Michael Maiello's picture

    A Devastating Comment From The President

    "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," says the President.

    There are moments when President Obama says just the right thing.  He cuts through the chatter and babble. 

    Now think back to when Obama remarked that the police had "acted stupidly" when they arrested Harvard professor Skip Gates outside of his own home.  What sturm and drang erupted.  The President is criticizing a hard working police officer!  The President is taking sides!  He's taking sides with... with... an African American!

    Of course, this will all happen again as the Justice Department investigates a young man's death that the local police deemed unworthy of much scrutiny beyond the shooter's word that it was a valid act of self defense.

    This, despite the fact that even the sponsor of Florida's "stand your ground" law, which means that you don't have to attempt to retreat from a fight in order to make a self defense claim, believes that the shooter was out of line.

    I'm not optimistic that the Justice Department is going to make federal charges stick in this case.  The shooting is a local issue. The gun was owned and carried legally.  usually, for the Feds to get involved, you'd need something like an illegal firearm transported over state lines.  Otherwise the killing is a local issue and the local authorities have passed.

    So, for the Feds, it become a civil rights issue.  Was Trayvon killed for looking like the President's hypothetical son?  I have little doubt that he was.  My gut says that my own son, who seems to be headed in the tall, blonde and white trajectory, would not even have been pursued by the vigilante George Zimmerman, much less shot.

    Or, maybe Zimmerman would have shot anyone passing through his gated community on the wrong night.  If that's true, the Fed's will not have a case.  But here's another hunch, one that I suspect the President shares but is too smart to say bluntly -- if this guy had shot a tall, blonde white kid, the police would have taken him in.  His "self defense" claim would have been evaluated by a court, not the police.

    In a lot of ways, I'd like to see the Justice Department focus less on Zimmerman and more on the local police.  Zimmerman is dangerous, no doubt, and left free with the idea that what he did was right (and in his head, it likely was) probably makes him more dangerous.  But the Feds are probably best equipped to go after the police department that left Zimmerman off the hook.  For the Feds to get involved in a local matter they need all manner of abuses and crimes.  The most prosecutable civil rights cases is are probably wearing uniforms in South Florida.

    I wasn't going to right about this, but damn did Obama bowl me over with that line. 

    And if I hear any right wingers complaining that the President is "interfering in a local matter," I might start slapping people and claiming defense of my sanity to avoid prosecution.



    And if I hear any right wingers complaining that the President is "interfering in a local matter," I might start slapping people and claiming defense of my sanity to avoid prosecution.

    Within a heartbeat, I'll fundraise for your bail and slap more than a few myself.

    Thanks for this post.  On so many levels it is on point and needed.


    I actually think that this falls under the jurisdiction of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment:

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


    Yes, you could investigate the heck out of the police department on those grounds.

    The difference with the Gates case is that Zimmerman admitted he shot a 17-year-old kid, and we know the kid had no weapon, and belonged in the gated compound, and we have a witness confirming the boy was just trying to walk quickly away while Zimmerman pursued, which he did in defiance of the police's warning.

    With Gates, we have a policeman doing his job and Gates getting ornery - and the police didn't tase him or beat him as they do in thousands of injustices. So we had the president step in just where a cop showed a bit of bad judgment, not an outrageous affront.

    And white kids (and adults and grandmas) do get tased as well with our peculiar hard-nosed attitude about police freedom. Instead of Obama taking the tough avenue of campaigning against loose open-carry and self-defense laws, taking on the NRA, he falls back on the racist element. And while the racist element is sad, it's the bullet fired from the gun that killed the boy, and the pro-gun law on the books that let the killer know he wouldn't be punished.

    I don't think Obama's "falling back" on the racist element.  It's a real problem that the President should be dealing with.  I'm with you on issues of police use of force and thought, for example, that the Justice Department should be investigating all of the pepper spray incidents during the height of the Occupy protests.

