Targets on All Our Backs?

facepalm angel croppedToday’s Daily Laughsitive from Swami Beyondananda is:
“The best way to illuminate the darkness is to make light of it.”

I’m sorry, dear old Swami, but I’m just not having that funny feeling today.  Though, as you often say, it does feel like something funny is going on.  This is a bizarre reality, one that somehow feels unprecedented, though everything in it echoes past insanities and injustices.

This is a reality in which not only can a boy be stalked, attacked, and shot dead for the “crime” of walking while black, and in his own family’s neighborhood, but:
– a woman who does what we are often encouraged to do these days, keeps a gun in her home for protection, and fires a warning shot at her abusive husband, harming no one; she is prosecuted, and is sentenced to 20 years in prison despite having “stood her ground”
– a teenager who makes a stupid joke on Facebook is reported by someone who thinks he is making a real threat, and put in jail
– those who expose inconvenient truths about our country are labeled traitors, and put in solitary confinement and tortured when caught
– those who attempt to serve said country in the military have to worry about being attacked by their fellow soldiers as much as or more than by the enemy
– gay people gain some recognition of their rights, but more of them are beaten or killed by bigots
– SWAT teams are used for totally inappropriate purposes, and sent into homes and businesses on the most ridiculous of pretexts, causing mayhem and sometimes even killing children
– if your dog gets upset while the cops are harassing you, they simply shoot him dead
– government spies on you in every way it can and expects you to be fine with that
– other parts of government are willing to take food right out of your mouth if you’re poor
– and so on (your favorite injustice here).

Those who are out of favor with any given society have always been vulnerable to abuse by “authorities,” and the poor and marginalized have always lived with the worst violence in their communities.  The rest of society, and even they themselves, have tended to be too complacent about that, as if it will never change and never can change.  Many of us have felt, as after Sandy Hook, that if more privileged citizens, such as small white children, were threatened, somebody would do something.  Are we doing something yet?  It does seem like we’ve tried.  So far we have failed.

At this point it seems like we all have targets on our backs.  I have never felt this personally so much as I do now.  As a middle-aged white person, I’m unlikely to be gunned down by cops or vigilantes.  But as a woman, I’ve always been a potential target.  And as an LGBT person, who knows– although I’m pretty harmless, there are people in this world who wouldn’t mind seeing me dead just because of that.  Now I’m wondering, as so many of us must be, how I’m supposed to respond if some stranger is following me and acting creepy, or if someone comes to my house and looks like he’s going to do me harm.  Because it seems that these days we’re not allowed to defend ourselves either against abuse by individual “authorities” or against institutionalized violence– unless we are among those who are somehow set above the law.

I am struggling to find some proper spiritual response to all this.  Living in fear is not an option.  It is not helpful and it is not necessary.  It only serves the forces of violence and oppression.  I’ve been trying to place my consciousness in the heavens instead of in the mire of this moment, to take the broad cosmic perspective that might make sense of it all, to align myself with Christ consciousness and see only love.  I’ll get back to you when and if I have some success.  I do take some comfort from the view that all the seemingly escalating insanities we’re seeing are only symptoms that our old ways are breaking down to make room for a new world.

I’m not going to argue over what George Zimmerman did or did not do.  Taking a life for no good reason has got to have some sort of consequences.  It may not have been murder, but it was something, something that society needs to acknowledge as wrong.  Some of the things it was: it was a misunderstanding, it was unclear thinking, it was preconception and prejudice– and all of that would have caused relatively little harm except for the presence of a gun in the hands of a person who was not remotely responsible or intelligent about carrying it.

Another tragic case, parallel in some ways, occurred in 2007, when a black man felt threatened by some white teens who came after his son at his house.  This ended the life of another boy, not so different from Trayvon, but unlike Zimmerman, the man who shot him is in jail today and will be there for a very long time.  The situation here too started with a misunderstanding, with everyone involved trying to defend themselves against threats they thought were real; in fact, that was the reason the white boys showed up in the first place.  When people act out of fear, and do not engage rational thought, the results are disastrous.  Adding guns to the typical mix of fear and bravado guarantees tragedy because guns fire so quickly and decisively, before anyone’s brains have a chance to work properly.   This man, like the woman who fired the warning shot, was keeping guns for protection, as so many Americans advocate.  Instead of being protected, he ended up destroying his own life as well as his victim’s.  He was not protected from himself and his own misconceptions.  A gun can’t do that.

