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“The Profile Of A Menacing Teen”: A Mother’s Grace And Grieving

“They called him Slimm.”

That is what Sybrina Fulton, the mother of the slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, told me people called her son because he was so thin.

I talked with her Saturday in a restaurant near her home, four weeks to the day after George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., shot Trayvon in the chest and killed him. Trayvon was unarmed, carrying nothing more than candy and a drink.

Ms. Fulton brought her own mother with her, Trayvon’s grandmother, and we talked for nearly an hour over iced tea and lukewarm coffee.

His mother lights up when she shows me pictures of Trayvon on her phone, even managing an occasional smile that lifts the shadow of grief and brightens her face. He was a gangly boy, all arms and legs but little weight, nearly six feet three inches tall but only 140 pounds and with the cherubic face of a boy years younger.

She grows distant when she talks about her loss, occasionally, seemingly involuntarily, wrapping her hands gently around her mother’s arm and resting her head on her mother’s shoulder like a young girl in need of comfort. The sorrow seems to come in waves.

She and her mother paint a portrait of an all-American boy, one anyone would be proud to call his or her own. He liked sports — playing and watching — and going to the mall with his friends. The meal his mother made that he liked most was hamburgers and French fries. “And brownies,” his grandmother chimed in, “with lots of nuts.”

He was a smart boy who had taken advanced English and math classes, and he planned to go to college.

He was a hard worker who earned extra money by painting houses, and washing cars and working in the concession of the Pee Wee football league on the weekends. He also baby-sat for his younger cousins, two adorable little girls ages 3 and 7, whom the family called the bunnies, and when he watched the girls he baked them cookies.

The only fight his mother could ever recall his having was with his own brother when Trayvon was about 4 and the brother was 8. They were fighting for her attention, and it wasn’t even a real fight. “They were wrestling. It was so funny,” she said with a smile.

This hardly fits the profile of a menacing teen who would attack a grown man unprovoked, but that is exactly what Zimmerman contends.

Zimmerman’s statement, as related by police, says he was following the boy but “he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon.”

Trayvon’s personal account of who initiated the physical encounter is forever lost to the grave, but the initiation is likely to be the central question in the case.

To believe Zimmerman’s scenario, you have to believe that Trayvon, an unarmed boy, a boy so thin that people called him Slimm, a boy whose mother said that he had not had a fight since he was a preschooler, chose that night and that man to attack. You have to believe that Trayvon chose to attack a man who outweighed him by 100 pounds and who, according to the Sanford police, was wearing his gun in a holster. You have to believe that Trayvon chose to attack even though he was less than a hundred yards from the safety of the home where he was staying.

This is possible, but hardly sounds plausible.

The key is to determine who was standing his ground and defending himself: the boy with the candy or the man with the gun. Who was winning the fight is a secondary question.

That said, we’ll have to wait for details of the investigation to be revealed to know for sure. But while we wait, it is important to not let Trayvon the person be lost to Trayvon the symbol. He was a real boy with a real family that really loved him.

And now he is gone from his mother forever, only able to stare out at her as a shining face on a cellphone. She has no home videos of Trayvon. She doesn’t even have voicemail messages from him saved. The only way that she could now hear Trayvon’s voice would be to call his phone and listen to his answering message, but she dare not do it. “If I hear his voice, I think I’m going to scream.”

Every night she says she dreams of him. Every morning she says she thinks he’s going to walk through the door and say, “Mom, I’m here. You were dreaming. It’s not true. I’m not dead. I’m here,” and give her a hug and a kiss.

And the bunnies — they still don’t understand where he is. They’re still asking for Trayvon, the cousin who came over and baked them cookies.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 25, 2012

March 26, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Encouraging Vigilante Justice”: The Political Battle Over ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

The shooting of teen Trayvon Martin in Florida last week has sparked a national debate over “stand your ground” laws.

But in many states, fights over the controversial legislation have been going on for years without garnering much attention from anyone other than prosecutors and gun-rights activists.

While George Zimmerman admits to shooting Martin, he says he acted in self defense and has not yet been arrested. Under a 2005 Florida law, a citizen who uses deadly force is immune from prosecution when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”

Backed by the National Rifle Association, first in Florida and then around the country, state legislators have pushed for expanding the right to use deadly force. Twenty-one states now have laws giving citizens wide latitude to use deadly force without first attempting to retreat.

Here are some states where “Stand Your Ground” was recently passed or is currently up for debate.

* A bill passed by the legislature in Minnesota was just vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton (D).

* In Pennsylvania, former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) vetoed a “stand your ground” bill; it was signed last year by Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

* Democratic lawmakers staged a walk-out in Iowa recently to avoid a vote on the legislation. The legislation will probably be blocked on procedural grounds this year, but state Rep. Matt Windschitl (R) plans to reintroduce it next year.

