lunes, julio 15, 2013

Zimmerman verdict highlights what's wrong with this country




Saturday night, I was at home, very uncharacteristically glued to MSNBC's coverage of the George Zimmerman trial.  The jury was out for deliberation, and they would be for sixteen or so hours.

The all-female, nearly all white jury of six. One juror was described as either black or hispanic. Four were mothers. One of them, when asked if Zimmerman was wrong to follow Trayvon Martin, replied "Yeah, I guess...."

On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was walking home from a 7-11 with what would become a very symbolic bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea. He was staying in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. It was dark and raining. George Zimmerman, a 28 year old, half Peruvian, self-appointed neighborhood watchman, not good enough to be an actual cop despite his efforts, was making rounds of the gated community in his car. When he spied Trayvon walking home in a dark hoodie, "looking suspicious", he called police. We know that in the recording of that call, police tell Zimmerman to leave Trayvon alone. Zimmerman followed, and at one point, got out of the car and approached Trayvon, who was on the phone with his childhood friend, Rachel Jeantel. Zimmerman asked "What are you doing around here?", something to that effect. Whether he identified himself as neighborhood watch to Trayvon, which may have calmed the situation, I'm not sure. A struggle followed. Neighbors heard screams and called the police. Then, gunshots went off.

Let's consider the state of Florida first:  This is a Southern state that has voted Republican 6 times in the last 9 elections, in a region that still votes along lines quite similar to those of slavery in a civil-war era map of the South.  It is safe to say that Florida is a conservative (take that word to mean what you will) state. Florida, governed by Jeb Bush during 2000, famously or infamously, hosted a recount in that year's election when, many argue, George Bush, Jeb's brother, was "appointed" President of the U. S. by the Supreme Court, rather than elected by the people. Florida is a state where no license is required to purchase a gun, there is no required registration of guns, and there is no rule that a gun-owner must disclose their possession of a firearm to law enforcement. It's been said by comedians that, in Florida, guns are given out with lottery tickets.  Sanford, Florida, is a small town whose police force often refer to the black community they are meant to protect as "porch monkeys". 

Most recently, a Florida jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of killing her child, 2 year old Caylee. A Florida court last week sentenced a woman to 20 years in prison for firing one warning shot to scare off her abusive husband. She allegedly fired in the direction of a room where two children were standing, hence prosecution. It was ruled that she was not "someone in fear for her safety." Florida is famous for their "Stand Your Ground" law, which states that "a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first." 

Zimmerman was found not guilty by the jury based on this law and the inability to prove that he acted with ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent. Here, I recall to you the most famous of Zimmerman's statements to the police as he followed Martin:

"These assholes. They always get away."

To be completely fair, when you read the transcript of that call all the way through, you might understand how Zimmerman would have felt uneasy or scared. According to that transcript, Zimmerman stated that Trayvon did start to approach the car. I would be scared out of my mind in that situation. But I would stop my car, stay in it and wait for the cops. A wannabe cop with something to prove would not, especially when the kid started to run away.  And just a note:  no, they don't always get away, and that is a whole 'nother story.

In Trayvon's defense, if I was being followed by a strange man in a strange car, I would start to run like hell, as Trayvon eventually did, also according to the transcript of the police call. It was after Trayvon started to run that Zimmerman got out of his car.

That's when, allegedly, Zimmerman caught up with Trayvon.  That's when the struggle happened. 

The screaming, according to Zimmerman's mom, was her son's.  His uncle also claimed it was George's voice, saying that he "felt it in his heart" (give me a break).  Trayvon's mom said it was her son.  So did his father. A neighbor who made a call to 911 argued it was Zimmerman, another that it was Trayvon.  

I'll tell you something:  while watching the coverage and waiting for the verdict, I drifted off, and what woke me were Trayvon's screams for help as the tape of a neighbor's call to 911 was played in court.

The prosecution was unable to prove that Zimmerman's shooting Trayvon indicated an indifference to human life. I'm sure Zimmerman values human life very much. Namely, his own, his family's, etc. Did he value Trayvon's life, or any black person's life? The answer is unequivocally, without a doubt, NO. As the prosecutor said in his closing argument, Zimmerman had hate in his heart and in his mouth.  He acted recklessly even though, as he has admitted, he didn't know about the Stand Your Ground law at the time (no wonder he was rejected by the police) and therefore that he could eventually be protected by it.  

The jury agreed that Zimmerman did not act with an indifference to human life, because they do not know what it is to be judged - to have the validity of your life judged - by the color of your skin, but more than that, by the criminality, proven or not, of the rest of your people.  

Trayvon's "crime" was being black in a gated community where black men had robbed a few houses in recent months.  That's a fact.

