Free Expression

 

 

                  Free Expression

DSC_2465To satirize, or not to satirize: that is the question:

Whether ’tis noblest in the mind

to proffer opinions unto vexation’s peak,

to sketch sentiments conforming to a menacing decree,

or

to splinter our pencils and sprinkle unenlightened charcoal atop unreflective, withering leaves—

Who decides?

(What would Shakespeare do?)

 

Not Guilty: Some Thoughts, A Correction

In my Friday, July 26, 2013 piece, “Not Guilty: Some Thoughts,” I stated that George Zimmerman’s gun was returned to him in the courtroom after he was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter charges.

That statement is false and I apologize for the error.

George Zimmerman’s gun, along with other evidence in the case, is in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice which has resumed its investigation of Zimmerman into the death of Trayvon Martin.

Not Guilty: Some Thoughts

Not guilty.

A wasp’s sting. I’d hoped for a conviction but I did not fully expect the primarily white, female jury to acquit George Zimmerman. I had little confidence that the prosecution would prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Their charges were stiff, the burden of proof, high. Evidence was not collected at the crime scene or from Zimmerman that would have strengthened the state’s case. Indeed, Zimmerman was arrested only because of a national outcry demanding an investigation into the shooting. Now, due process complete and after weeks of a show trial, the public received a burning dose of social and legal reality.

Not guilty.

Something was very wrong here. I wanted justice for Trayvon Martin not a Zimmerman exoneration.

I thought about the jury. As a former juror who served on a criminal case in New York years ago I well understood the deliberation process–hours of sifting through evidence, determining the credibility of witnesses, weighing the prosecutor’s case, searching for reasonable doubt. Jurors are expected to be impartial in their deliberations but no one can be totally objective. Jurors do interpret what they see and hear in the courtroom through the filter of their own life experiences. Why was there only one black juror on this case. Why were others who could have added minority perspectives to this case not included?

I blamed Florida law and the prosecutors. Six jurors in a second degree murder case did not seem enough to tease out the truth. I know verdicts should be derived from the perceptions of the group based on evidence presented within the context of the law as explained by the judge, but I wondered if deliberation arguments and the outcome would have been different had there been twelve multicultural jurors on this interracial case.

Not guilty.

The verdict did not represent Trayvon’s perspective, how he experienced Zimmerman’s stalking. Was he fearful? Perhaps he should have called the police. But did he have any  expectation that the police would help him, a black teenager? We can’t know for certain. The seventeen year old is dead.  His voice, unheard. His killer, acquitted.

The jury spoke. The state’s case is finished.

Is there any recourse? Of course, the U.S. Justice Department would resume their case against Zimmerman, but could they charge him with a hate crime? How would they prove intent? Another high, judicial bar. I didn’t place much hope here.

My heart broke for Trayvon’s parents. Their ordeal had to be agonizing. I admired their grace, dignity, and strength. I wondered how they sat in court, day after day, and listened to defense lawyers blame their son for his own death. The loss of a child is a nightmare. Chilling.  As a mother, I have never had to deal with such horror. My own children grew to adulthood. Their child never would.

I knew Trayvon’s parents have the right to file wrongful death charges in civil court against Zimmerman, the right to seek a monetary settlement from him. It would not carry the same weight as a guilty verdict in a criminal case, but it would hold Zimmerman accountable for his actions. If he testified and if they won their case.

But how does one place a monetary value on one’s child’s life? A child who had a right to be where he was, a right to walk to his father’s home unmolested? How does one place a monetary value on any of our children? More importantly, why should we have to? All children, regardless of race, have the right to adult protection in our communities. This clearly did not happen in the Sanford, Florida neighborhood that Zimmerman claimed he watched.

Not guilty.

I wondered about George Zimmerman. His gun was returned to him in the courtroom. He walked out of there a free man. How does a free, adult man live with the fact that he shot an unarmed, innocent boy to death.? At point blank range. In the heart. I had not heard about any expression of remorse from Zimmerman. I could only surmise he believed the jury added a sense of righteousness to his actions. Now he was armed and back on the street. I wondered how he celebrated his acquittal?

Not guilty.

I blamed the Florida laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons and stand their ground. I believe that carrying a gun inflates one’s confidence with misguided power. One feels that one has life and death control over any situation. Carrying a gun reduces the chance of  responsible discernment in questionable circumstances.  The danger is that verbal communication can be replaced by lethality arising in the heat of the moment. I also believe that standing one’s ground should not allow for provoking a confrontation. Neither should it give one the right to claim self-defense for acts committed as a result of such provocation. Especially when the provocateur is told by a 911 operator to stand down and wait for the police to arrive.

