Trayvon Martin: A Tragedy but Not a Crime (with Editor’s Note and Response)

Editor’s Note:

We have two policies that are in conflict in the case of the article below by Ralph Seliger. On the one hand, our desire for our blog is to encourage open debate and present a wide variety of positions, many of which we disagree with. I think we’ve done an admirable job of that – I can’t think of a week that has gone by without us publishing some article that I personally didn’t agree with. On the other hand, we have a policy against publishing hate speech, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, etc.

So when several members of our staff found that Seliger’s article reflected racism and conflicted with Tikkun Daily’s goals of furthering dialogue about healing the world, we decided to momentarily postpone it until we could publish it with a response. In the meantime, Seliger reflected and decided to revise his blog somewhat. The editorial staff still felt that it needed a response, and asked Anna Stitt to go through Seliger’s article and explain some of our primary objections to both the original and the revised versions of the blog. We urge you to read the blog and then our corresponding response, below.

 

Trayvon Martin: A Tragedy But Not a Crime, by Ralph Seliger

Upon reflection, I can see that Tikkun Daily temporarily withdrew this piece from the homepage because it seemed to miss the painful impact this case has had on the African-American community, with the verdict compounding the sense of injustice and outrage felt by people already suffering the yoke of racial profiling and a criminal justice system all too often biased against them. It also may have appeared to place the victim, Trayvon Martin, on a similar moral plane as the killer, George Zimmerman, because it depicted both as acting in the wrong. I still believe that both made fatal missteps, but it’s clearly Zimmerman who initiated the confrontation, and in the end he walks away free while the young Martin is dead.

Where I differ from many here at Tikkun is in my belief that legally, Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, holds up. Trayvon Martin was a victim of racial profiling, but the prosecution made a very weak case for murder. It appeared to me, as it did the jury, that Martin was on top of Zimmerman, beating him and causing visible injuries to the back of his head, when Zimmerman shot him.

Maybe it’s possible that the prosecution could have brought a charge of “reckless endangerment” or some such against him, because the police had advised him not to follow Martin on foot. It’s also clear that Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin, but this in itself is not a crime; instead, it’s a mark of the racial polarization of our society. It also reflects the unfortunate fact that male black teenagers are understood to commit a disproportionate number of crimes. In this case, Martin knew he was being followed and attacked Zimmerman out of anger and an immature misjudgment on what to do.

When I reflect back upon my life, I recall one incident when I “racially profiled” someone of Martin’s age. I live in a harmonious multi-ethnic, multi-racial apartment building in one of the most integrated neighborhoods in the country — the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (Something I’m very proud of.) About 15 years ago, I hesitated letting a young black man in with me, because I didn’t remember seeing him in the building. After he explained indignantly that he lived there, I relented (he was, in fact, being truthful). But the background to this is that I had once been mugged after opening the lobby door to two or three African-American teenagers (one casually bouncing a basketball). We rode up the elevator together, and they then mugged me in the hallway near my door; happily, I suffered nothing worse than a bent eyeglass frame when I tried to squirm out of a headlock. Still, this sort of thing stays with you.

The Martin/Zimmerman incident was a tragedy of the first order, but the verdict was not an injustice in the way that many are arguing. Martin was a victim, but partially because he had exercised the poor judgment of an inexperienced youth. This case had no real resemblance to the murders of Emmett Till and Medger Evers, who clearly were victims of the most vile racism imaginable.

What progressives and liberals should be doing now is redoubling their efforts against Florida’s “stand your ground” law, and lax gun laws in general. And the public debate over racial profiling, as occurring in New York right now, should continue; but it’s not easy to intelligently navigate the turbulent waters between an honest effort to deter crime and a policy that all too often stigmatizes an entire population because of their skin color and a clothing style.

 

Staff Response, by Anna Stitt

Dear readers,

As the editor’s note mentions above, when Seliger first put his blog up on Tikkun Daily on Monday morning, the editorial staff found that it went against our goals for the blog of furthering spiritual progressive dialogue about how best to heal the world, based on the values of love, justice, and equity. We postponed its publishing in order to prepare a response to accompany it.