Even if a black man or woman does not follow a path of criminality, he/she is already branded from the time they leave the womb.  He/she doesn't stand a chance.  It is very difficult to take yourself out of that, and being half-white, half-Latina, I can't accurately tell you how hard.  But I do know this: black men are, in the minds of most non-blacks, threatening, intimidating, uneducated, GUILTY. To get themselves away from those pervasive stereotypes, black men (and Latinos) have to work that much harder to "speak so well" and otherwise prove themselves to get even the smallest amount of respect that the rest of us get without discussion.  That's a fact.

The woman who fired a warning shot to scare off her husband?  She had no right to Stand her Ground. 

Trayvon had no right to Stand His Ground.  

I do not believe for a minute that Trayvon, as Zimmerman insists, reached for Zimmerman's gun, which to my mind, he couldn't have even seen in the dark, in its black holster, stuck down the back of Zimmerman's pants, covered by Zimmerman's jacket.  Zimmerman had the right to carry a concealed weapon.  Trayvon did not.  He had only the pavement, as the defense pointed out.  

I can't and don't want to address the rest of the inconsistencies in Zimmerman's story, such as the alleged 40 seconds of his head being continually bashed against that pavement with nothing but two cuts.  I think those holes in the story were definitely glossed over by the defense, and to be fair, it is their job to do that, to minimize inconsistencies to prove their side of the story.  Those inconsistencies, it seemed to me, were also glossed over by the prosecution, and despite what they likely consider their best efforts, and they were pretty good, they also did Trayvon and his family a disservice.

I was not surprised to hear Zimmerman found not guilty of second degree murder.  But I was very surprised that Zimmerman was not put away, was not even given a slap on the wrist, for manslaughter.  Because a black man would have gotten life, no questions asked.

And that's a fact.

Over the past two days, I've heard this a lot:

"A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect."

The American justice system was not established to protect black people.  But as black folks were freed from slavery, the justice system has very sadly and very clearly not been updated to reflect their humanity.  I add that the justice system was not built to protect women, girls or children of any race either, and it has not been fully updated in that respect, either. Citizens, instead of merely pointing this out, should move by electing more people of color and more women to more accurately represent this country's population in courts of law.

Another thing that happened this weekend, which received little to no coverage (UPDATE: It is now, on twitter and beyond), was this: http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/202098/teenagers-temar-boggs-and-chris-garcia-rescue-5-year-old-girl-from-kidnapping/.  Temar Boggs is two years younger than Trayvon was when he died.





miércoles, julio 03, 2013

Kid destroys a life and a family and gets, oh, just 24 years for it

Thomas Maslin was walking home through Washington, D.C.'s Eastern Market from a Washington Nationals game one August night last year.  Three guys, kids, really, jumped him, hit him in the head repeatedly with an aluminum baseball bat (the irony is disgusting), and robbed him of his bank card, his phone and keys.

I hope those kids think it was worth it.  They robbed someone else in the Adams Morgan section of D.C. just hours after attacking Maslin.

Maslin suffers from brain damage as a result of the attack, as well as limited use of the limbs on one side of his body.  He can't see out of his left eye.  He cannot read his 2 year-old son a bedtime story.  He can't walk properly.  There is a whole list of things he can't do anymore.

One of the three kids got more than 24 years for his part in the assault.  Another kid's trial starts next week.  The third kid pled guilty to his part in the attack and probably got a nice break for testifying against his friend, because that's how our legal system rolls.

People, this is why we can't have nice things.  Envy, hate, greed, those things are definitely a factor in this awful crime.  But more than that, I really wonder when parents stopped parenting and teaching their kids the difference between right and wrong.  As in, it's wrong to beat a (wo)man.  It's wrong to steal.  This is basic stuff.  I can only imagine the horrid home lives these kids must have had.  Cracked out parents, maybe they were beat themselves - I can only speculate.  Not that this is an excuse.  But crime begets crime, so I have to wonder what these kids suffered to make them so cruel, so disrespectful, so covetous.  Maybe they had it good growing up and somewhere they went wrong with no one to correct them.

And the ringleader gets 24 years, give or take.  He should get life.  He basically killed a man and ruined a family.  The absolute worst part?  This was not a unique crime.


The WordPress Experiment, Part II

I got the bright idea of switching to WordPress at a web content seminar I took at Interactive One with the great Gordon Hurd.  It was an awesome seminar, short and sweet, yet I took away a lot of new information from it.  Gordon likes WordPress, and therefore pushed it to us, and while I could appreciate that and actually did try WordPress for a bit, the old saying still stands: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  So I'm back to Blogger.