“I anticipate that there are some people who are going to try use this unforunate incident as an excuse not to expand Iowans’ right to self -defense,” Windschitl said, but argued that this one case had to be balanced against the lives saved by laws like the one in Florida.

* In New Hampshire last fall, Republicans in the state legislature overrode a veto from Gov. John Lynch (D) in order to pass a “Stand Your Ground” bill.

“I think if we end up with more moderate Republicans and certainly more Democrats” after the 2012 elections, “it could be on the table again,” said state Rep. Christopher Serlin (D).

* In Alaska, legislation has passed the House and is currently being considered by the state Senate.

Not every “Stand Your Ground” law came from a purely Republican-controlled state government, however.

Oklahoma’s Democratic governor signed one in 2006, as part of the first wave of “Stand Your Ground” success. So did Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, when she was the Democratic governor of Arizona. In Alabama, a bill identical to Florida’s was first introduced by a Democrat.

Overall, however, there is a partisan divide — particularly in the past two years as advocates have attempted to bring the legislation to less-conservative states — with Republicans supporting the bills and Democrats opposing them. 

In states where the policy has yet to become law, supporters will likely find new resistance. In states where it has recently become law, its supporters could face a backlash.

Supporters of “Stand Your Ground” argue that it doesn’t apply in this case and does not protect killers who did not act in true self-defense. (Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have also suggested the law does not apply.) Opponents say that the law encourages vigilante justice by creating ambiguity.

“We’ve never thought by itself that the law is the main issue,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “What we think is the main issue is the mentality that that law provides.”

 

By: Rachel Weiner, The Washington Post, March 23,2012

March 25, 2012 Posted by | National Rifle Association, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Declaring Loyalties: Sex And Violence On Capitol Hill

(Warner Bros./via AP) - Searching for a theme in the debt debate, the Republicans settled on honor among thieves.

The time has come in the debt-limit fight for all Americans to declare their loyalties: Are you with the bank robbers, or are you with the dirty old men?

This unpalatable choice is as good a way as any to frame the debate in these last days before the default deadline.

On one side are House Republican leaders who, facing a rebellion of Tea Party conservatives, appealed for party unity by screening for members a clip of the 2010 film “The Town,” in which Ben Affleck’s bank-robber character tells the Jeremy Renner character: “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re gonna hurt some people.” Renner replies: “Whose car we takin’?” The clip ended before the shooting and beatings that followed.

On the other side are House Democratic leaders, who had to decide how to handle Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward a teenage girl (he claims it was consensual). Wu, who previously attracted attention by sending staff members photos of himself in a tiger costume, had no choice but to resign. But leaders accepted his plan to stay on the job for the debt standoff, thereby giving them one more vote against Speaker John Boehner’s debt plan.

It’s hard to decide which wins the craven crown: Exhorting colleagues by playing for them a call to criminal violence? Or trying to thwart the opposition by tolerating a 56-year-old colleague accused of forcing himself on a friend’s daughter?

Both are evidence of how desperate the warring parties are for any fleeting advantage in the fight. Someday, Democrats may rue wooing Wu to stay with them for the budget votes, and Republicans may do penance for embracing Hollywood violence. But this is not that day.

In the Democrats’ case, Wu’s grace period was a matter of arithmetic. Without him, Boehner would need 216 votes to pass his budget-cutting plan; with him, Boehner needs 217. And so Wu released a statement that he would “resign effective upon the resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis.”

That’s a delay Democrats are apparently comfortable with, even though this was not the first time this tiger has prowled: He was disciplined in college after a woman accused him of trying to force her to have sex, the Oregonian newspaper reported several years ago.

At a news conference Wednesday, I asked Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairman, whether she thought Wu should go sooner — and she demurred. “I think he made the right decision to resign,” she said.

The Republicans’ problem is more complicated. Though he has made few concessions, Boehner is facing a chorus of criticism from Tea Party activists who think he has not been belligerent enough. At a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday, the co-founders of the influential Tea Party Patriots network said a poll of their supporters found 82 percent of them dissatisfied with House leadership and 74 percent inclined to see Boehner replaced.

One of the co-founders, Mark Meckler, called Boehner’s proposed budget cuts “phantom” and “fake.” Later in the day, the leader of a smaller group called Tea Party Nation called for Boehner to be ousted. And staffers for conservative lawmakers rallied interest groups to fight against Boehner’s plan.

To resist such pressure, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) thought the proper tone would be Affleck’s crime thriller, packed with sex, drugs, violence and profanity, and described by USA Today as having “murky morality.”

The selection evidently had the desired effect. After the clip, in which the Renner character asks whose car they’ll drive, Rep. Allen West (Fla.), a Tea Party favorite, announced to his colleagues: “I’m ready to drive the car!”