    Is Obama ducking the gun control angle here?  I guess I'm not that sensitive to the issue because I believe that states do have the right to make their own laws regarding gun ownership.  If Florida's citizens want concealed carry, I'm okay with that.  If you think that people shouldn't own guns, I respect that, but it's not exactly in step with what a lot of Americans want and regional preferences differ.

    As for the "stand your ground" law -- I'm not so sure it's a big deal.  As has been pointed out, Zimmerman could still have been arrested and charged.  The law provides an avenue for defense at trial, it doesn't say that you can't be arrested, investigated or charged with a crime just because you claim self defense.

    But, yes, you could have prevented this death by simply banning the carrying of hand guns in public places.  I have a lot of sympathy for that position.  But the country is unwilling to go there and, as somebody who was brought up in a gun owning household, I'm not sure I'd go there either.


    The law makes it extremely difficult to prosecute against claims of self-defense. Few prosecutors will go out of their way to take on sure-lose cases, will they?

    But certainly Obama won't take on the NRA in March of an election year. If ever. While we can't cure racism overnight, we don't need to empower it with vigilante laws.

    So here's the thing... are we objecting to the "stand your ground law?"

    Because, to be honest, the law makes a lot of sense to me.  It says that you have the right to defend yourself against violent assault if you are anywhere that you have a legal right to be and, of course, if you're not the aggressor.

    There seems to be enough evidence to prove that Zimmerman was the aggressor, so this law shouldn't matter.  But, back to "stand your ground..." The alternative is that, in order to invoke a claim of self defense you have to prove that you made every reasonable attempt to retreat.

    You know, making every attempt to retreat is a good way to get your butt kicked in most fights.  Again, not saying the law applies to Zimmerman at all.  Seems to me that he went out looking for trouble, started a fight and killed somebody.  But as for the law... is it really so unreasonable?


    The state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, who fought the law when it was proposed, said: “The consequences of the law have been devastating around the state. It’s almost insane what we are having to deal with.”
    It is increasingly used by gang members fighting gang members, drug dealers battling drug dealers and people involved in road rage encounters. Confrontations at a bar are also common: someone looks at someone the wrong way or bothers someone’s girlfriend.
    I think that this is a case of unintended consequences. By putting the burden of proof on the victim, Florida made it much more difficult to convict people of assault or murder when the victim is physically strong, and there are no witnesses.

    One thing that remains peculiar here is that conviction is an outcome pursuant to due process of law.  In this case, the suspect has not been arrested or charged with anything.  Unless I'm mistaken, the "stand your ground" defense is something that must be invoked against a charge, not a "Get Out of Jail - Free" card to be invoked on the scene of a homicide.  And even if it was, how is it possible to invoke any kind of self-defense defense when it's a fact in evidence that you pursued and killed someone who was unarmed?  Is there any reason whatsoever, outside of the testimony of a man who we know to have killed this boy and to have given a statement to police that contradicts his own call to 911, to believe that Trayvon Martin was a threat to anyone around him - let alone Zimmerman?  If not, then how could any notion of self-defense possibly be invoked?

    I cannot see, given the facts, how self-defense has anything to do with this debate.  This kid was shot in cold blood.  There won't be any justice for him.  His young life is simply over.  His family, however, is still being denied justice.  They get to know that a man stalked and confronted their son, shooting him and ending his life.  They know that this man hasn't spent so much as one night in jail for what he's done.  They know his name.  They've seen his face.  They know that he's walking free, his life unaffected by what he's done.

    And people are bandying about notions of self-defense.  Grown man with a 9mm runs down an unarmed kid.  Pops him.  Self-defense.  I haven't heard anything this fucked since the last time I listened to "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."  Kid went to the morgue a John Doe.  In his father's neighborhood.  What's that got to do with self-defense?

    Not picking on you at all here, G.  And I get that cops only want to haul in what can be convicted and DAs only want to prosecute what they can win, but that just isn't good enough here.  If this is what "stand your ground" means in practice then that law has to fall, regardless of the original intent.  "Unintended consequences" indeed.

