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“Something’s Gotta Give”: A Deeper Divide In A Culture War That’s Now Spread To The Full Range Of Public Policy Issues

There’s been a lot of polling conducted about the George Zimmerman verdict, and/or the whole Zimmerman-Martin saga. And a lot of it tracks divisions on, well, most other major controversies in American politics, including partisan attachments and competitive national elections.

One way of looking at the congruence of opinion on issues directly relating to race and ethnicity and on all kinds of other issues is that it reflects a partisan and ideological polarization that’s taken on the atmosphere of a culture war. The other way, of course, is to suggest that we’re in a culture war that’s now spread to the full range of public policy issues.

In his latest National Journal column, Ron Brownstein adds the considerable weight of his judgment to the latter proposition:

Although the contrasting attitudes about law enforcement ignite more sparks, that question of Washington’s proper role now represents the most important racial divide in American life. Minorities preponderantly support government investment in education, training, and health care that they consider essential for upward mobility. Most whites, particularly blue-collar and older whites, now resist spending on almost anything except Social Security and Medicare.

This clash rings through the collision between Obama (who won twice behind a coalition of nonwhites and the minority of whites generally open to activist government) and House Republicans (four-fifths of whom represent districts more white than the national average). In their unwavering opposition to Obama on issues from health to immigration, House Republicans are systematically blockading the priorities of the diverse (and growing) majority coalition that reelected him. Without more persuasive alternatives, Republicans risk convincing these emerging communities that their implacable opposition represents a “stand-your-ground” white resistance to minorities’ own rise. In the meantime, a rapidly diversifying America risks a future of hardening disparities and enmities if it cannot forge more transracial consensus in the courts—or in Congress.

If Ron’s analysis is right, of course, there’s another scenario for the future if “hardening disparities and enmities” cannot be overcome: one side or the other might actually win for long enough to set a new course for the future. For a brief moment that seemed to have happened in 2008. I’m sure some conservatives thought they saw it happening in 2010, which is why they quite literally couldn’t believe what was happening just two years later. But whether the current gridlock leads to a currently unimaginable “transracial consensus” or something else, something’s gotta give before long.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July, 26, 2013

July 27, 2013 Posted by | Public Policy, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Count On It”: Will The Ghost Of Trayvon Martin Haunt Rick Scott?

Floridians aggrieved by George Zimmerman’s acquittal might get some succor from a federal civil rights charge, or maybe at some point a civil suit. But the one thing for sure they will have at their disposal in a 2014 election in which the case and the concealed-carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws that affected it will be an inevitable issue. At National Journal, Beth Reinhard takes a look at the post-trial politics of the case, and suggests it could be a real problem for Rick Scott, who has been slowly recovering from the intense unpopularity he earned in his first couple of years in office.

Rick Scott couldn’t do much worse among black voters than in 2010, when only 6 percent backed him for governor.

Or could he? African-American leaders outraged by the not-guilty verdict in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin are assailing Scott for supporting the “Stand Your Ground” law that arguably helped Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, go free. Students protesters are camping out in the governor’s office, musician Stevie Wonder has announced a boycot,t and Attorney General Eric Holder denounced the law at the NAACP convention in Orlando earlier this week.

If black voters turn out in force against Scott in 2014, they could swing a race as close as his last, which he won by only 61,550 votes. Black voters comprised between 11 percent and 14 percent of the vote in recent gubernatorial elections, and their share of the electorate is on the rise. Racial and ethnic conflicts, such as the bitter debate in 2000 over custody of Cuban rafter Elian Gonzalez, have a history of shaping elections in the nation’s largest swing state.

To be exact, the African-American percentage of the Florida electorate dropped from 13 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2010 and then went back up to 13 percent in 2012. This represents a relatively normal dropoff in minority voting from a presidential to a midterm election; anything that provides an unusually powerful incentive to high midterm voting by minorities is a big deal in a state like Florida.

Scott’s likely Democratic opponents on Thursday joined the criticism of his leadership after the racially polarizing trial. “I’m troubled that we don’t have a governor that can bring people together after such an emotional and personal public debate,” said Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who switched parties and is expected to challenge Scott. “No law is perfect, and it seems to me that Trayvon’s tragic death provides an opportunity for a real dialogue on how we can improve our laws to ensure that we are protecting self-defense while not creating a defense for criminals.”

