressively followed down the street by an older male, what’s he going to think? “Pervert,” most likely. “Horrible serial killer,” right after that. The worst serial killers in American history were males preying on males (often darker-skinned males). (And, funnily enough, the cops didn’t care about those victims much early on, either.)

  8. I agree with you, and I think it is very telling that Steele used a made up description of the hoodie–calling it a “costume of menace” and then referring to a hood twice after that.

    I looked at that and I said, really? He’s trying to equate Trayvon Martin to a hooded Ku Klux Klan member and reverse the roles in order to confuse people?

    Then he tried to make the point that these were two males. Well, Zimmerman is a failed adult with multiple infractions with the law and a track record of violence. Martin was a 17 year old boy. He may have had the body of a man but he was a boy, and he was cut down too soon by a Barney Fife wannabe.

    Shelby Steele sets a new record for intellectual dishonesty.

  9. My grandniece still wears hoodies when she has a bad hair day and she looks a little scary on those days. When it is raining, I wear any attire with a hood–sometimes it’s a sweatshirt, sometimes a jacket, sometimes both depending on how cold it is. I have seen pictures of Zimmerman; and, while I am told he is Hispanic, he looks white to me. And, that is all that is needed in America. If you look white, you are treated as white. If he spoke English with an accent that may lead you to thinking he is Hispanic; but, this is a fact about Zimmerman that we don’t know. It also appears that he got off because his father is a retired judge. These are all things that need to be investigated thoroughly in order to give Martin and his family justice. Getting justice for Trayvon Martin and his family is what America used to be about.

  10. So… if Trayvon Martin was also carrying a firearm, could he, feeling threatened by this strange man foloowing him, shot him once Zimmerman approached him? Or… does the “stand your ground” law not apply to black teenagers wearing hoodies?

    (also, my understanding is that Trayvon didn’t put the hood up over his head until after he noticed he was being followed, and he was trying to get away from Zimmerman.)

  11. I have three hoodies. The grey one is so worn out the zipper is dead, but we both wear it around the house in cool weather. The tan fleecy one I got to wear to the gym. I should go more often. I bought the dark blue/black one last week, sort of on purpose and also because I plan on some fall travel that will call for a mid-weight sweater-type garment with pockets and a zipper. It was $60, on sale for $29.99, then 30% off with a coupon, so I got it for about $20. To me, it was a convienient deal. To a young black man, there was no reason for it to be a death sentence. I am stunned by the notion that following a person, disobeying 911 instructions not to follow that person, having a gun after three violent crime incidents, arming oneself as part of a Neighborhood Watch which is just supposed to “watch” and repeatedly calling in 911 over minor points is called “standing your ground”.

    And notice the turning of the phrase “got the drop on” to be Trayvon over Zimmerman. I only have a master’s in English, but I think that phrase means to have an advantage by possession of a gun or other weapon. That is an interesting little twist of utter dishonesty. If Mr. Zimmerman lost his gun to Trayvon and got it back while being beaten on the sidewalk, then why did Trayvon not shoot Zimmerman when he would have had the chance? So much rings wrong here. Covering oneself up with clothing is a way of saying, “I’m not here for interaction.” If Trayvon raised his hood after being followed, that means he did not have it up earlier, and was not covering/concealing/hiding anything, not even deadly Skittles. The Sanford Police have some questions to answer.

  12. If the local clowns can’t find an entry for unprovoked murder in their training manual, the Feds need to come in and take the case OUT of Florida. It is probably the only way justice will be done.

  13. The hoodie ‘thing’ is important and goes to a fundamental outlook that we have – actually two incompatible outlooks. When I went to school in the ’60s, they taught the melting pot theory – that people of all races and religions came to America, mixed together, and in the end, everybody was just like white folks. Somewhere along the line, multiculturalism prevailed in academia. The idea is that you can be fully American and retain whatever elements of your culture you like.

