Monday, March 26, 2012

Chicago will have its say over Trayvon

The slaying in Florida of a teenage boy considered suspicious by a neighborhood watch-type has Chicagoans ticked off.
JACKSON: Martin his new cause?

A few hundred of us gathered in the shadow of the Picasso statue in Daley Plaza to express our outrage, while two of our most outspoken pastors (Revs. Jesse Jackson and Michael Pfleger) felt the need to add their thoughts to the mix.

YET THE MOMENT that most caught my attention was the one from Jackson’s namesake son, as the member of Congress from Chicago’s far South Side and surrounding suburbs made his intentions known about possible government intervention.

The issue at stake with regards to the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin are the “Stand Your Ground” laws that exist in certain states – including Florida. They were the legal basis for local prosecutors to decide that the local security guy had justification to feel threatened by Martin.

Threatened enough that he could shoot him to death; without being considered worthy of a charge of murder. The idea that federal prosecutors may seek a "civil rights violation" against the man seems so minor, by comparison.

Those laws date back to the days of the “Wild West,” and that old cowboy-like spirit that would think a man ought to have the right to gun down someone who’s getting in his face.

IT’S AN OUTDATED sentiment, and not something that we should be proud ever existed in our society. It reiterates my belief that the ideologues who are critical these days of Martin’s conduct are really just trying to hold us in the past.

So what’s so special about Jackson, Junior?
MARTIN: This week's 'cause'

He says he plans to push in Congress for a federal law that would strike down all of those “Stand Your Ground” laws. Which you just know will manage to tick off the ideologues (the ones who scream "Obamacare!" until after their throats go hoarse) of our nation.

But Jackson has a point. These statutes that exist from state to state (and don’t exist in many states with common sense) create a potential for disaster – which we see in this very incident. Unless you consider the shooting of a young man armed with a package of Skittles-brand candy to be acceptable – in which case, you have a serious problem.

PERHAPS THIS IS one of those incidents where we need the federal government to intervene to create a unified vision of what self-defense really means. And anybody who claims that “Stand Your Ground” laws are about common sense ought to realize that they really go far beyond protecting oneself.

Now I’m not under any delusion that the Congress of the United States of America is going to unite behind any measure put forth by Jackson on this issue.

In fact, I am pretty sure that the conservative ideologues to whom the Republican caucuses in Congress feels indebted to these days will go out of their way to ensure that any bill sponsored by Jackson (or anyone else) on this issue will get stalled in the process.

But I think their actions would say more about their own mindsets than anything bad about the possible bill itself. For only the biggest ideologue would seriously believe that there is anything acceptable about the Florida situation – which has managed to tick people off from coast-to-coast and even inspired the Miami Heat professional basketball team last week to wear “hoodie” sweatshirts in tribute to Martin.

THEN AGAIN, THE ideologues like to live in a world of their own mental making – one in which they’re the only ones who matter and how everyone not like them needs to learn to be subservient.

Perhaps that was Martin’s real “crime,” not being sufficiently subservient? It doesn’t sound to me like something worthy of a “death” sentence – which is what Martin got in this case.

It is the reason that Jackson, the congressman (although his father and brother, Jonathan, were also vocal about the matter this weekend), was going around using such rhetoric as “wannabe cop” to describe the neighborhood watch-type who shot Martin and ‘wannabe police brutality” to describe his behavior.

It also is the reason we had people feeling the need to gather at Daley Plaza on Saturday to protest a Florida shooting death.

BECAUSE I COULDN’T help but notice the reports coming from downtown Chicago that among the protesters were relatives of a suburban Calumet City teenager diagnosed with a form of autism who was shot to death last month by local police.

There are those who believe that shooting by two officers will ultimately be ruled “justified” by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. But that fact does not mute the anger felt by others who merely see a dead boy and aren’t as concerned about the specifics.

The fact that some states would seem to have laws meant to erase the specifics of any given incident to try to justify such acts only adds to the confusion.

Which means that perhaps we ought to be hoping that a Jackson-inspired measure ought to become a part of federal law. Perhaps what our nation most needs is a bit of Chicago-inspired sense when it comes to what is justice.


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