Democratic Sen. Nan Rich, who’s struggling to gain traction in the polls after running against Scott for more than one year, mocked him for being out of town during the sit-in in his office, though he returned to Tallahassee late Thursday and met with protesters. “I think he’s afraid to come back,” Rich quipped. “Leadership is lacking, and we need leadership from the governor to change this law.”

Crist, Reinhard notes, did about three times as well as Scott did among African-American voters when he was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2006, and improved his reputation in that community significantly by supporting a restoration of voting rights for ex-felons and expanded early voting opportunities in urban areas in 2008. And even before the Zimmerman verdict, Crist was leading Scott in a June poll by 10%.

A wild card for Scott in 2014 will be fallout from his failure to convince Republican legislators to support the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, after his own flip-flop from opposition to support. If he were to submit to pressure to call a special legislative session to act on the expansion, he could attract a primary challenge. If he does nothing, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Florida, leaving many thousands of low-income Floridians ineligible either for Medicaid or for Obamacare tax credits to buy insurance on the new exchanges, could become a pretty big deal in 2014.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Editor, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 19, 2013

July 22, 2013 Posted by | Rick Scott, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making The Discussion Relatable”: Contrary To Right Wing Wishes, There Is No Such Person As “Race-Baiter In Chief”

President Obama joined the national conversation on race Friday, addressing the death of Trayvon Martin, the slain Florida teenager whose main offense seems to have been his skin color. After a week of protests in the wake of shooter George Zimmerman’s acquittal, some of which lamentably turned violent, Obama spoke of the pain felt in the African American community.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away,” the president said. He continued:

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And he posed this question to Americans who aren’t open to challenging the “stand your ground” law that let Zimmerman shoot Martin in self-defense:

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these ‘stand your ground’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?

The Atlantic’s prolific Ta-Neshi Coates has written frequently on the Martin case since news of Zimmerman’s acquittal broke Saturday, including this must-read: “The Banality of Richard Cohen and Racist Profiling.” Still, it’s “The Good, Racist People,” an Op-Ed he wrote for the New York Times in March, that I can’t stop thinking about. In it, he details an incident that happened at his neighborhood deli in New York, where an employee accused Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker of shoplifting and then frisked him.

“In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist,” Coates wrote, arguing that we live in a society that targets black people with “a kind of invisible violence.” He goes on:

The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.  […]

I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.

It’s hard to read Coates’ Op-Ed without your heart rising into your throat. But we should read it, all of it. And we should appreciate that Obama, our first black president, has joined the conversation on race with such a personal and thoughtful statement. Here’s the full transcript.

Some accuse Obama of race-baiting and stoking racial tensions. But that’s not fair, and it’s not what he did. What the president did was make himself relatable, and then he used his position of power to suggest a path forward for a “more perfect union.”

The people who object to Obama saying that we need to “bolster and reinforce our African American boys” are just in the way.

By: Alexandra LeTellier, The Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2013

July 22, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fear And Consequences”: George Zimmerman, The Not-So-Faceless Bogeyman, And The Protection Of White Womanhood

My first week of college, I had a heated debate about abortion with two new friends—both were white, and one, Nancy, was extremely pro-life. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for having such an “adult” conversation—we disagreed, but everyone was being respectful. Then my other pro-choice friend asked Nancy what she would do with a pregnancy if she was raped. I will never forget what Nancy said: “I think it would be cute to have a little black baby.” When we expressed outrage at her racism, Nancy shrugged. It never occurred to her a rapist would be anyone other than a black man. (DOJ statistics show that 80 to 90 percent of women who are raped are attacked by someone of their own race, unless they are Native women.) When this young woman imagined a criminal in her mind, he wasn’t a faceless bogeyman.

I hadn’t thought of this exchange in years, not until I was reading the responses to George Zimmerman’s acquittal—particularly those about the role of white womanhood. When I first heard that the jurors were women, I naïvely hoped they would see this teenage boy shot dead in the street and think of their children. But they weren’t just any women; most were white women. Women who, like me, have been taught to fear men of color. And who—as a feminist named Valerie pointed out on Twitter—probably would see Zimmerman as their son sooner than they would Trayvon Martin.

Brittney Cooper at Salon expressed the same sentiment: “I am convinced that at a strictly human level, this case came down to whether those white women could actually see Trayvon Martin as somebody’s child, or whether they saw him according to the dictates of black male criminality.”

