Drop The Whistle; Shoot A Black Kid Instead (or Torture Prisoners)

Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to jail for thirty-five years for committing the heinous crime of whistleblowing. Manning knows that she didn’t just commit a crime, she committed the wrong sort of crime:

Manning spoke to reporters after the hearing, to admit his disappointment at the sentence, telling those gathered, “I look back to that fateful day and wish I’d just left those files on my computer and gone out and shot a black kid instead….my life would be a lot less complicated if I’d only taken the life of a young person from a different ethnic background, instead of sending some documents to a website.”

Legal experts have expressed support for the 35 year sentence given to Manning, by explaining that members of the public don’t actually understand how the law works. Former lawyer Simon Williams explained, “Illegally taking information you don’t have the right to access, and using it for your own purposes is only ‘properly’ illegal if you’re not a government agency. Governments can do what they like with information they’re not allowed to have – if nothing else, Prism has taught us that.  Whereas absolutely anyone can shoot a black teenager to death, obviously.”

Manning has learnt these simple facts the hard way but that doesn’t mean that those young folks who have been following her trial have to as well.  They will, in particular, have hopefully internalized the following facts about the system of justice prevalent in this great nation of ours.

First, a career in high finance can ensure the penalty-free satisfaction of desires, even if their fulfillment runs afoul of ethical and legal consideration. If unbridled earning with no regard for the immiseration of others is your thing, then young folks will do well to pay attention to the so-called financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath.  Giddy, reckless speculation, irresponsible and unregulated banking will never, ever get you sent to jail. This career option is best for those seeking to maximize income, while not being unduly worried about penalties. Indeed, this might earn you the admiring sobriquet of ‘indispensable’ by government officials.

Second, if finance seems dull, and big bucks seem passé, and your taste in pleasures are influenced by Sade, then consider a career in law-enforcement or counter-intelligence instead. Brutal interrogations, torture, and unchecked surveillance can induce sufficient frisson to satisfy even the most jaded. As before, there will be little fear of moral disapproval or legal penalty. This career choice, while not as lucrative as banking, does provide admiration from those who will regard you as a defender of their liberties and a fighter for freedom everywhere.

Lastly, if your career options are settled and you are looking for easy entertainment, then as Manning indicates, consider shooting black teenagers instead, especially those that wear clothes which, despite being worn by countless white teenagers, will always be regarded as symbols of black criminality. This course of action might even net you a book deal, or a moonlighting gig as spokesperson for the National Rifle Association.

Parents would do well to inculcate these principles early in their children.

Note: I have edited this post to use Manning’s name and pronouns of choice. Good luck to her.

The All Too Inevitable Denouement of the Trayvon Martin Story

In commenting on the murder of Trayvon Martin last year, I wrote:

The killing of Trayvon Martin is a classically American nightmare: a suburb somewhere, a dark night, a young black man on the streets, guns in the hands of people who imagine it will make them safer, calls to 911 that provide grim, brief, staccato evidence of a deadly, preventable encounter. And at the end of it all, a dead man, grieving parents, a police force and a city administration making mealy-mouthed responses. When we reach that stage, a sickening sense of deja vu strikes, for we have memorized the rest of the script: a little outrage that soon blows itself out, some protest marches, featuring as usual, some ‘leaders’ of the black community, bland, banal responses from the police force, and a meandering march toward ‘justice,’ which, more often than not, ends in miscarriage.

Well, that familiar script has played out as predicted and the anticipated miscarriage of ‘justice’ is here: George Zimmerman has been acquitted of second-degree murder and of manslaughter; Trayvon Martin‘s parents are left grieving and inconsolate, resigned to spending the rest of their lives mourning a young life cut short. And the rest of us reduced to raging impotently, if eloquently at times, on social media timelines and playing parlor games in which thought experiments involving a white Trayvon Martin and a black Zimmerman are devised, with the same outcome every time: Zimmerman going to the gallows or heading for a life sentence in prison.

A few weeks, months or years from now, Trayvon Martin’s name will acquire some obscurity, and blend in with Yusuf Hawkins, Amadou Diallo, and oh, take your pick: a grim roll of black men who get shot on the streets, and whose killers always, somehow, manage to walk; his portrait will join those flashed at the rallies that will soon, again, be held for some other victim of the over-hasty, over-eager policeman or home-brewed vigilante.  Zimmerman will go back to his life, still armed and dangerous. If the perversity of our culture will play out in some of its most gruesome manifestations, we might see him again, perhaps on a talk show, or a book release event, justifying his unhinged reactions on that fatal night.

In the post from which I’ve quoted above, I also wrote:

[T]he final pull of the trigger, as in this case, was merely the spearpoint of a weapon that had been aimed at Trayvon Martin’s head for a very long time. Zimmerman lives in a society infected by racism; when he finally shot Trayvon, he wasn’t acting alone; he was accompanied by anything and everything that has conspired to make it the case that young black men in this country are taking substantial risks when they venture out alone into a dark street.

The ‘anything and everything’ includes legal statutes like Florida’s stand-your-ground law, but even more importantly, it includes the structural racism which made it possible for those thought experiments I allude to above to be run so easily.

That structure needs, and will take, some tearing down.

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Fallacy of the ‘Lone Gunman’

It is worth remembering, the next time you see Trayvon Martin‘s parent’s on television, trying to explain their pleas for justice, that you are looking at human beings who, in the giant totem pole that mankind has constructed of Humans Who Have Suffered Terrible Losses, occupy a fairly high position.

The killing of Trayvon Martin is a classically American nightmare: a suburb somewhere, a dark night, a young black man on the streets, guns in the hands of people who imagine it will make them safer, calls to 911 that provide grim, brief, staccato evidence of a deadly, preventable encounter. And at the end of it all, a dead man, grieving parents, a police force and a city administration making mealy-mouthed responses. When we reach that stage, a sickening sense of deja vu strikes, for we have memorized the rest of the script: a little outrage that soon blows itself out, some protest marches, featuring as usual, some ‘leaders’ of the black community, bland, banal responses from the police force, and a meandering march toward ‘justice,’ which, more often than not, ends in miscarriage.

There is another, well-established trope as component of this recurring tragedy: character testimonials about the killer, about how he could not have been a ‘racist.’ But the fallacy in this sort of defense is in imagining that visible, overt racism must reside in the final cause we identify. But more often that not, the final pull of the trigger, as in this case, was merely the spearpoint of a weapon that had been aimed at Trayvon Martin’s head for a very long time. Zimmerman lives in a society infected by racism; when he finally shot Trayvon, he wasn’t acting alone; he was accompanied by anything and everything that has conspired to make it the case that young black men in this country are taking substantial risks when they venture out alone into a dark street. Zimmerman had been convinced, a long time ago, that the right way for him to assuage his fears of young black men was to work it out, dramatically, with a gun. He would take revenge for all the fear that been visited on him in the past. In his fatal decision to pursue Trayvon with a deadly weapon, Zimmerman was the final instantiation of a set of social forces that had been acting around, and on him, for a very long time.

In Chapter 2 of  Law and Literature, Richard Posner suggests that an entire genre of literature can be read as making the case that the rule of law should replace social systems of revenge. With the Stand Your Ground law, the vigilantism it has sparked, and with the relentless machinations of the NRA to keep firearms in the hands of one and all, it is clear we have pulled off a rather remarkable conjuring trick: we have written violence and revenge back into the law. Or to put it in more simple terms, we have written back ‘taking the law into your own hands’ into the law. Zimmerman was merely the Executive Branch of this legal system.