Department of Justice

For the Children of the Corn, Part II

“Oh, I’m so happy! I can get my gun back, go back to my house, and look for another Skittle-toting kid in a hoodie to shoot! Yay me!”


I was sitting in a booth at the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia when the Associated Press alert on my I-Phone went off, informing me that the jury had reached a verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman.

Zimmerman had been on trial in Sanford, Fla. for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Briefly, the story goes like this: Zimmerman saw Trayvon as he walked home from a convenience store where he had gone to buy a snack for his little brother. He finds the teen suspicious and calls the cops. Saying, “These assholes always get away..,” Zimmerman decides to pursue Trayvon despite the Sanford Police telling him not to. He shoots the teen in the chest and Trayvon dies. Zimmerman claims self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

(Editor’s note: Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, you’re allowed to shoot someone if you perceive that they’re about to harm you. They don’t have to actually harm you, however. They just have to look like they would.)

The trial had gone on for three weeks and people were sitting anxiously by their computers, television sets and smartphones waiting for the verdict. If the jury of six women, none of whom was Black, believed he was in a fight for his life, Zimmerman would go home, a free man. If not, he was looking at 25 years.

Shortly after 10, the verdict came: Not Guilty. On all counts. The jury believed Zimmerman’s self-defense claim and now he not only gets to go home, he gets the gun he used to shoot Trayvon back. 

Lovely.

What made me feel sort of hopeful was the reaction. I expected my Black friends to be ticked off. But a lot of my White friends were too. Disgusted was the most commonly used word.

Many folks weighed in via Twitter. Ben Jealous of the NAACP said he was “outraged and heartbroken” over the verdict and vowed to get the Department of Justice involved. Diddy took some time out from promoting his vodka brand to Tweet “I’m hurt and mad as hell! My heart goes out to the family.” My friend Albert Butler of WURD 900AM radio here in Philly reminded us to “Set our clocks back 400 years before going to bed…”

But my favorite Tweet came from the gentleman known as The Field Negro, whose blog you should be reading if you’re not. He said “Maybe Paula Deen will cook Sunday dinner for him tomorrow!”

(I ain’t mad at Paula Deen, but that shit was funny!)

Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, also took to Twitter, thanking everyone for their support.

Not to be outdone, folks who believed that Zimmerman was being railroaded for killing an unarmed kid after being told to let police handle things and not get involved also weighed in. Most notably Ann Coulter, who is someone I can always count on to say the most vile shit on occasions like this. Her Tweet: “Hallelujah!”

(If you ever hear about my going to jail, it is most likely because I have, finally, decided to go to wherever Ann Coulter is, and give her the “People Who Need To Be Punched In The Face Award” for Lifetime Achievement.)

And my Significant Other was so angry that he nearly left the baseball game he was covering because he was to angry to stay. As I have mentioned before, he’s not just a sportswriter. He’s a sportswriter with a masters degree in African American Studies.

Certainly, a lot went on. As I was writing this, a group of African American fraternities and sororities were gathering in front of the White House in protest. Since First Lady Michelle Obama was given honorary membership to the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority shortly before her husband assumed the presidency in 2009, she might have decided to join her clan.

But as I looked at my Facebook and Twitter pages, and heard people debate the verdict in the Melrose Diner, I was relieved by one thing.

I wasn’t teaching. I’m not in school. I don’t have to try and make sense of the Zimmerman Verdict  for The Children of the Corn.

Because, frankly, I couldn’t. They’d say I was full of shit. And in this case, I’d have to agree.

I mean, how can I look in the faces of my kids, kids who have already had a few interactions with the Criminal Justice system or have parents who have, and tell them that justice is equal under the law after a verdict like this?

How do I get them to tell the police what’s going on in their neighborhoods and testify in court when they look at how Rachel Jeantel was treated on the witness stand…and on social media? How do I get them to understand that if they pull out the guns that they want to carry that they’ll get 25 to life if they kill someone?