And indeed, Anderson Cooper’s interview with juror B37 sheds light on who was considered deserving of empathy and humanization. Hint: it wasn’t Trayvon Martin. As Igor Volsky of Think Progress pointed out, “B37” used Zimmerman’s first name in the interview frequently and twice used the phrase “George said” even though Zimmerman didn’t testify. She also indicated that she wasn’t moved by Rachel Jeantel’s testimony because of her “communication skills” and that “she was using phrases I had never heard before.”

Perhaps most tellingly, though, “B37” told Cooper that Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done.” (The phrase “above and beyond” is interesting, given it’s generally understood as a positive.) To her, Zimmerman was a protector. Sure, maybe he went a bit overboard but “Trayvon got mad and attacked him,” and Zimmerman “had a right to defend himself.”

This juror’s comments cannot be divorced from our culture’s long-standing criminalizing of young black men, and white women’s related fears. As Mychal Denzel Smith pointed out here at The Nation and on MSNBC’s Up With Steve Kornacki, defense attorneys stoked this fear deliberately and broadly.

To my disgust, O’Mara literally invoked the same justification for killing Trayvon as was used to justify lynchings. He called to the witness stand Olivia Bertalan, one of Zimmerman’s former neighbors, who told the story of her home being burglarized by two young African-American boys while she and her children feared for their lives. It was terrifying indeed, and it had absolutely no connection to the case at hand. But O’Mara presented the jury with the “perfect victim,” which Trayvon could never be: a white woman living in fear of black criminals. Zimmerman had offered to help her the night her home was robbed. Implicit in the defense’s closing argument: he was also protecting her the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

They carefully made Martin—the victim—into that not-so-faceless bogeyman. Now, I don’t know what was in the jurors’ hearts—but the story the defense told and that juror B37 parroted is not a new one. It’s a story that ends with fear trumping empathy and humanity. (A fear that even now is being grossly defended as justified.)

Yes, white women—all of us—are taught to fear men of color. We need to own that truth, own that shameful fear. Most importantly, we need to name it for what it is: deeply held and constantly enforced racism.

I’d like to think if I was on that jury I would look at pictures of Trayvon Martin and see him for the child he was. I hope I would.


By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, July 16, 2013


July 22, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fear Now A License To Kill”: To Those On The Right, People Are Not Racists If They Harm Someone Based On Fear Instead Of Hate

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, or so say conservatives who use the absolute sovereignty of outlook to justify a belief in such perverse ideas as global warming is a hoax, that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction and that President Obama is a foreign born secret Muslim.

It now appears everyone is also entitled to their own fears, which they are at liberty to act upon after George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges for acting on his when he singled out a Skittles and soda-packing Trayvon Martin as a threat to public safety and then tragically shot him dead in the confrontation that followed.

After all, as Geraldo Rivera told the audience of Fox and Friends after the verdict was announced: “You dress like a thug, people are going to treat you like a thug.”

As a matter of fact, Rivera is quite sure that if any of the six women on the Florida jury that cleared Zimmerman of all charges were in the shooter’s shoes that dark and stormy night they, too, would have done exactly at Zimmerman did.

“I submit that if they were armed, they would have shot and killed Trayvon Martin a lot sooner than George Zimmerman did,” said Rivera referring to the jurors. “This is self-defense.”

I guess I’d better tell my son to get rid of all those hooded sweatshirts he has or else he, too, might fall victim to some gun-toting vigilante like George Zimmerman.

It’s not so much the verdict itself that is so shocking and so sad.  Intellectually, I can understand the decision those six women on the jury came to when faced with the sketchy evidence presented and the constraints imposed on them by the limitations of Florida law.

I also wonder if prosecutors made a strategic mistake not going for a lesser charge (such as aggravated assault or reckless endangerment) given the lack of a credible eyewitness and the burden of proof over motive, which may then have left the jury no choice but to set Zimmerman free.

Still, I can’t help agreeing with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson when he said the fact Zimmerman “recklessly initiated the tragic encounter was enough to establish, at a minimum, guilt of manslaughter.”

Zimmerman’s actions were what started the tragic train of events that resulted in the death of a human being in the first place, and he ought to pay some price for that. Such culpability is the theory that causes the driver of the getaway car to be charged with first degree murder alongside the shooter even though he didn’t pull the trigger that killed the bank guard.

But what I cannot abide, however, is the cynical gloating by the right wing that’s followed once the final verdict was read.