During the time in which the blog was off the site, Ralph Seliger reflected on the blog and decided to revise it somewhat. What is posted above is his revised version, by his request. But because it was published for a few hours, for those who read it on Monday morning and anyone who is wondering about the original post, I will quote and respond to some of the lines in it, in addition to responding to the aspects that we find problematic in the revised version.

I have linked to articles throughout the response for those who would like to read more, and at times I speak from my experience. I aim to address my main concerns and leave the rest for readers to address if they choose. If you would like to engage in further dialogue with others about the points I or Seliger have raised or not yet raised, please comment below.

First, the original blog stated that “Martin was a victim, but largely because of his own poor judgment and lack of self-control.” The revised version, while not stating this so definitively, still indicates that “Martin was a victim, but partially because he had exercised the poor judgment of an inexperienced youth.”

Because Seliger clearly thinks that this was a case of racial profiling, I think he would agree that there is very little likelihood that Martin would have been a victim had he engaged in the exact same behavior but been white.

As a white woman, I would not have been judged suspicious in a gated neighborhood and would never have had to decide whether to run from, try to reason with, or fight – maybe fight for my life – an unidentified neighborhood watchman with a gun in the rain. I have no idea how I would have responded in the fear of the moment. I have never been put in that situation. (And if I were subject to violence, it seems as if the media, and law enforcement correspondingly, would respond much more energetically than if I were not a white woman.) But ideally no one would ever be put in a position where they are at risk of being shot depending on what their fight/flight response happens to be when confronted in this way because their appearance raised “suspicion.”

I think it prudent, then, not to blame Martin as having died “largely because of his own poor judgment and lack of self-control,” and I question Seliger’s statement that Martin “attacked Zimmerman out of anger and an immature misjudgment on what to do.” It is actually not known who initiated the physical fight or what Martin’s emotions were. And what does it mean to be passing judgment on his actions when Trayvon Martin is dead–what does it say about our society and its justice system when a dead black boy can basically be put on trial for his own murder?

Blaming Martin in any way for his own death erases the well-documented and long-standing reality that African Americans in this country, particularly African American young men, are consistently harassed and killed by police and civilians regardless of their responses. Seliger mentions the death of Emmett Till as a different type of case. The form of violence that is most common has shifted since the days of Emmett Till’s killing and mutilation, yes, but black people are still constantly at risk of death, with very little consequence to those who violate their civil and human rights.

“Stand Your Ground” laws do urgently need to be repealed, but I would challenge the assessment of the outcome of the trial as “legal” and therefore not a race-based transgression. A recent study found that in states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, a white person who kills a black person is 354% more likely to be acquitted than a white person who kills a white person. (It is true that Zimmerman has Peruvian heritage, but I won’t get into that because this could get into a dense discussion of whiteness, definitions of race, blackness, and critical race theory; I think we can agree that these are significant statistics regardless in thinking about black and non-black people.) Within our legal system, the racism is systemic and engrained, such that lines of legality are hardly clear.

Second, Seliger mentions his own experience of suspecting one black man to mug him after another had and suggests that “this sort of thing stays with you.”

Often what sticks in our minds is the outlier moment – the one time when our suspicions were validated. I’m sure that Seliger has been in spaces with black men during many other moments in his life when he was not mugged. Unless he leads a specifically isolated lifestyle, I would guess that the majority of his interactions with black men through his life have not included violence. Still, it is easy to remember the negative moments and map them to people of a particular race in our race-based society (see more on confirmation bias). And because we can make these appearance-based judgments before any conversation is had, it could be easy to stay for a long time in the space of assumptions and profiling.

Within the Tikkun community of people committed to healing the world, it is the crucial work of those with dominant identities (in this case, non-black people) to process any traumas so that we will not map them onto every person whom we see (in this case, black men). When we do this work to heal from any hard experiences, it helps us to not live in fear and be better able to build relationships with people. It also prevents us from making others uncomfortable or presenting a threat to them when they are trying to live their lives, preventing situations such as the one in which Seliger resisted letting the black man into the elevator and made him defend his residency (which was probably inconvenient and distressing for him) and the other in which Zimmerman pursued Martin.

