Friday, March 23, 2012

Insights from Brad Warthen and Barack Obama

I wanted to post something about Trayvon Martin, that kid in Florida who was killed.  And if I had written something it would have been reactionary.  I heard the 911 call from the shooter. I read  about the  cell phone call he was making while being stalked by the nutjob with the gun.

"He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man," Martin's friend said. "I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run."
Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he'd managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.
"Trayvon said, 'What are you following me for,' and the man said, 'What are you doing here.' Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn't answer the phone."  From ABC

I would have painted with a broad brush about lack of reasonable gun control or how racism isn't even close to being over.   But I heard what Barack Obama said about the case.  He had to be careful.  Presumption of innocence and all that.  What the president said was so human.  So right.  Respond like a human, like a parent - not like a liberal or conservative, or a gun rights advocate or a someone in favor of tighter handgun controls.  Then I read what one of my favorite bloggers, Brad Warthen, wrote about it.  Brad, and Mr. Obama, said it far better then I ever could.  

Trayvon could have been one of my sons too.  They are about the same age.  They wear hoodies too.  Except it's not that likely.  They are not black.

God bless that poor kid and his family.

Obama: ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.’

Written by Brad on March 23rd, 2012
On a previous post, Phillip said that he likes Bill Maher (or at least excuses him) because “I find myself agreeing with him about 99% of the time.” I made it fairly clear that I do not.
But there are people who I find myself agreeing with to a degree that it is remarkable — a rare experience for me, since I reject the orthodoxies of left and right (which enable the people who do adhere to them to find themselves agreeing with certain people a lot). A good example would be Tony Blair. When he expresses his reasoning behind a position, I am struck by how much it is just like what I would say — or wish I were clever enough to say.
I have a similar experience with President Obama. There are a lot of things I disagree with him on, rather vehemently in some cases. But then he expresses himself on an issue in a way that strikes me as just right, and I am deeply impressed. (Needless to say, on these occasions he’s being about as different from Bill Maher as any one person can be.)
Today was such an instance, when the president carefully weighed in on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. I haven’t commented on it myself because I have thought that everyone else was commenting in such a facile manner — generalizing the incident to fit their own political and social predilections — and I couldn’t find a way to grab ahold of the matter in a way I found meaningful.
“I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this,” Mr. Obama said. “All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”…
“Obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Mr. Obama said, his face grim. “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.”…
“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Mr. Obama said, pausing for a moment. “I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
Normally, I tend to react against such a personal, emotional response. But in this case, it was exactly right, and the president was wise to recognize it.
To me, this isn’t some microcosm of racial injustice or gun culture gone wild or any other generalization. This is a case — as near as I can tell, and my knowledge of the case is limited — of a confused, emotional, panicky, cowardly man with a gun in his hand pulling the trigger and causing a deep, personal, specific tragedy.
Yes, the president made a genetic, racial observation in saying that his theoretical son would look like the victim in this case. But the more important part of it is that he appeals to “every parent in America” to look at this situation AS parents, rather than as participants in a political debate. It says to whites who may want to recoil and get indignant at seeing, for instance, Al Sharpton exploit yet another tragedy, Set that aside. Look at the personal tragedy. Think of your own kids. That’s what I’m doing.
That’s the wisest possible thing he could have said.
If there’s anything else useful to say about this case, that is the best starting point.


Meesh Hays said...

How often we react to the social injustices without first reacting to ordinary tragedy.

That's a funny mix of words, isn't it? "Ordinary tragedy" - sounds like a garage band - but odd or not, I think it is a sad reflection on our reality. These sorts of things happen every day, whether or not they make the AP wire. Simply. Awful.

And we don't just have ordinary tragedies that involve senseless deaths (rather, murders). Kids go hungry right here in Irmo proper. There is racial profiling in classrooms all over our country. Trust is often a sign of naïveté. All tragic.

Anyway, thanks for pointing me to one more blog I might need to follow. (now read that satement again with sarcasm. Both are accurate interpretations.)

Chris Hass said...

So I disagree with him. It IS about racial injustice. In my mind, the only reason Zimmerman flags that kid is because he is black. I don't think Al Sharpton exploits this situation by calling for an arrest. I read this in the Washington Post...

Al Sharpton is calling for an escalation in civil disobedience if George Zimmerman is not arrested immediately. Sharpton is very good at whipping up frenzied gullible mobs through incendiary charges of racism.

"Why is there this desperate and visceral desire to arrest George Zimmerman? Can any reasonable, knowledgeable, and responsible person answer that question? Aside from the pure symbolism to satisfy social and moral justice lynch mobs why is there such rush?"

How clever, the use of the phrase "lynch mob" to represent African Americans demanding justice. Obama is right, it could be my son. And I think to myself, at some point I need to tell my boys not to put their hands near their pockets when confronted by a police officer. Because there are still a whole lot of places where they just might get shot.