    The hoodie isn’t just a suggestion that you haven’t assimilated. It’s a declaration that you have no intention of looking white. The assumption by Zimmerman was that a black man in a hoodie is a thug. Martin was a kid who adopted a symbol of a rebel. It this respect, he was the mirror image of Zimmerman, who was a cop wannabe who carried a 9mm symbol of his identification with authority.

  14. It’s the perfect Stand your Ground Storm.. When viewed in light of the SYG law the Sanford Police dept did nothing wrong..they turned it over to the State Attorney..And he in turn couldn’t do anything because of the law. Now it’s going to a grand Jury and they in turn will not be able to anything because the law doesn’t allow for any contributing factors before the point of confrontation.

    It’s a foolish law that wasn’t thought out and was passed in spite of legal experts and law enforcements objections. Several of the jerks who passed it are claiming that Zimmermanan isn’t entitled to the protection of the law, but according to how it is written…he does..If it can’t be established who physically initiated the deadly conflict then Zimmerman gets a pass by default.

    It’s similar in a sense to the law that was passed where using a firearm in the commission of a drug felony would garner a mandatory life sentence. Then some poor sap got busted for trading a handgun for a few grams of cocaine. Law makers claimed that wasn’t their intention when writing the law, but never the less the letter of the law was fufilled in the man’s action.

  15. Darren Hutchinson…Enough of the reindeer games. I’d like to be respectful toward you but I seriously doubt you are who you say you are. I read your links and it’s obvious to even a basic thinker that you don’t know what you are talking about. A supposed law professor who thinks that Trayvon’s girl friends limited account would even factor in to Zimmerman’s claim of self defense? Florida law doesn’t consider who provoked the only considers who psychically initiated the confrontation..and that we don’t know. Check the history of some past SYG cases and you’ll see the injustices perpetrated by that law is not unique to Trayvon’s killing.

    The police didn’t arrest Zimmerman because the law prevented them from doing so. Stand your ground has everything to do with this case.

  16. Iosue,
    Interesting question.
    Since Trevon WAS a minor, he could not get a carry permit. That means he could not legally have a hand gun in his posession.( thank goodness for that)
    Minors do not have the same rights as adult citizens.
    Sadly, some people think once a person has 21 years under his belt, he or she has critical thinking skills and good judgement. ( sure, that’s why youthful male drivers pay out the ass for car insurance)
    We in the Orlando area have endured a virtual lifetime of crap over the Casey Anthony case. It appears we are about to set off on another never ending story.
    INMHO, the ENTIRE reason for this controversy is “stand your ground”.

  17. When I lived there I would have thought it was about the fact that March – April is prime tourism time in Florida. Now I worry about the NRA and the police state, as do some reporters I hope.

  18. Maha: this is why I read your blog. I couldn’t tell if Zimmerman used a racial slur either. Thanks for being honest. Here in Cheeseland they ran a video of Rick Santorum allegedly calling Obama a n&*%[email protected] I listened to it and couldn’t tell one way or the other, and my guess is that many others felt the same way since it died on the vine. For things like that, it better be pretty obvious what the people say before you start accusing them of something.

    I’ve said this before, but my biggest issue here, and there are many, is that the police are in the position to decide if ‘stand your ground’ applies in these cases. If you were interested in making it easier for someone to put up a self-defense defense, I would be ok with that. But at least in that situation you have to go to court and prove something. As it is now, you just have to convince the cops that you felt your life was in danger. As it is, there are very few self-defense defenses that work, because you have to prove it. In ‘stand your ground land’ (where I am flying to today), you don’t have to prove anything.

    My laptop’s acting up again!

    As I was saying – too bad they haven’t invented Kevlar SPF 45 sun block yet.

  20. Swami, I agree that the Stand Your Ground law factored into how the police handled the case. The way I read Darren’s link, though, was that the police should not have been able to use that law as an excuse to let Zimmerman off the hook, because he was clearly in violation of other aspects of that law: he was the aggressor; against orders he continued to pursue; Martin had a legal right to defend himself; Zimmerman was legally allowed to defend himself by use of equal–but not greater– force.