Third and connected to this is the original blog’s statement:

It’s also clear that Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin, but this in itself is not a crime; instead, it’s a mark of the racial polarization of our society. It also reflects the unfortunate fact that male black teenagers (with or without hoodies) commit a disproportionate number of crimes.

The revised version states instead that “…It also reflects the unfortunate fact that male black teenagers are understood to commit a disproportionate number of crimes.”

Just to clear up any confusion, I want to highlight that when it comes to crime rates, the areas that are most heavily policed, which are typically communities with many black residents, tend to have the highest arrest rates. When no police are present to find crimes, they typically go unreported – this is the case most often in wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods (not to mention that white collar crimes such as embezzlement and violence at much broader scales, such as international human rights violations committed by presidents, are rarely policed to the same extent as smaller crimes that take place on the street). I’ve included two excerpts from reports, with the links at the bottom of each excerpt for those who would like to read more on the subject.

From a report by The Sentencing Project:

Since many crimes go unreported to the police, it is difficult to draw conclusions about race with respect to who offends. The most reliable statistics available are arrest data and these are provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR), but these figures omit those who committed an offense but were not arrested. Reported arrest rates for many offenses suggest that African Americans are disproportionately involved in particular crimes. For example, 39% of arrests for violent crime and 31% of arrests for property crime are of African Americans.

(The rate of arrest of Latinos is not measured in the UCR.) Victimization surveys in which victims are asked to identify the perpetrators of crime are another data source, and race-related findings from these surveys are consistent with arrest data for many offenses.

However, when looking at arrest rates it is important to remember the context in which arrests are made. Arrest rates are essentially an indicator of (1) police activity in clearing reported crimes, and (2) crimes police observe themselves. Thus, arrest figures reflect the frequency with which crimes are reported, police decisions regarding offenses on which they will concentrate their attention and resources, and the relative vulnerability of certain crimes to arrest. Despite these limitations, arrest rates are frequently mentioned synonymously with offending rates.

And from a report by Human Rights Watch:

The higher rates of black drug arrests do not reflect higher rates of black drug offending. Indeed, as detailed in our May 2008 report, “Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States,” blacks and whites engage in drug offenses – possession and sales – at roughly comparable rates. But because black drug offenders are the principal targets in the “war on drugs,” the burden of drug arrests and incarceration falls disproportionately on black men and women, their families and neighborhoods. The human as well as social, economic and political toll is as incalculable as it is unjust.

With these reports in mind, when Seliger writes, “it’s not easy to intelligently navigate the turbulent waters between an honest effort to deter crime and a policy that all too often stigmatizes an entire population because of their skin color and a clothing style,” I would ask, even if a house does get robbed once in awhile, can we not replace those items? Is the effort to deter petty crime worth a human life? Is it worth the policing and moments of harassment outside elevators, preventing young people from entering their homes?

I wonder if it would make sense to redirect some of society’s focus on fearing and policing street crime – the brunt of which is too often experienced by black men, as Seliger highlights – and to instead put energy into fixing the system that presently incarcerates young black men at a disproportionately high rate? What if we were to focus on challenging the people who commit crimes (whether legal or illegal) at a much larger scale, often eliminating resources from already poor communities and so increasing the street crime that exists? Where do we each place our attention and fear, how is that shaped by our identities, and how does it impact the context in which we live?

Finally, I appreciate that in his revision of the blog, Seliger acknowledged the pain and feeling of unsafety caused by Zimmerman’s acquittal for many black people, a point that was previously absent from his blog. But I would add that pain is also felt by many people who are not black – because another young person is dead, and black people close to us are in danger of being assaulted without accountable intervention by the state, and other people of color are also at risk. Our society is far from healed, and I’m convinced that this hurts us all and should be everyone’s burden. I’m hopeful that this moment can be an opportunity for us to all look inside ourselves at what we have learned from society about race, community, safety, and who and what to fear, and move forward from here with concrete action steps toward the tikkun – or repair – of the world.

Again, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. We welcome a range of perspectives. We do not censor comments; all are posted unless found to violate our comment policy.