George Zimmerman, by his own admission, did not wait for the police to arrive. Instead, he stalked  Trayvon Martin. In so doing, he set up the circumstance that allowed for a confrontation. When he felt he was losing the altercation, he pulled his gun and killed the teenager. In essence, George Zimmerman chose to take matters into his own hands. Tragically, they were matters of his own making. Had he exercised adult responsibility at the time, the seventeen year old would still be alive.

Perhaps if Zimmerman, as a neighborhood watch volunteer, had not profiled Trayvon as a criminal but asked the boy where he was going and inquired if he needed help, he’d have seen Trayvon’s bottle of iced tea and his bag of candy, and realized he had nothing to fear from the boy. Had he talked with Trayvon, he may have realized that Trayvon, like himself,  belonged in that neighborhood.  Instead, he acted on an untrue premise that ended in horrible fatality. And he walked away from it without consequence.

Not guilty.

It does not mean innocent.

Boston

Dear Boston,

My heart is with you during this time of terror, anxiety, and uncertainty.

Love and deepest sympathies to all.

Please know that I hold you and those seeking to bring an end to your ordeal in the Light.

Also know that I stand with you as I pray for the city’s safety and for all who live, work, and pass through it.

Blessings.

Words Matter

On December 14, 2012 twenty children and six adults were shot at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A military style weapon, the Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15-E2S rifle with high capacity 30 round clips, was used by twenty year old Adam Lanza who, according to news reports, may have had a form of autism which is a developmental disorder.

Since that horrible day our shocked nation has plunged into a discussion surrounding the prevention of future similar tragedies as we mourn the victims of that senseless shooting. In essence, we are a nation in grief seeking ways to deal with the incomprehensible—the bullet-riddled imagery of babies. And we desire to leave no issue unaddressed as we strive toward our responsibility as citizens in a country that accepts gun ownership as a constitutional right.

And this is where things can get a bit murky. Part of our national conversation includes issues relative to our society’s mentally ill and their presumed tendency toward violence.

Much of our focus has been on the necessity of keeping guns out of the hands of those with psychiatric disorders. Indeed, we’re hard-pressed to find news reports, opinion pieces, investigations, and congressional hearings that do not carry the “mental illness-violence association.” Yet we run the risk of strengthening some existing, negative, social connotations that often feed our ideas and formulate our imagery regarding this group. For example, who has not heard that “lunatics” and “crazies” kill people, or that those who are “sick in the head” are the most capable of doing so in our society?

In actuality, this is far from the case. Though less than 7% of those diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder commit criminal acts, it is also true that the majority of those with mental illness in our country are not violent. They are, in fact, more likely to harm themselves than others. And they are the most likely to be preyed upon by other groups. This population is one of the most vulnerable among us. And the most stigmatized.

Our discrimination of this group is not new. People who think and behave inconsistently with cultural norms have always lived among us. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that technological advances allowed researchers to find ways of adjusting imbalanced brain chemistries within this group that allowed them to live within convention. These days most people with psychiatric disorders can live normal lives with the help of medications and various cognitive and talk therapies. But only if these treatments are readily available to those who need them.

Our mental health system is, like much of the rest of our health care system, difficult to access and expensive. People with psychiatric disorders need maintenance care. Many need medications throughout their lifetimes. Yet many people do not seek help because of stigma. And stigma continues because our culture has assigned mental health/illness issues a low priority.

It’s important to understand that our words matter along with the associations they express. Especially when there exist strong, social connotations. While we can benefit from discourse on mental illness within the context of gun and violence control, we run the danger of removing the focus from the event that shocked us into our dialogue. That Adam Lanza may have suffered from a form of autism is regrettable. That his parents had few health resources available to them added to their personal tragedy which, unfortunately, exploded into our national one. But we do a disservice to the millions of non-violent people with psychiatric disorders by allowing the continuation of the stereotype that they’ve been cast into.

The 26 people killed in Newtown were killed with a military style rifle that would have continued to have been banned under the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. The ban expired during the Bush administration and was not reinstated. Another aspect of this tragedy.

More information can be found at the following links:

http://www.samhsa.gov/MentalHealth/understanding_Mentalllness_Factsheet.aspx

http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=press_room&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=148650

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/wh_now_is_the_time_full.pdf

http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Home4/Home_Page_Spotlights/Spotlight_1/How_Would_Better_Mental_Health_Care_Reduce_Gun_Violence_.htm

http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=press_room&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=148650http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/01/30/1517271/gun-violence-hearing-franken/?mobile=wt

https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/173405.pdf

http://www.csgv.org/issues-and-campaigns/assault-weapons/assault-weapons-faq