    Point being, the police used the SYG law to excuse Zimmerman’s behavior, when even under that law, he should have been taken in and booked. SYG is a totally unnecessary law, made all the more egregious by how easily it can be misapplied, as evidenced by police conduct in the Martin-Zimmerman case.

    Anyway, that’s my early morning take on it. But I could probably use another cup of coffee. In rereading my comments, I think I may have just said the same things you said.

  21. About premeditated incompetence/blindness: Orwell, in “1984”, called it “crimestop”, defined as “protective stupidity”; the convenient inability to follow simple logic to a politically dangerous conclusion.

  22. WAY, WAY, OT – from the GREAT Charles Pierce:

    What better way for grifters to part suckers from their cash than a three member team of attractive, female, teenage, exorcists?

    Part of me wants to make a deal with the Devil right this second!
    Quick, I need their phone number – ’cause, “‘LORD, I NEED SOME SAVIN’! NOW!!!’

    One of them is a home-schooled daughter of a Minister.
    Quelle surprise!!!
    And of course, they don’t do the exorcism’s for free. Or in one session, either. There are expenses, don’t you know…

    Maybe they’ll come out with a DVD you can play at home so, if you can’t afford to pay for their services personally, you can still get the same benefit through your DVD & TV – like people get getting “faith-healed” via the boob-tube.

    I have a great name for their DVD:
    “How To Exorcize At Home!”

  23. The hoodie isn’t just a suggestion that you haven’t assimilated. It’s a declaration that you have no intention of looking white.

    I don’t want to be mean, but… what the *fff*,uh, heck?

    A hoodie is a symbol that you don’t want to find yourself hatless when you need a hat. Period. And they’re comfortable, like a pair of jeans.

  24. Wow – Swami. You can doubt who I am, but it does not change things. “Aggressor” does not mean physically hit. Have you even read the statute? Also, I said nothing about Zimmerman using Trayvon’s girlfriend in his defense. If Trayvon was on the phone, however, then it is difficult to claim that he was also attacking you at the same time. I don’t mind debate, but you need to come with facts, rather than anger. PS: I know exactly who I am.

  25. Muldon – you are correct. Thanks. Guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is something to be established at trial. I do believe, however, that probable cause exists to charge him. Even the detective on the scene believed this as well. The detective could see Zimmerman and assess his credibility. He could assess the credibility of the witnesses, etc. The prosecutor was not on the scene, and, apparently, neither was the chief. SYG actually protects Trayvon. Despite him possibly being able to run away from Zimmerman, he had the right to stand his ground and fight. Probable cause to find aggression exists due to the phone call, the charged language (“fucking” — regardless of what followed it), the fact that he left his car to pursue Trayvon, etc.

  26. Darren…Please accept my apologies. My comment toward you was unwarranted and it was posted in anger. My anger toward the SYG law has blinded me to reason and has caused me to come against any defense of that law. I can only see the injustice that that law potentially gives shelter to. Zimmerman, so far, has not had to answer to the law for taking Trayvon’s life, and because of that law I don’t have assurances that he will.

    Again, I’m sorry for directing my anger at you.

  27. I do agree that it speaks to z’s state of mind when he made the comment on the phone during the 911 call. It doesnt matter what word he used(unless your goal is a hate crime charge) it instead shows not a man in fear but a man who was angry. Not a man defending his own life who was fearful and threatened.

    And as for the hoodie thing..i am a 45 yr old woman about as white as can be and I have at least a dozen. I have worn one the last few days because – now grasp this- it’s kinda chilly. My biggest crime ever was my one and only speeding ticket for going 4 miles an hour over the speed limit.The whole thing is nonsense.Who doesnt wear one these days?

    Why are people in states with these laws not pounding at the doors of our elected officials demanding change?

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