Take care,

Anna

Anna M. Stitt
Web Editorial Intern

Tikkun Magazine

28 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin: A Tragedy but Not a Crime (with Editor’s Note and Response)

  1. 1. The Tikkun values are supposed to encourage open dialogue, yet you pulled an article with an opposing legal view. I am not in agreement of the verdict, but I can easily see where jury found doubt. In the end a jury makes a decision, one that was chosen by legal representatives of both parties. Mr Saliger presented an opposing view that did not pass the racism litmus test. he was honest, fare and balanced.
    You disagreed with with and labeled it racist.

    2. Tikkun has a policy against publishing “hate speech, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, etc.” Over time I have seen more than enough anti Semitism paraded on Tikkun Daily. Some of the bloggers knowingly or unknowingly encourages anti Semitic responses.

    3. Out of al the bloggers, I find Ralph Saliger’s blogs the most balanced and most informative. You want honest debate, you have to invites opposing sides of a debate. When he writes about Israel, he may rightfully criticize the Israeli government BUT he does not demonize the country.

    Respect is not something I think of when I see the Tikkun label. I think of a highly biased, entrenched set of opinions that cannot be swayed no matter how wrong they are. In that regard, Tikkun is no different than Tea Party activists. Keep it up, this time around you finally drew the ridicule that you long deserved.

  2. 1. The Tikkun values are supposed to encourage open dialogue, yet you pulled an article with an opposing legal view. I am not in agreement of the verdict, but I can easily see where jury found doubt. In the end a jury makes a decision, one that was chosen by legal representatives of both parties. Mr Saliger presented an opposing view that did not pass the racism litmus test. he was honest, fare and balanced.
You disagreed with with and labeled it racist.

    2. Tikkun has a policy against publishing “hate speech, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, etc.” Over time I have seen more than enough anti Semitism paraded on Tikkun Daily. Some of the bloggers knowingly or unknowingly encourages anti Semitic responses.

    3. Out of al the bloggers, I find Ralph Saliger’s blogs the most balanced and most informative. You want honest debate, you have to invites opposing sides of a debate. When he writes about Israel, he may rightfully criticize the Israeli government BUT he does not demonize the country.
    Respect is not something I think of when I see the Tikkun label. I think of a highly biased, entrenched set of opinions that cannot be swayed no matter how wrong they are. In that regard, Tikkun is no different than Tea Party activists. Keep it up, this time around you finally drew the ridicule that you long deserved.

  3. Dear Anna,
    As is often said in jest, no good deed goes unpunished. I don’t feel any ill will toward you personally; I have no reason to see you as other than earnest and hard working. But I am more than miffed that parts of the earlier version which I’ve reconsidered and revised are still held against me.

    Then my admission of that incident at the entryway to my apartment building years ago is also held against me, even to the extent of getting the details wrong: I hesitated at the locked doorway to my building and then relented; I did not resist letting anyone onto the elevator. It was a natural reluctance I felt in dealing with this young man, and I’m truly sorry in having put him through it (but I’m also still sorry for having opened the door to those two or three young men who mugged me previously — go figure).

    I recounted this incident to show how something like racial profiling could affect any of us, regardless of our ideals and best intentions. You twisted it in a way that humiliates me, making my behavior into an object lesson in how not to behave.

    As for the rest of this, I don’t dispute your argumentation that African Americans are treated badly by the criminal justice system; I even say so — in both versions, as I recall. Where we differ is that I agreed with the evidence & testimony that the jury apparently took as decisive that Martin attacked Zimmerman and therefore made him not guilty by reason of self-defense, or at least by virtue of reasonable doubt. This didn’t make Zimmerman a good guy, nor did it mean that he should not have been tried and convicted of another offense (I mentioned “reckless endangerment”). The prosecution apparently bungled this case in a number of ways and Florida’s “stand your ground” law may have also been harmful. So I concluded with a call to redouble efforts to repeal “stand your ground,” amend lax gun laws and further the public debate over racial profiling.

    Tikkun’s treatment of my views makes me wish I had never shared them, and certainly not to have been self-revelatory.

