Thursday, March 22, 2012

The thing about the Trayvon Martin story

A lot of insightful things have been said about the Trayvon Martin story, and I don't feel much need to duplicate them here. The tragic intersection of culturally manufactured fear with our deep commitment to racial narratives and the valuing of property over persons... it's a recipe for disaster, to say the least.

mug shot of George Zimmerman
But there's another significant piece of this story that merits some discussion. It centers around Zimmerman's identity rather than Martin's. Zimmerman appears to be unemployed, but at one point what he really wanted was to be a cop. He took Criminal Justice classes and applied to the sheriff's citizen patrol program. He appears to have spent a lot of time driving around his neighborhood playing cop. Being a cop, officially or otherwise, was central to his identity. And this gives us some important insights into his behavior.

I don't by any means think all cops are corrupt and power hungry. I don't by any means think that there are no good cops. What I do think is that the mindset and culture of most police agencies is such that it attracts a certain type of personality and encourages a certain type of behavior. I have jokingly said to friends before "there's two kinds of cops: those who were bullies as kids, and those who were bullied." While I was joking, and I do think there are a few cops for whom this isn't true, generally speaking, this is a good rule of thumb to bear in mind when interacting with a cop. You should be asking yourself "What does s/he have to prove?  What personal insecurity or childhood scar is this particular badge and gun supposed to be compensating for?" It will make you both more cautious and more compassionate when interacting with cops.

However, this only works if you happen to be in a privileged class, in terms of law enforcement. If you seem suspicious in any way, or you don't conform to the (generally very socially conservative) norms that most cops utilize to make their judgements about those with whom they interact, this probably won't help you. Your best bet is to avoid cops altogether. Like by not walking alone in your own neighborhood at night with your hood on, or being young and male and African American to begin with.

...back to Zimmerman, though. So the details that are emerging about George Zimmerman reveal a person who was one of these types of cops to the core. Every person he interacted with who wasn't clearly a part of some law enforcement agency or wealthy and white was a suspect. Any individual he fixated on was guilty until proven innocent, and he would never allow some paltry little facts to get in his way. He walked around looking for a fight, and some means of soothing/boosting his ego. His view of himself as a "good guy" was so central to his identity that it drove him to irrational and sinister extremes.

This Zimmerman guy - he's scary. At this point, a lot of Americans are realizing how scary he is. But what's more scary is that hundreds of thousands of others who are remarkably similar to him in profound ways patrol the streets and prisons of America every day. People who's ego needs salving, who find reassurance of their strength only by using the constructs of the police and prison system as a weapon against others whom they have personally deemed to be of little or no value to society. The fact that our law enforcement and penal systems attract and encourage these types? That is a serious problem that we face as a nation and that will continue to produce collateral damage in the form of broken bodies and ruined lives.


  1. Abbott3/22/2012

    Spot on commentary. Absolutely spot on.

  2. What I keep wondering is where did he get this car and this gun and all this free time to be "patrolling" the neighborhood? Whose wealth does he imagine himself to be protecting? From what I've read he doesn't seem to have any real employment history.

    1. His mommy and daddy's, I'm guessing.

  3. Anonymous3/23/2012

    Anybody that has paid attention to your blog already knows how you feel about cops. Remember the evil DUI stop and your associated psycho rant?

    If you want some objective facts to consider check out the black on every other ethnicity crime rates from the FBI. Then follow up and check the crime rates on the community in which Zimmerman lives.

    Try some objectivity instead of your standard magical thinking. By the way, this guy deserves his day in court just like everyone else.

    1. Holden3/23/2012

      Your claim seems to be that the "objective facts" that you think are represented by the crime rate stats justify people like Zimmerman shooting unarmed black teens who have committed no crime. That's going to be a little hard to defend here...or anywhere.

    2. Anonymous3/23/2012

      I didn't justify anything, but thanks for the leap of logic. I suggest you get your shit together.

      Actually what's really hard to defend is convicting this guy when you don't know the facts of what happened, but it is totally PC. Good for you.

      The crime stats are what they are. I get you knuckleheads don't like to let facts intrude on your storyline but fortunately there are some facts out there.

      You don't know why this kid was killed and neither do I, but nice rush to judgement. Has a familiar ring to it.

    3. meg'n3/26/2012

      Nobody here has convicted him. What people are saying is all based on the 911 call, and the facts that the police have reported. Zimmerman drove around "policing" his neighborhood and at times harassed people based on his perception of their race. In his own version of the story, he was deathly afraid of an unarmed boy who weighed more than 100 pounds less than him. How do you explain that?

  4. I would expect Zimmerman's type to have more luck getting a job as a prison guard. Their criteria are a little more lax, and there's basically no accountability or oversight for them, as compared to police officers.

  5. diamondsforhorses3/23/2012

    The "culturally manufactured fear" you mention in passing is the issue that merits the most discussion in this case, I think. Zimmerman was conditioned to have a specific response to anyone matching Martin's description.

    1. Anonymous3/23/2012

      You don't know anything about Zimmerman's personal experiences or conditioning. How can you post BS like this?

    2. Anonymous3/26/2012

      If you know a person grew up in the U.S. then you know a lot about the conditions they grew up in. It's a comment about the culture, not about hie personal background.

  6. pepper3/23/2012

    I know you were being sarcastic, but what I object to is this:

    "Your best bet is to avoid cops altogether. Like by not walking alone in your own neighborhood at night with your hood on, or being young and male and African American to begin with."

    It rings of Rivera's comments that the hoodie was responsible for Trayvon's death. To me, telling "dark-skinned kids" not to go out wearing hoodies is just like the rape prevention tips aimed at women. Both shift the blame for someone else's violence onto the victim. It simply shouldn't matter if a "dark-skinned kid" is wearing a hoodie. You're not justified in shooting him anymore than a rapist is justified in raping a woman wearing a short skirt or walking thru a parking lot alone at night.

  7. But the thing is Zimmerman wasn't a cop, he was a wannabe cop. Wannabe's of any sort tend to be more dangerous than the real thing as they feel have something to prove. Real cops have actual rules and regulations to follow which Zimmerman didn't. Was he rejected from the Police Academy repeatedly? If so this was probably for a good reason.

  8. Sigh... my uncle is one of those people. He works for the Sheriff Dept. He's also a super-right-wing pro-gun type. And yes, that does frighten me.

  9. Anonymous4/22/2012

    Ha! Getting out on bail for $15K cash. No way on earth this guy is getting convicted of 2nd degree murder. District Attorney looked like a total amateur. Nothing like incompetent government employees to help make sure an innocent guy doesn't get fried by freaks like you people.