    If this is what "stand your ground" means in practice then that law has to fall, regardless of the original intent.  "Unintended consequences" indeed.

    That was my point. The law is flawed. I'm sure that Zimmerman is flat out lying. But without witnesses, can a prosecutor prove that beyond reasonable doubt?

    I don't know enough details about how the law work holds up in court. Maybe this was simply a gross failure by the authorities. But what I read about the law suggests that the law itself has made this possible.

    Except Trayvon Martin did not look physically strong compared to his attacker and they still dismissed it. With gang bangers, forget it - no way to sort it out. What a bad law.

    "(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

    (b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred." 


    So if I'm only a moderate paranoid schizophrenic, I'm pretty well home free in using this statue, halving "reasonable fear of imminent peril" with "reason to believe an...unlawful and forcible act was occuring". Not that we really understand how Zimmerman got bloody.

    "Reasonable" is the key word here. But yeah, I can't seen any reasonable in this case.

    I agree with both you and DF. Part of my issue in this case is that I don't think "self defense" has anything to do with this case. The one thing I'd ask you to consider is that he loser of a fight is not always "the victim." 

    I was struck by this comment also.

    It brought tears to my eyes.

    I imagine beckerhead and rusho (who lately calls My President a jack-ass) along with out right wing bastards will complain.

    But they complain when Barack talks about cereal.

    And you know, pictures of the kid kind of look like Obama!

    The racism is this incident is overwhelmingly obvious, and it harkens back to the early decades of the 19th century when free blacks traveling in the slave states often carried forged papers documenting fake status as a slave, they did not want to appear to be free men, which they were in fact.


    The reason was the penalty for assaulting, killing or selling into slavery a free black in the South was often nothing, or a slap on the wrist for the white man or men who perpetrated the crime. Murders of blacks in the 1800's were often not even investigated. Fast forward to 2012, it's still the case with Trayvon.

    The penalty for assaulting a slave in the antebellum South, or killing one was very heavy, as a slave was valuable property of a white man. Ergo, a free black in the South was safest pretending to be a slave, a white man's property.

    For those who still read books, this bit of American history, and many other eye openers, comes from the recent book Bound for Canaan, on pre-Civil War slavery and the underground railroad.

    It's also the story told in Twelve Years a Slave (1853), about Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Steve McQueen, the guy who directed Shame, is making a movie based on the book.

    Wikipedia on that Twelve Years a Slave book: Northup decided to press charges against the slave traders that he could identify in Washington, though not the men in the circus, as they could not be found. Northup was not permitted to give evidence in the case, as he was black.

    Blacks were not allowed to testify in court in most states pre-Civil War. Both in the North and South. They were considered unreliable or incompetent.

    The Bound for Canaan book recounts a court case in Indiana where a white abolitionist charged with violation of the federal Fugitive Slave Act (passed to appease the Slave states) for aiding the escape of slaves. He was asked if he knew blacks he aided were escaped slaves, he replied "They said they were fugitive slaves, but since the courts of Indiana deem blacks to be unreliable and don't trust them to tell the truth, I didn't give any heed to what they said".

    He was acquitted of violating the law.

    Tryvon Martin's case is directly linked to the Henry Louis Gates case. Viewing police as aggressors or thinking that police may not have your best interests at heart, is not irrational for a black male in the United States. In Gates case, even though the police knew that Gates was in his own home, Gates was arrested.

    Martin was murdered and the police allowed his killer to leave with the weapon and the supposed evidence of a bloody nose and grass stained clothing. Documentation of an assault on Zimmerman did not appear in initial police records, raising the suspicion of records being altered. In the Gates case, a black oficer on the scene said that he thought the situation would have gone differently if he (the black officer) had been the first officer on the scene. The situation would have been "black man to black man".

    The fact that Martin's murder was dismissed by local police, and the arrest of Gates on his own property reflect the perception of black males as instantly guilty by police departments across the United states. Police have a serious lack of respect for black males of all ages.