  4. Right on Ralph. I think you have been treated poorly for sharing a perfectly legitimate point of view. I don’t see that you are expressing racism; I see that you are recognizing its existence, decrying it, and calling on us to deal with it. Tikkun should be a little more tolerant, and a little less dogmatic.

  5. I wish the focus could move away from ethnicity. If we rewrite the events: Person A got on Person B and began pounding B’s face in the sidewalk. B cried for help while being pummeled non-stop. A neighbor walked out and said something like, “hey stop that” then walked back in to his apartment. So while A continued bashing B’s head off the ground and hammering B’s face so hard it broke B’s nose, while blood was running down the back of B’s throat and B saw the last hope anybody might be brave enough to actually come and help him, before dying on the sidewalk, at the very last minute, B discharged his legally-possessed firearm in self defense. We wouldn’t be making a national issue out of this would we? Everybody would agree, “Well if I was ‘B’, I would have done the same thing; actually I would have done it a lot sooner”.

  6. As a man and a black man I will always “stand my ground”. The reasons for this are complex but first of all, it is dangerous to turn your back on an attacker. You do this and you give them confidence. If you run you encourage them to chase you. If they are faster they will catch you and initiate an attack upon your defenseless back. I have seen many people seriously hurt because they ran.

    Its a dangerous world but if you are in a 50/50 situation when you face your attacker you must keep them where you can see them. To me, it only makes sense to flee when the odds are against you.

    Secondly, why should you have to retreat when someone else is initiating violance against you? If you are minding your own business you should not have an obligation to retreat in this instance. If we weaken a victims right to self to defense both the morgues and the prisons will be filled with victims.

  7. My response and that of at least one other person in support of Ralph Seliger’s initial post were also taken down by the Tikkun leadership. That is censorship.

    Now there are more people weighing in support of Seliger’s views and/or his right to express them. As should be obvious, Seliger is no racist.

    The sad fact is that Tikkun is so “politically correct” that it cannot tolerate different points of view.

    The evidence indicated that Martin started the fight and was severely beating Zimmerman when Zimmerman pulled his gun and killed Martin.

    Martin was very close to his father’s place when this incident occurred. He could easily have outrun Zimmerman and arrived home safely. In fact he could also have easily announced to Zimmerman that he was indeed walking back his father’s house.

    Zimmerman was guilty of something but not second degree murder or manslaughter. But Martin was not without blame.

    Yes Blacks are not treated equally by the criminal justice system. But this is the wrong case to prove your point,

    Let’s get behind a movement for justice for that Black women convicted for firing a warning shot in the air when threatened by her husband or boyfriend. (I am sorry that I do not recall the exact details, but that was a clear injustice.)

  8. Amen to Rob Smith. No one knows the exact sequence of events in the last few seconds of the Zimmerman/Martin encounter, but uncontested critical facts include that Zimmerman was pursuing (is stalking too strong a word?) Trayvon Martin. At the moment that Trayvon was in a position to invoke “stand your ground” as a justification for fighting off his pursuer (stalker?), but unfortunately the proscecution didn’t invoke this with vigor in (deceased) Trayvon’s behalf.

    Change the scene a little: person in his home hears commotion, finds a home invasion in progress. homeowner decides to defend self and home, using his fists against the invader. Invader gets bloody nose from homeowner’s fist, pulls a gun, shoots homeowner virtually point blank in the heart, killing him instantly. Home invader claims self-defense. Jury acquits.

    The tragedy of Trayvon Martin is that he had no way of knowing that he only brought fists to a gun fight.

  9. Always standing one’s ground is foolhardy. There are times to fight and times to back down. Martin could easily have outrun Zimmerman. Martin was only 300 feet from his father’s home!

    Who was initating violence against whom in this case? The evidence points to Martin.

  10. Fighting off his pursuer? With his fists? Throwing the first punch?

    A confrontation between two men on the street is nothing like a home invasion.

  11. Anna Stitt describes Trayvon Martin as a “dead black boy.”

    A 17 year old is not a “boy.” He is a “young man” or a “teenager.”

    Stitt is trying to depict him a child to evoke greater sympathy, but many a 17 year old Black teenager would bristle at being descirbed as a “boy.” Some might say it is a racist comment.