Hey there!

miércoles, septiembre 19, 2012

The WordPress Experiment

So I've been told by various folks, WordPress is among the best of the free blogging tools.  I'm not too clear on why that is, but I gather that it is a more "grown-up" blogging tool, more organized, more direct.  it could be that people take blogs on WordPress more seriously than those on Blogger.  I figure as much, because mention of Blogger in the content and web design workshops/seminars I've been attending lately is met with a frown, or at least an "oh, you're a beginner, right?" kind of look.

I'm experimenting with WordPress, and I'd be honored if you would visit, take a look, praise, hate, let me know how it feels, tell a friend, etc.

WordPress pros, so far: 

1.  Easy tagging and assigning categories.  
2.  Easy sharing (here's where I'm confused.  On my food blog, there are share options on the lower left hand corner of every blog post, Google+ being the most prominent (Blogger is a Google kid).  On this blog, however, the share options are on the upper left hand corner of the main page.  If you share from there, it will share the whole site as opposed to one post.  If you want to share the post only, you must click on the post title first.)
3.  Template is nice enough - it's more organized.  
4.  Best for long form blogs as opposed to photography or Pinterest-type blogs.
5.  Useful widgets.

The con:
1. Many templates cost $60-$100, and the free ones can only be customized to a small extent.  If you want to change fonts, that'll cost you, too.


I like to be able to play around with fonts and pictures and I can spend an awful lot of time on this.  WordPress will, most likely, force me to concentrate on content, which is not such a bad idea at this point.

Again, I'd love it if you'd visit and let me know what you think.  Any ideas on WordPress vs. other blogging tools would also be much appreciated.

Thanks, loves!!!


jueves, septiembre 13, 2012

A review of Junot Diaz's "This Is How You Lose Her"

Junot Diaz has always been a favorite author of mine, ever since college when he came to the Latin-American lit class I was taking in '98. By that time, I had already read Drown and was on my way to reading Negocios, the Spanish translation of Drown, expertly done by my lit. professor, Mr. Eduardo Lago (even the colloquialisms and the SHUCO-ness, the grit, the sarcasm, the naughtiness, came through, which I know, as an amateur translator myself, is supremely tough to accomplish).

Diaz's language, dialogue, place, every ounce of passion and work he puts into his writing, it is all fresh, and so it will be when I reread This Is How You Lose Her next year, and the next, and so on. It takes a very talented writer to give his readers a different glimpse of the same character, Yunior, who pops up everywhere, starting with Drown. Every time he shows up, you see a different side. He's an onion - every time you peel back a layer, you feel like crying a little. Notice here that Yunior's girls - his sucias - and his friends revolve around him, but the family stays the same, close to him, living in the back of his head - dando consejos (giving advice), for better or for worse, and sometimes ruling him. The mark of a great author is the characters he crafts, and Diaz is a writer who blows the best of them out of the water on that count.

Diaz has an amazing ability to evoke emotion like few others can - you pull for Yunior and his boys. You pray for Yunior's brother Rafa, yet, like their Mami, you are almost constantly disgusted with him at the same time.  So you pray for him then hold up your hand like you are going to smack him silly. You want to hug Yunior's girls, tell them you've been there, hold their hands, tell them that even the smartest women can be easily fooled by a charming man.  Yunior's mami....like many Latina wives and mothers, she makes suffering her claim to fame, sacrifice and guilt trips her job, but she has a sharp mind and is far from a hopeless case. You can never count her out. And Yunior's Papi, it's like Yunior said in Fiesta, 1980 (a story in Drown) - you just look at his belly button because you're scared to look him in the eye.

Yunior. Dios mio. You want to hug him. You see through the exterior and you want to tell him it's all OK, he can be real. You want to yell at him and knock some sense into him. Like one of his girls in Cheater's Guide to Love, the last story in This Is How You Lose Her, you love his mind, which is expert on almost everything - from words you have to look up that he casually slips into conversation/narration to sci-fi references you also have to Wikipedia. Yet you empathize with him. You throw up your hands because you wish he'd just come clean. And you want to be there when he does.

You know you could never live the way some of those characters do, or in the places they live, yet people stronger than you do it every day. When you have hope and faith, so do they. There is a common thread that unites everyone that you don't know about or even willfully ignore until you read Diaz's work.

And then the sadness when the book ends, even though you know you'll see it again, is palpable. ~~sigh~~

I've read a few of the stories in This Is How You Lose Her in the New Yorker during the past few years. The ripped-out pages I saved in a portfolio just in case I never saw those stories published again. But even though those magazine pages, for the most part, contain the same words as the corresponding stories in the book, it's like the stories were brand new. Again, blows everyone away on sheer ability.

And Diaz, you want to tell him, "You did good, hombre. You did real good."


Editor's note: I made sure to buy my copy of this book at Posman Books in New York City, a small bookstore with three locations throughout the city. Please remember to buy your books at independent bookstores.