    Even the black Florida city manager admits that he has been racial profiled.

    "the perception of black males as instantly guilty" - how about Gate's perception of police as instantly harassing blacks, rather than doing their job and following up on a factual report of a man (Gates himself) jimmying his way into a house?

    Just because blacks are very often wrongly profiled doesn't mean Gates was wrongly profiled. And many people are arrested on their own property. Yes, the officer should have likely let it go, though he did have a responsibility to make sure there was no intruder on the premises. He  could have walked away from Gates' insults, and in pre-taser pre-9/11 days cops were often better able to deal with hostile people in public. But in any case, GATES WAS NOT BEATEN UP OR TASERED, MUCH LESS SHOT AND KILLED. SO THERE'S SIMPLY LITTLE COMPARISON. The cop responded to a breaking and entering, and did little out of the ordinary. That Gates was breaking into his own home was rather an unusual situation.

    I thought we agree not to communicate. I'll simply refer you to an article in today's New York times. Black and Hispanic lawmakers are banding together to oppose stop and frisk laws being used against male Black and Hispanic teens. Several of the lawmakers have personal stories of police harassment.

    Seeds of distrust of police exist in the black community. The idea that police are always acting in your interest is not accepted. Addressing the distrust that arises in cases like Henry Louis Gates non break-in might set a tone to prevent Tryvon Martin's murder from being ignored.

    I view the concept as similar to getting an obese smoker who has a high risk of coronary artery disease to quit smoking, make dietary changes, exercise and lose weight. It's an ounce of prevention.

    We disagree on the Gates issue. CAPS do not strengthen your argument.

    We should not have further conversation.


    It may have been the great Huey P. Newton who said it (maybe Bobby Seale?) "The police are seen in the ghetto as an occupying army." That's because they behave like one.

    James Baldwin depicted the police as occupiers in his book of essays, "Nobody Knows My Name."


    Ah, yes, now it comes back to me...

    If the police repeated treat members of the black community with disrespect, it is ridiculous to be surprised when a member of the community shows disrespect to police officers. Given past actions by police, it is rational to be suspicious. The police are armed, when they face an unarmed elderly man hobbed by a bad hip, the burden of de--escalation is on the police. The ultimate disrespect is shown when a murderer is sent on his way. This tells the black community that the police have no respect for black life.

    Some suggest that gun laws were enacted to keep blacks from having access to arms. Lawmakers probably thought of young black males as the offenders when they enacted "Stand Your Ground." legislation. The legal system often is used as a battering ram against minority communities (See also voter suppression laws and gerry-mandering). The most rational behavior is to be suspicious of law enforcement.

    It would be interesting to see if protests in Jasper, Louisiana changed police behavior. It would also be interesting to know if the behavior of the Cambridge, Mass. police force towards the black community have changed since the Gates incident. If changes in approaches to blacks by police have been made, it would support protests against aggressive police behavior as a means of changing practice. Even if police behavior didn't change, there is no reason that people should just bend to the will of an "occupying force". Protest is an American value. Protest can be in the form of a lone individual with a degenerating hip or a several thousand strong march.

    So what would you recommend if a neigherbod watch Zmmerman-type got into Gates' house when he saw Gates shoulder in the door? (the 911 call did say a Hispanic man...) Would you want the police to check up on Gates' well-being -  make sure Zimmerman isn't in the kitchen with a gun, or just assume that the owner opened the door so everything is okay?

    Re: a bad hip, how do the police know for sure someone answering the door is unarmed, and how does having a bad hip prevent him from shooting?

    One interesting item I found now Googling was that the idea of "domestic disputes being the most dangerous situation for police" is actually not founded in statistics of actual danger, and results in police taking a more defensive posture for personal safety instead of a more effective strategy. 

    The same book goes into whether the police help, and something like 95% of the women in Detroit who called 911 for domestic violence felt the police made the situation better. (understandably, the men often didn't think they helped, but the statistics show the arrival as lowering further violence). But it's doubtful that the overall public is aware that 95%+ women were happy with the results of reporting violence, meaning the police suffer from bad PR, and it hurts their ability to help people.