Over the next 24 hours, conservatives’ resistance to Boehner’s plan ebbed, and Wednesday morning, Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.), one of the few remaining holdouts, emerged from a caucus meeting feeling the pain McCarthy promised. “I’m a beat-up ‘no,’ ” he reported.

Democrats pretended to be offended by the film selection. “They could have used ‘Hoosiers,’ ‘Rudy’ or ‘Band of Brothers,’ ” protested Wasserman Schultz (the person would-be getaway car driver West called “vile” and “not a lady”). “Now is not the time to be thinking about putting the political hurt to the other party or the president.”

But Republicans have a defense. That effort to “hurt people” in “The Town” was planned as revenge on men who had hassled a young woman.

David Wu might want to take that as a warning.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democrats, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does He Hate Everyone?: Rep Allen West’s Anger Issues

Does Allen West hate women? That’s a question explored by Michelle Goldberg at the Daily Beast, and the answer seems to be more that Allen West hates everyone. That doesn’t spare him from being a sexist, however, since his hatred for women has an ugly, gendered tone to it, as evidenced by his strange war on Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose main sin seems to be a willingness to disagree with West while in possession of a vagina, causing West to claim she’s “not a Lady.” This, in turn, has caused a lot of speaking from feminist-minded women who are sick to the teeth of grown women being addressed in exactly the same terms that my grandmother used for me when I displayed bad manners … and I was five years old.

That said, calling a Democrat “not a Lady” and claiming that liberal women are the source of the country’s economic woes because we supposedly neuter men are, if anything, the least worrisome parts of the entire Allen West phenomenon. More disturbing is the evidence that West is unhinged and may have a personality disorder, but this not only doesn’t bother the voters who elected him into office, but seems to delight them. As Goldberg recounts, West acts erratically, lashes out randomly, has a victim complex that makes Sarah Palin look thick-skinned, and has acted out violently from his rage issues. But the space between Tea Party ideology and unhinged rage is whisker-thin.

West is a symptom of a larger problem: The most famous political force in the country right now, the Tea Party, has embraced a conservatism that is defined by being angry, bigoted, ignorant, and proud of it. It’s less about coherent politics and more a club for people who have a chip on their shoulders because they confuse getting the stink-eye for saying nutty, mean-spirited things with actual oppression.

It’s not that I’m clutching my pearls at colorful rhetoric and blatant mockery, two avenues of political discourse I enjoy quite a bit. But there is — or should be — a difference between a willingness to be abrasive and unhinged anger issues like West’s. The line should be drawn long before lionizing people for doing things like torturing prisoners of war, something West was disciplined by the Army for doing. Instead, we now live in a country where such vicious behavior can make you a hero in the eyes of the Tea Party, to the point where it elevates you to Congress.

 

By: Amanda Marcotte, Slate, July 22, 2011

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters, Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

David Prosser Probably Had A Very Good Reason For Putting His Hands On Colleague’s Neck

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser seems to have a bit of a temper! And he also seems to maybe have a bit of a history of verbally and perhaps physically attacking women. The latest, in case you haven’t heard, has the conservative justice accused of putting a liberal colleague in a “chokehold.” Here’s the thing: Even the anonymous sources defending Prosser say he put his hands around Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s neck. They just say it was in self-defense.

Last year, Prosser screamed at a different (female) colleague, reportedly calling her a “bitch” and threatening to “destroy” her. When asked about all that, he blamed her for “goading” him into attacking her. That is classic psycho behavior, but I have to say that I did not expect Prosser to be accused of physical violence. And, you know, I wouldn’t expect “these women keep forcing me to attack them” to continue working as an excuse for attacking colleagues, but I guess I’m underestimating the conservative movement! Because everyone is running with the “Prosser was forced to put his hands on her neck because she ran towards him” story. Fox Nation headline: “WI Judge Prosser Smeared?” Human Events blames “Big Labor” for forcing Prosser to attack his colleagues.

Here’s Ann Althouse’s (a law professor!) defense:

ALSO: People may assume that the man is larger than the woman, but — from what I have heard — Bradley is significantly larger than Prosser. Bradley is also 7 years younger than Prosser, who is 68.

Compelling!

Bradley isn’t accused by anyone of laying a hand on Prosser. The case for Prosser is that Bradley came at him and he pushed her back in “defense,” but everyone seems to agree that his hands did end up on her neck. I don’t really think there’s any justification for that! And attacking women and then blaming them for making you do it is how abusive assholes justify their behavior. Not that I know the facts of this horrible case. But I tend to side with the people who don’t have a history of threatening to “destroy” people, because that is how comic book characters talk.

Anyway, now the right wants to recall Bradley, for attacking Prosser with her huge, terrifying neck.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon War Room, June 27, 2011

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Elections, GOP, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans, Women | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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