A Note to George Zimmerman

Last week’s post sparked great discussion.  It is so gratifying tackling these issues with so many friends.  Throughout those conversations, the following three points emerged:

First, as per usual, I am entirely unimpressed with the issues that the media and public choose to care about.  Obesity, to name just one issue, kills millions and costs the US economy at least $300 billion a year and is treated primarily with those two incredibly cost-prohibitive treatments: diet and exercise.

Horrible and solvable issues abound and the Trayvon shooting is not one of them.  All the ranting about this being part of a larger issue about gun control and “Stand your Ground” laws is silly.  Perhaps we will get more cases like this because of these new laws, but right now each year about 56.5% of gun-related deaths in this country are suicides, a majority of what is left is drug or gang related, only 14% of gun deaths involve strangers, and on the whole violent crime like this has continued to decline across the country since the 1980s.  The rise of homicidal neighborhood watch volunteers is not likely to be an important public health issue in the future.

Second, we must be slow to judge what happened and why it happened (this video was something that made me pause).  This story has inspired racial outrage prematurely.  Of course, it very well might be racism that killed Trayvon Martin.  If so, when that is discovered to be the case, I will agree that it is part of a disturbing, larger trend of racism.  But the trends that I see right now are an America who jumps to conclusions when the victim of a shooting is black and progressives who jump to conclusions about gun owners.  So, my progressive friends, take it from me: I find the second amendment archaic, stand your ground laws unwise, vigilanteism foolish, and the modern Republican Party upsetting.  But nonetheless, Zimmerman deserves to be tried based on the laws of his state and not your sense of what is right and wrong.  He should have his day in court and, if you are truly an open-minded liberal, in the court of your opinion.

Third, I have something to say to Zimmerman himself.  (If he is anything like me, he probably spends too much time looking at his story online, so I hope he finds this.)

Zimmerman, I don’t know you, and I don’t know what happened, but please know that I’m feeling for you man, for the fame that has rushed in on you, and for the tragic circumstances that led to it.  Two years ago, I almost hit a baby in a stroller while pulling out of a gas station.  I cannot imagine what you are going through having actually killed a 17-year-old.  And now it must seem like your whole life is out of your control and you don’t know who your friends are.  I am sorry so much has been taken from you so quickly without a conviction to justify it.

But do me a favor.  I know my little traffic accident made me think about giving up cars entirely–that perhaps it just wasn’t worth speeding around at high velocity in large hulks of metal if I could destroy something so precious with it–but I ultimately didn’t because it was too inconvenient. But you could succeed where I failed.  I am wondering, has this experience caused you to reflect anew on whether owning personal handguns is worth it?  If you came out against gun ownership right now, or even sold your own guns, it would send a strong statement.  If you don’t change your mind on guns, I respect that, but you should still think about it.  Very soon your 15 minutes of fame will be gone, your national audience will dissipate, and you will lose the chance to effect enormous change.  Don’t waste the moment. ; )

About Jer Clifton

Look up, friend. The world is too beautiful for my eyes alone. View all posts by Jer Clifton

7 responses to “A Note to George Zimmerman

  • ryan s.

    jer, thank you for sending me the link to your blog. i enjoyed reading your last two compositions, and your reflections on the ‘subway incident.’ allow me to share a rather disjointed set of thoughts in the immediate aftermath:

    1. you were interviewed by steve doocy!? incredible! you should receive an award for abstaining from laughing at him throughout the entire interview.

    2. in respect to the overarching narrative of your original zimmerman post, i respectfully, but fundamentally, disagree. it may be cynical, but i contend all interpersonal relationships are incomplete mosaics riddled with fallacies, half-truths, and purposefully perpetuated lies. perceptions of others, both well-known and unknown, are made up of small portion of an individuals experience and realities. in deficiency of comprehensive perspective, we tell stories about who people are in order understand our relationships’ purpose and capacity. moreover, we intentionally construct, and preserve, incorrect perspectives of ourselves when it serves our purposes. therefore, i believe your post is a theatric magnification of a larger relational paradigm which happens at all times, everyday, with everyone. obviously, in zimmerman’s case, receiving death threats is absurd and should be condemned. however, i find deconstructing the misguided and biased stories we tell about ourselves, and others we engage in meaningful relationships with, to be more pertinent and alarming.

    3. i am uncomfortable with any critique of media which isn’t rooted in society’s consumptive behaviors. the media is not culpable for the entertainment we demand through monetary affirmation. the news reflects reality tv because it is our medium of choice. until we begin to consume more documentaries rather than action movies, or read social policy briefs rather than the twilight books, news coverage will remain reverberating the shallowness of our culture. in other words, the problem isn’t them, its us.

    4. in regards to the racism charges, I think you may have lost an important, if not central, element: the actions of law enforcement. i know some have contended zimmerman racially profiled trayvon, and the hoodie apparel received significant attention, but it was my understanding most of the dialogue about racism centered around the actions of the police. irrefutable empirical evidence of racism has been proven within our law enforcement and judicial systems. as you rightfully wrote, whether this case is another revelation of that injustice is still to be determined. however, institutional racism should be an prioritized societal discussion, and if this case can foment a wider discussion i believe it should be welcomed.