    Obviously Gates' case wasn't a domestic dispute, but the book helps to understand a bit police reactions and the complexity of the issue from their side.


    Please resist the urge to engage in conversation with me. We disagree on a host of issues. You are free to share your views with others. I just don't care what you think. 

    I just write my opinions based on what I read and what I think. Who reads them is their business.

    We've been through this before. Our "discussions" wind up diverting the conversation and have destroyed the posts of other bloggers. Feel free to express your opinion with others. I think the other bloggers would appreciate posts being free of our often vicious exchanges. I have tried to be polite. If you persist, I will report it as harassment.

    I'm just commenting on a blog, I'm not making vicious comments, and I certainly don't make comments on what you say more than many others, nor do I seek you out.

    I never said Gates should see the police any differently, whatever his education. I said simply that we shouldn't be surprised that someone called the police on a man breaking into his own home, and that considering the abuses the police commit every day, especially to minorities - tasering and beatings even when someone's complying with orders - that what happened to Gates was rather trivial and quickly resolved. He was taken to the station, booked, the charges dropped, and then on to the beer with Obama.

    And has been explained before, even though police knew he was in his own home when they arrived, they had a duty to investigate the situation and make sure say, someone else wasn't in Gates' home. This was obviously not the police picking a false excuse to get entry into someone's home.

    Compare the 911 report and police response with Gates to the vigilante's 911 call before he killed Trayvon Martin - they're worlds apart.


    ""I don't know what's happening. ... I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use their shoulders to try to barge in," the caller said.""One looked kind of Hispanic, but I'm not really sure. And the other one entered and I didn't see what he looked like at all."

    According to the police report, Crowley arrived at the scene, went up to the front door, and asked Gates to step outside. Crowley explained he was investigating the report of a break-in in progress; as he did so, Gates opened the front door and said, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"

    Crowley's report states that he believed Gates was lawfully in the residence, but that he was surprised and confused by Gates' behavior, which included a threat that Crowley did not know who he was "messing with." Crowley then asked Gates for a photo ID so as to verify he was the resident of the house; Gates initially refused, but then did supply his Harvard University identification card.

    According to the statement, Gates saw Crowley at the door as he was speaking to the Harvard Real Estate Office to have his front door fixed [presumably because he had just broken it- PP]. When he opened the front door, Crowley immediately asked him to step outside. Gates did not comply and asked Crowley why he was there. When told that Crowley was a police officer investigating a reported breaking and entering, Gates replied that it was his house, and he was a Harvard faculty member. Crowley asked Gates whether he could prove it; Gates told him he could, and turned to go to the kitchen to fetch his wallet. Crowley followed him into the house. Gates then handed Crowley his Harvard University ID and a current driver's license, both including his photograph, the license also giving his address.

    An independent panel with experts from across the nation published a report on June 30, 2010, which states that "Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates each missed opportunities to 'ratchet down' the situation and end it peacefully" and share responsibility for the controversial July 16 arrest. Crowley could have better explained how uncertain and potentially dangerous it is to respond to a serious crime-in-progress call and why this can result in a seemingly rude tone. Gates could have tried to understand Crowley's view of the situation and could have spoken respectfully to Crowley. The report cites research that shows people's feelings about a police encounter depend significantly on whether they feel the officer displays respect and courtesy

    I was unclear. "The Ghetto" is a place, not a state of mind. Skip Gates does not live there. Thus the Crowley/Gates episode is inapposite to my comment.

    How does a "writer" mix up "write" and "right"??

    It's worse than that. The title of this piece was A DEVASTING COMMENT FROM THE PRESIDENT until Acanuck caught it. And this is a guy with "editor" on his resume.

    OMG! I make mistakes!

    Also, many of my opinions are ridiculously stupid!

    Happens to all of us. Much gratitude to Acanuck.

    But you're lovable, and that's what counts.

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