    This “boy,” to use Stitt’s term, was much taller than Martin and succeeded in knocking him down, jumping on top of him and giving him a beating that left him bloody and injured.

    Is Stitt really saying that Martin was justified in physically attacking Zimmerman merely because Zimmerman followed him and then confronted him by asking him what he was doing in the neighborhood?

    Once Martin was one top of Zimmerman beating the crap out of him, what would she have had Zimmerman do?

    Based on the evidence submitted, the jury made the right decision. Legal experts tend to agree.

    But to Stitt, she assumes that because Blacks are treated unequally by the criminal justice system, Zimmerman must have murdered Martin.

    Sorry. You will never be chosen by a jury with that attidude. Every case has to be looked at on its own merits.

  12. Hi Bennett, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Who wants to be chosen on a jury anyways; don’t people try to get off those? Just because a jury finds Zimmerman innocent, does not mean there weren’t things deeply wrong with this case. A jury is not some kind of “end all be all” of what’s right, nor is a judge, a senate, or a President. Nor is anyone, really. The point is that even though Zimmerman was found innocent, and even though Florida law is messed up, that’s no reason to defend the verdict as fair. Yes, the verdict was fair according to the law. And yes, the law is a screwed-up law. But we live in a screwed-up world. People are incredibly aware of race; would Zimmerman have stalked Martin had he been white? Probably not. So even changing the law is not enough. What we need to do is address the conditions which lead to unfair laws, and change those conditions. It’s terrible to be afraid that you’ll be mugged in the apartment building in which you live, but at the same time, it can be hurtful to have someone who lives in your apartment building suspect you of being a mugger. We all need to be aware of these biases and the reasons for which we hold them. That does not mean we should not be aware and not defend ourselves. But we should do the most we can to make sure people of all races feel accepted.

    So whatever the verdict in this case was, it does not change that Martin is dead and that Zimmerman is free, and that we all have the power–and responsibility–to ensure that such things do not continue to happen. We can all be aware of and strive to reduce our own profiling of anyone, regardless of race, for anything. We can decide not to go out and stalk people in the middle of the night (that’s just weird, guys).

    I am an intern at Tikkun, so I have some interest in making us not seem “politically correct.” I think it’s quite reasonable to be angry over this verdict, even though it is fair according to the law. The situations which gave rise to it are not fair, though; they are deeply unfair. We should struggle to change them. When we defend this verdict without addressing the larger, deep-seated problems it points to–much, much deeper than the “stand your ground” law–we miss the larger point.

    If you want to have some influence in the legal system, I suggest you join a jury. But for everyone else, I think we should continue doing work any way we can–at home, in the streets, or on this website.

    Best,
    Ian Hoffman

  13. Yes. George Zimmerman, in my book, is guilty of stalking Trayvon Martin and unnecessarily instigating the fight in which Zimmerman killed Martin. I do not know Florida laws and whether such behavior is criminal there.

    Trayvon Martin probably exercised poor judgement in dealing with Zimmerman. The consequences were fatal. This was a confrontation between two men on an empty dark street and not a seminar in critical race theory, criminology or sociology.

    I do not know Anna Stitt and her worlds. I know Ralph Seliger and we share the same urban environment where we have to balance our liberal sensibilities with sensible self protection. I can discuss public policy with the best of them but this is not the place to parade my criticism of the prison-industrial complex, the war against the poor, class and corporate power, and lingering racist attitudes. Here, however, I disagree with Ms. Stitt’s take on sensible self protection.

    When opening the front door to my apartment building, I usually do not let strangers through. White old women are treated the same as hulky young black men. When I let a stranger enter with me, I expect her/him to use a key to open the inner door. I am an equal opportunity discriminator and tell my neighbors to act the same way.

    As for profiling, I do not act stupidly. I treat almost all people civilly. However, I am especially aware that young black men are much more likely to mug me. This does not come from learned essays or opinion pieces. It comes from personal experience. I have been mugged several times by young black men. The first time that this happened I was young and refused to hand over my wallet. I kept my wallet and ended up in Harlem Hospital’s emergency room where my arms and face were stitched. I can still show the scars. On another occasion, when I was older and wiser, I parted with $40 in cash and my father’s retirement watch. Just because most young black men do not mug, and because I can explain the social conditions that had led to these muggings does not mean that I have to act stupidly.