    5. finally, I agree zimmerman should be tried against the law as it is currently written, without equivocation. however, it is antithetical to advocate due process without being necessarily concerned with the moral authority of the law. if the framework in which justice is defined is flawed, discourse regarding changing the framework is needed. moreover, the magnitude to which a law effects the populous is irrelevant. the legitimacy of the law, and therefore societal definitions of justice, is blind to the measures of its breach. injustice for one is injustice for all. it may be a divergent discussion, one difficult to separate from the incident which illustrates its possible injustice, but i strongly disagree dialogue about the law is ‘silly.’ indeed, if you are truly concerned with a more just society, it is constitutive.

    i realize i have respond to a diverse set of points made in your blog; i hope it was not too incoherent. lets grab lunch at some point this week.

    • Jer

      No prob! Super glad to see you reading and commenting.
      1. Yes : ) If I just would have had 2 more seconds I would have chimed, “And if Jon Stewart would have fallen on the 3rd rail, you would have grabbed him for sure.”
      2) I would like to talk to you about this more. I find this interesting, but a little too abstract so I don’t think I am really grasping your meaning. Perhaps I am not sure what you are disagreeing with.
      3) Oh, I agree entirely. I have a long history for blaming people, and not the media or politicians for everything : )
      4) I agree, grudgingly because it makes my posts less awesome. : ) Seriously, I did not talk about the police, but there are also plenty of people who are sure Zimmerman was a racist, and I just think it’s crazy how quick we are to jump to conclusions on things like that, and it leads to an excaberation of race tensions in the country, rather than healing.
      5) Got some great lines in here: “the legitimacy of the law, and therefore societal definitions of justice, is blind to the measures of its breach.” Nice! And to an extent I think you are right, and of course right about how the law should have moral authority AND de facto authority, but I will push back on this: what I hear you arguing for is that we spend time and energy debating stand your ground laws. But this seems a bit wrong to me. The magnitude of how badly the law affects society does matter, and it should matter more than how it affects our sensibilities. I recently read an article about prison reform, which I hope to post about soon, and I am thoroughly disgusted by how dreadful our prison system is, and how little attention it gets. Compared to issues like that, any one-off story is anecdotal and somewhat silly. No don’t get me wrong, I’ll still talk the hell out of it, I love talking about interesting things, but it’s more intellectual masturbation (in the fight club sense) than love for my fellow human beings.

      Wonderful comments ryan! You really got my juices flowing. Yes! Lunch! That would be great.

  • Dan

    Another interesting read, Jer! Given the bounty placed on Zimmerman by the Black Panthers, it could be well-argued that he needs a gun now more than ever before.

    • Jer

      Yeah, and there have been scores of death threats now too. Still…I guess this makes me liberal…carrying around a gun for self-defense purposes, even in this extreme case, just doesn’t quite make sense to me.

      Dan! Thanks for reading the blog! I am honored.

  • Nick

    “This story has inspired racial outrage prematurely. Of course, it very well might be racism that killed Trayvon Martin. If so, when that is discovered to be the case, I will agree that it is part of a disturbing, larger trend of racism. But the trends that I see right now are an America who jumps to conclusions when the victim of a shooting is black and progressives who jump to conclusions about gun owners. ”

    By now, I’m sure that the racial outrage has expanded into all the possible avenues. But the focus of the story has only recently shifted to Zimmerman. Originally, at least half of the racial outrage was directed at the police who let Zimmerman go because they simply believed in spite of evidence that he initiated the confrontation. At the time, it looked like the police were more inclined to believe Zimmerman because Martin was young and black. It still looks like that, but the focus of the story has moved on, even after Sanford rejected the police chief’s resignation.

    Some more food for thought regarding disturbing trends:
    “Whether or not racism played into Trayvon’s death, it certainly has surfaced in the backlash against those calling for justice. […] Many people cannot stand to hear about modern racism towards minorities. Any mention of race immediately brings comments about “the race card” or “race baiting.” Their narrative is that the white race is really the race that suffers the most racism in America. And so, they jump on any rumor or alleged evidence which might confirm their belief that Zimmerman is innocent. They probably would never admit to being racist, and perhaps they don’t even believe that they are racist, but their passionate denial that race figured into this tragedy and their willingness to accept any “evidence” to support that presupposition suggests otherwise.”


    • Nick

      Huh. The was not as clear as I thought it was. I had two points:
      1. The media focus has gradually shifted away from Zimmerman and the police to Zimmerman alone. The police conduct never felt right, so I don’t really understand why they have been gradually ignored. Trappings of a media narrative? Who knows. I just think its important to recognize that Zimmerman isn’t the only source of racial conflict in this story.
      2. The other disturbing trend was the conservative backlash described in the quote. I don’t think this applies to you, Jer, you’re talking about the sonic boom media thrill ride that can warp an individual’s entire existence. I’m just throwing it out there as another trend that was genuinely disturbing.

      • Jer

        As for your first point, I totally agree. Your second point is a bit unclear to me. I do not deny racism was a part of this tragedy, but I do assert that it might not have been. We don’t know yet. Also, being ethnically a minority is an asset in many circles, such as in my work in non-profit world. But I think I also benefit from some intangible “white” culture that I do not fully understand. Anyway…I think racism is idiotic.

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