After Zimmerman was set free, the right wing media played its usual role, which was to denounce liberals for waging what they claimed was a racially-motivated “witch hunt” of Zimmerman while at the same time cynically exploiting and inciting the very same racial fears and resentments in their mostly white audience that almost certainly played a key role in Martin’s tragic death.

This is evident in the way efforts by the Department of Justice to ensure protests about the Zimmerman verdict remained peaceful have been portrayed in the right wing media as the government unfairly siding with the black Martin against the white Zimmerman throughout the trial, perpetuating the all too familiar Fox News narrative that the Obama administration is out to persecute white people for the benefit of minorities.

Racists, of course, are convinced there isn’t a racist bone in their body and they bitterly resent whenever anyone says different. But that is mostly because racists habitually define racism too narrowly, limiting bigotry to the rage or physical violence that emerges out of sheer malevolence.

But what about the fear that might reside in someone like a George Zimmerman, who would single out Martin and instinctively see him as a potential threat based on nothing more sinister than a racial stereotype – a prejudice.

To those on the right, people are not racists if they harm someone like Trayvon Martin based on fear instead of hate, even if that fear has racial origins.  All of us have a right to defend ourselves from danger, says the right, even against the imaginary dangers of a young black boy walking home with nothing more lethal than candy and soda.

But according to Daily Beast, this fear of black people had been brewing inside George Zimmerman for some time. Over eight years, Zimmerman made at least 46 calls to the police department in Sanford before those two fateful calls on February 26, 2012, shortly before he confronted and then fatally shot Martin, said the Daily Beast.

All told, the police log of Zimmerman’s calls “paint a picture of an extremely vigilant neighbor,” the Daily Beast reports, whose calls “make him sound more like a curmudgeon than a vigilante” protecting the gated community where he lived and where he shot Martin.

But starting in 2011, the Daily Beast says Zimmerman’s calls began to focus on what he considered to be “suspicious” characters in the neighborhood – “almost all of whom were young black males.”

According to the log in the Daily Beast:

On April 22, 2011, Zimmerman called to report a black male about “7-9” years old, four feet tall, with a “skinny build” and short black hair. There is no indication in the police report of the reason for Zimmerman’s suspicion of the boy.

On Aug. 3 of last year, Zimmerman reported a black male who he believed was “involved in recent” burglaries in the neighborhood.

And on Oct. 1 he reported two black male suspects “20-30” years old, in a white Chevrolet Impala. He told police he did “not recognize” the men or their vehicle and that he was concerned because of the recent burglaries.

The conservative National Review is willing to concede Zimmerman showed “poor judgment” in tailing Martin despite urgent pleas from the 911 dispatcher to leave Martin alone.

But the magazine strongly denies Zimmerman displays any of the behavior of “a bullying white racist circa 1955” when it overlooks the obvious racial profiling that started the tragic sequence of events to begin with. In fact, the magazine’s editors doubt Zimmerman harbored any racial ill-will at all as they pontificate about how glad they are “that people in America are still tried in the courts rather than by left-wing protesters or by the media” who they say waged a “long campaign of defamation against him outside the courtroom.”

To the National Review and to most of Zimmerman’s defenders on the right the only fact that matters is that Martin hit Zimmerman during the altercation that occurred once Martin noticed Zimmerman was following him, and probably lashed out at what he perceived to be a threat.

This fact is all that is required to make this case “a simple matter of self-defense,” says the National Review, despite what it criticized as the “enormous firestorm and campaign of race-hustling political intimidation” waged against Zimmerman.

Zimmerman was innocent in the eyes of his defenders on the right because he honestly believed the Skittles-wielding Martin to be dangerous. And what made Martin dangerous to Zimmerman was the fact he was black and, in the racist view of Geraldo Rivera, because Martin wore the uniform of a “thug.”

If the verdict is not more shocking to more people perhaps it’s because, as the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson put it: “Our society considers young black men to be dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent.”

That is the way many right wing conservatives like Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly do in fact see young black men as they feed on the racial fears of their audience that America “is a changing country; the demographics are changing; it’s not a traditional America anymore;” and the “white establishment” is the minority.

And they vent their familiar white racist outrage at liberals who would dare to punish someone like George Zimmerman for acting on those fears when he killed a 17 year-old boy who did nothing wrong but look “suspicious” to the man who shot him.


By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, July 16, 2013

July 21, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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