There are conversations that all parents have to have with their kids. There’s the “Don’t violate curfew” conversation. The “Learn how to clean up after yourself” conversation. And the one that occasionally gets passed off to me by friends who don’t want to deal with their kids getting their freak on, the “You can’t trust a big butt and a smile” conversation.

But for young Black men, there’s a few other conversations that are unique to their experience. Conversations like the “Don’t put your hands in your pockets when you’re standing in front of the Police” conversation. The “Make sure you have all of your ID where the officer can see it” conversation. The “Don’t argue with the Police” conversation…

However, the Zimmerman Verdict gives us one more mandatory conversation to have.

The “Your life as a Black man isn’t worth a plug nickel to folks so act accordingly” conversation.

When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was playing for the Atlanta Falcons, he was arrested, tried and convicted for having a dogfighting ring and brutally disposing of the losers. He spent two years in federal prison for his crime.

A woman named Marissa Alexander is doing 20 years in a Florida prison for firing a warning shot_—not hitting him, just firing a warning shot—at her abusive ex-husband. She wasn’t allowed to use Stand Your Ground despite having a credible threat posed to her.

But you can shoot a young, Black man for being “perceived” as a threat to you, and walk out of court a free man.

How do I explain that to a group of people who have already been thrown away at least once? How do my friends who are parents figure that out? And why, for that matter, do we have to?

My friend Tracy sent out a Tweet saying that calling Zimmerman, who copped to no Latino heritage until he shot Trayvon Martin, a Hispanic man and asking when all of the talk about the role race plays in stuff like this was going to stop.

I told her that it would stop when my kids could walk down the street with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over their head, and be assumed to be shooting hoops, not guns.

And that day, was not Saturday. July 13.

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Letter from a Philadelphia Jail…

My friend Vince, working to get out the vote…

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t lead off my column with a picture of one of my friends.

But in this case, leading off with a picture of my friend Vincent Thompson makes sense because in the 20-plus years that I’ve known him, I’ve never heard of any issue that he’s felt passionately enough about to commit an act of civil disobedience.

Now what issue has made my friend, a Democratic committee person in South Philadelphia, willing to go all the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on us?

The right to vote in Pennsylvania.

I’ll explain.

As I often say here at The Mad (political) Scientist, I love Philadephia, but Pennsylvania makes me scratch my head so hard sometimes that I’m surprised I haven’t scraped up some of my brain.

A big part of that is because I’ve never seen a state so willing to take on everyone else’s really, really bad ideas. If there’s an idea that shouldn’t be tried anywhere ranging from hyper-restrictive abortion laws to lawsuits filed to fight for your right to not have health insurance (this chestnut filed by our former Attorney General, now Governor Tom Corbett), we’re not only going to try it here, but we’re going to follow the True Definition Of Insanity when we apply it.

(For those of you who don’t know what the True Definition of Insanity is, it’s doing the same thing, the exact same way, and yet expecting a different result.)

This week’s Really Bad Idea That Will Soon Become Law In Pennsylvania is the Commonwealth’s new Voter ID law. Under this law, which is modeled after Voter ID laws in places even more backward than Pennsylvania like Texas, Indiana and Alabama, people who come out to the polls will not be able to vote…and have their votes counted that day…unless they produce a state-sanctioned photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a state ID card. Now you can vote if you don’t have a state-sponsored ID, but that vote won’t count unless you come to your county’s Board of Elections with a state-sponsored picture ID within six days.

The reason why this law is on its way to being put on the books is because Gov. Corbett, like most good Republicans these days, believes that there’s serious voter fraud going on. Otherwise, how else would a Black Man From Chicago With A Funny Name have ever become President Of The United States?

The only way that Barack Obama could have succeeded in becoming the first Kenyan-born, Secret Muslim, Manchurian Candidate Sent To Ruin America to become President is by people going to the polls and impersonating other people, voting, and influencing the outcome. Or at least, that’s the logic at work here.