And these things happen all the time.  I’m not sure why Trayvon Martin’s case has ended up in the center ring of the media circus, while kids die by gunshot every day under every conceivable terrible circumstance, especially young black males, and many other cases surely deserve our attention and outrage just as much.  Perhaps we are more disturbed because it happened in a “nice” neighborhood, not in some godforsaken gang-ridden place.  Perhaps it’s the matter of a private citizen acting as judge, jury and executioner and thinking he’s justified in doing it.  Perhaps we thought that with so many eyes on the trial, justice would somehow have to be done.  One way or another, many of us are now sick at heart and ready to change if only we can.

Often when I look at the misplaced, disastrous emotional reactions to which we humans are so sadly prone, I wish I could escape this place and go and live on Vulcan, where behavior has rational motives.  But now even Vulcan has been destroyed! and the new Spock is following the current zeitgeist, edgy and angry as never before, all too easily moved to violence himself.  Even my imaginary escape is cut off.

So I take responsibility for being human, and acknowledge that I am part of this planet and this species, and therefore part of the problem.

The best summary of the Zimmerman verdict and its meaning I’ve seen is this Guardian article by Gary Younge:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/14/open-season-black-boys-verdict
He says a lot of what I want to say myself, and since he says it very well, I leave you to read his words.

And for perspective from a cop who has worked with private security guards over the years, see this:  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/14/1223459/-A-Cop-s-take-on-the-Verdict?detail=email#

I found the “Facepalm Angel” photo in a Facebook meme.  I hope that means no one will be upset that I’m using it.  If you know anything about this statue, please tell me.

Further reading:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/12/trayvon-martin-female
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/11/george-zimmerman-trial-black-crime


http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/23/nyregion/23trial.html?src=tp&_r=4&
http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/criminalizing-free-speech

4 Comments

Filed under human rights, politics

4 responses to “Targets on All Our Backs?

  1. Elene, I agree with you for the most part. I especially agree that security guards should not have guns, at least in that type of environment, but I do question the strategy of referring to a “child” or “teenager” when all the security guard can see on a dark, rainy night is someone of adult height with a hood over his head, someone old enough to be in the military. My guess is that had I been in Zimmerman’s position, I would have followed him, too, out of a sense of duty and not wanting to feel like a wimp by backing away until the police got there. .

    I did not follow the details of the case all that much, but from what I did hear, I am reasonably sure I would have voted for acquittal. As a number of people have pointed out, that does not mean Zimmerman acted properly or was not negligent or that he didn’t over-react. .There simply was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt for the charges made. I don’t understand why so many people have trouble understanding that.

    I must confess that I struggle not to be a racist these days when I see so many things that should not be racial issues turned into them. I have always prided myself on the fact that in 1947 I adopted Jackie Robinson as my hero. I was probably the only white boy in my city to have a black hero and my friends gave me a lot of flack for it. That caused me to become even more an advocate of racial equality in the years that followed. But the Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson mentality would turn me into a racist if I didn’t continually fight it. Life is full of disappointments and disadvantages, but it so often seems that people want to turn it into a racial or gender thing when it shouldn’t be.

    I heard one black woman blaming it on four centuries of injustice. Here in Hawaii the local Hawaiians are still demanding reparations for the U.S. taking over their land. Indications now are that they are going to get tax breaks as part of their reparations. Let’s throw reincarnation into the picture. What if I were Hawaiian in a past life and the Hawaiians who are now complaining were the ugly Americans who took over the country?. Where is the justice in that? Why should the present generation receive reparations for something that happened five or six generations back? If there is anything to reincarnation and karma, biology should not enter into the picture. .If we actually choose our lifetimes, as so many believe, and we choose it for the challenges that we might have to overcome so that we can grow spiritually, shouldn’t we embrace the challenges?

    Inicidentally, according to a past-life reading I had many years ago, I was a black man killed in World War I in my immediate past life. I wonder if that is why I adopted Jackie Robinson as my hero in in 1947. Two lifetimes ago, I was a French vineyard owner and an alcoholic. I wonder if that is why I can’t stand the taste of any alcoholic beverage in this lifetime.

    I have been all over the place on this post. It has been a slow night. Sorry if I sounded off too much. . .