The Commonwealth has pledged $4 million to implement this law, including $1 million that’s supposed to go toward getting people these state-sponsored IDs.

(Now, we could talk about how Philadelphia alone will burn through this $1 million in a week, and also about how I really wish that people cared enough about voting to want to go around committing identity fraud in order to do it, but I would be bringing logic into a situation that has, thus far, steadfastly resisted it….and Lord knows that we can’t have that!)

Needless to say, folks are losing their minds over this.

The American Association of Retired Persons, otherwise know as AARP, is saying that it’s going to make it harder for senior citizens, some of whom may have been born in a house and don’t have the birth certificate needed to get the ID. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, otherwise known as the NAACP, is saying that this is designed to keep people of color out of the voting booth, just in time for the November elections. And the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, says it’s just plain unconstitutional.

Even the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, a group that’s notorious for not even  being able to agree on what to have for lunch during a meeting, have agreed that the law is a very bad idea.

Add to this that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is to get anything like a birth certificate or state ID request processed quickly in Pennsylvania and that this Really Bad Idea That’s About To Become Law In Pennsylvania won’t officially take effect until November (just in time for the 2012 Presidential Elections if you’re keeping score at home), and you might understand why these groups are sounding the alarm.

From the moment that these laws started dotting the national landscape, or put more succinctly, dotting the landscape in places where Republicans control all phases of government, it’s been kind of hard not to notice at where they’re aimed.

Statistically, cities, college towns, and other places similar to this are places where state-sponsored ID isn’t necessarily the Coin of the Realm. In fact, when I cast my first vote in my South Philadelphia polling place, the only ID I needed was a copy of my electric bill to prove that I lived where I said I lived.

But since cities, college towns, and other places similar to these came out in droves for President Obama during the 2008 elections and turned states like Pennsylvania so blue that they could be mistaken for the Atlantic Ocean, folks have decided to put the clamps down.

Now let’s be honest here. These laws aren’t as much about voter fraud as they are about voter suppression. If you keep city dwellers, people who are older, younger, and poorer from accessing the polls however possible, you keep them from voting against the interests of the True Elites, which have been trying to get their country back since the G.I. Bill was passed after World War II, giving everyone a shot at a good education.

And don’t even get me started on how dangerous it is to allow other disenfranchised groups like people of color to vote. Hell, they may vote to allow such things as letting gays and lesbians get married if they’re allowed to stay in the voting pool…and Lord knows we can’t have that!

To it’s credit, the Department of Justice has noticed, and has struck a few of these laws down. In fact, Texas’s went down via the DOJ on Monday. Also, a local coalition here in Philadelphia that includes the National Action Network, NAACP,  Radio One, a voting rights group called the Committee of Seventy, labor unions and politicians has formed to make sure that this law doesn’t pack the punch that it could.
Among the people who are a part of this coalition is my friend Vincent.  

Upon hearing about this law, and how folks could end up not being allowed to exercise the franchise, Vince, who is still the best political reporter I know despite not having done it full-time for a while, got the kind of pissed off that I’ve only seen him get when you mess with his family.  We must have talked about the Voter ID for at least two hours over dinner at the Broad Street Diner one night.  He had been watching the debate over the bill throughout the day on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, the Commonwealth’s version of C-Span.

The more he watched, the madder he got.

So he made a decision. If someone came to his polling place without a photo ID, he’d not only make sure that they got to polls, but he’d also make sure that their vote counted that day.

“I come from a people whose ancestors got water hoses turned on them, dogs sicced on them, and in some cases got murdered to give me the right to vote,” he said. “Black people have only had the right to vote for real for 40 years. I’m not going to let anyone get disenfranchised by a law that’s a solution in search of a problem.”

Then he said, “I’m willing to go to jail over this. This is about the right to vote. That’s too important to me.”

Hopefully, it won’t come down to that.

But just in case it does, I’m officially announcing the Vincent E. Thompson Bail Fund right now…

……because friends don’t let friends stay in jail overnight for fighting as the ancestors taught us…