  2. Karen DeWig

    Hi Elene,

    I believe that we have an opportunity to change only when we can really, truly be in the present. Unfortunately George Zimmerman was under the influence of his preconceived ideas and fears when he killed Trayvon Martin, and the old story played itself out yet again.

    I also believe there are two major paths towards being in the present: beauty (great art, empathy and connection, nature) and catastrophe (suffering, leading to tenderheartedness, or waking up to injustice, or empathy for other sufferers). I find peace in knowing that when we’re off guard, rocked by catastrophe, we (as individuals or species) are vulnerable to change. And if we can be beacons of beauty for those who are vulnerable, we can help ourselves and others wake up.

    It may take many more catastrophes to strengthen the tide, but I do believe we are quickening our vibrations in the big picture. How does that saying go? I also believe: the arc of history is long, but it tends toward justice. Things are speeding up right now, so the arc is tightening and reactions against it are strengthening, but I still believe we are all waking up.

    Thanks,
    Karen

  3. Thank you for the heartfelt and well-thought-out comments. They bring up so many more thoughts for me that I suppose another post may be in order.

    The quote Karen was trying to remember comes from Theodore Parker and was made famous in a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Here is an interesting discussion of the history of this idea:
    http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/11/15/arc-of-universe/

    Parker is quoted further: “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. [Not THAT right!] I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
    “Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.”

    Parker was writing about the abolition of slavery, but I think his ideas are very pertinent to our discussion. We “cannot calculate the curve,” but we can try to see as far as we can. Which brings up Mike’s questions about karma. It is fascinating to try to square the idea that we choose our own life challenges with the understanding that we must be compassionate toward others. No, reparations today will not make the violations of past centuries go away, but don’t we bear some responsibility in the present to right past wrongs when we can? And if a person “deserves” suffering on the basis of causing suffering in the past, should we add to our own karma by doing evil to them? Try taking this to its logical conclusion, Mike. If someone has murdered and tortured others in the past, do I have the right to do the same to him? Is this justice, or only more injustice? How exactly does such karma work itself out?

    I can only feel the shadows of racism and colonialism, not their full impact. I can understand the attitudes of the Hawaiians just a little because the Russians and Germans took over my ancestors’ land. I contemplate this from the other side as I drive across the Native lands of New Mexico, and as I work with Indians in daily life. And I, too, have just a tiny bit of understanding of what it’s like to be black in America through an apparent past-life memory from the days of slavery. That memory was about a man doing his best to protect his family under impossible circumstances.

    And that’s one of the main things that people do, try to protect their families. The controversies come because they have very different ideas of how best to do that. I think Karen is dead on in saying that “George Zimmerman was under the influence of his preconceived ideas and fears.” Mike said that Zimmerman didn’t know anything about who Trayvon Martin was when he followed him. All too true– he didn’t know, and he made unwarranted assumptions.

    And those unwarranted assumptions ARE about race. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Barack Obama’s speech this week made this crystal clear– and in a deeply affecting but non-combative way that I think was very useful, and that got me liking him much better again. (I’ve been pretty steamed about the Snowden affair.) I won’t try to repeat his points here, since he made them as well as they could be made.

    I am finding it heartening that most of the responses to the Zimmerman verdict I’ve read have been examples of thoughtful, compassionate soul-searching. Although there are brutal murders and travesties of justice day in and day out, this situation has somehow touched a national nerve, and we are having conversations that we truly need to have.

    On the way back to my car from Summerfest on Central this evening, I was stopping to look at some unusual houses in the university area. It was dark. I had the thought that I’d better keep walking because someone might think I was up to no good and come after me. Seriously.

    More worthwhile stuff that’s been written this week, as I considered this reply:
    http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2013-07-its-not-trayvon-martins-fault-you-are-scared-of-boys
    http://msmagazine.com/blog/2013/07/16/race-white-womanhood-and-trayvon-martin/
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/15/1223966/-An-Open-Letter-to-all-the-White-Antiracist-Activists

  4. Yes. The little box we are in is real, and what we image. The beyond-the-box,is equally real, transcending the flat screen individually and as collective humanity, with the learning curve which is compassion in crisis. Difficult, but inclusive, and a detail in our multi dimensioned awakening. Realisation starts in each one of us, right here, as we begin to relate to the terrible conundrum, by hearing it. So the Buddha said … right thinking, right action … I think he meant “right here and now.” Then see what follows, how the thought might change and travel. This surely, must be meditation. And the conversations. Yes.

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