    Without getting into personal details, I wonder how Tikkun’s staff acts in regard to letting strangers into their apartment houses.

  14. Again, Itzhak, we’re at the crux of the argument. Do we discriminate based on probability to mug? I’ve been mugged/assaulted too, so I know how awful and traumatic that experience can be, and I of course wouldn’t let any random person, black or white, into my house or apartment building. This is not an argument for allowing ourselves to be mugged, assaulted, or whatever in the name of “civil rights.” What is in an argument for is an awareness that black males are often victimized because of perceived stereotypes, like, he will mug me. Yes, he’s more likely to mug me, and I can act cautiously. But I think it’s really unreasonable to follow him, stalk him, and ASSUME criminal intent. That’s what was fucked-up about this case: the assumption, on the part of Zimmerman, that Martin was in the wrong. Note I do not use the words “criminal,” only messed-up. But extrapolate that to a societal level, and you might see how society’s a little bit messed up. We all need to a bit more aware of how we profile people, how they interpret our words and actions, even when we’re trying to do good.

  15. I do not get it. How did Zimmerman instigate the fight?. By confronting Martin and asking him what he was doing in the neighborhood? This gives Martin license to sock him in the face, knock him to the ground and beat him up? Are you serious?

    Zimmerman had a bloody head, a broken nose etc. He was the one on his back with Martin hitting from above. Martin was unmarked except for the bullet hole. There is a legitimate issue of self-defense here which some of you choose to ignore.

    Martin was 200 feet from the house where he was staying with his father. He had non-violent options he chose not to exercise. It is called walking or running away. It is called explaining to Zimmerman that he was just walking going home.

    Had the prosecution charged Zimmerman with a lesser crime, there would have been a greater likelihood of conviction, but all the legal experts say that the standards for second degree murder or manslaughter.

  16. Ian — I agree with you. It is about parts of Ms. Stitt’s broadside with which I have problems. I am obviously not a member of the Tikkun Community.
    Itzhak

  17. One of the worrisome things about the incident in Florida, possibly revealed by this tragic case, is the elevated risk of fatal outcome when a party is consciously or unconsciously emboldened by the combination of permissive “concealed carry” law and “stand-your-ground” law. Invites unnecessary escalation of charged situations, also opportunities to deliberately choreograph “defensible” homicide situations (stage a “stand-your-ground” scenario by deliberately if stealthily provoking another person, then “defending” onesself using a gun).

  18. Zimmerman followed Martin into his community. Martin knew he was being followed and was scared. I’m not trying to say his fear is more important that Zimmerman’s suspicion, but it’s hard to say that this fight was in any way one-sided. We do not know what happened to instigate the fight; we don’t know who threw the first punch. Yes, Zimmerman obviously had a right to shoot once he was on the verge of death. But he had no right to follow Martin in the first place.

    I am not trying to ignore the issue of self-defense; I just don’t think it’s the main point anymore. The trial is over; it’s been agreed–legally–that this was an issue of self defense. The problems I have with the outcome do not include the verdict, but comments that seek to emphasize the verdict above the societal problems which made this killing possible. Just because Zimmerman was found innocent does not mean that Martin was guilty; and it does not mean that this tragedy could not have been prevented. Our focus should not be on vindicating the actions of someone who, if not a criminal, is clearly not devoid of moral guilt.

    • You have made many good points. I am not sure that this is the best case, however, to get at the issue of racial profiling, because Zimmerman was more obsessed by crime in his neighborhood than by race. It was Zimmerman’s neighborhood NOT Martin’s, who was visiting. You seem to be confused on this point.

      Zimmerman was not known by his neighbors as a racist. He did not appoint himself to be a crime watcher. His neighbors approved him and they included Black people. If white men were responsible for the break ins in his neighborhood, he may have indeed followed them.

      But Martin fit the profile of the people who were responsible for the break ins.

      Finally Martin exercised bad judgment. He was 200 feet from home when he was shot. He had other options than to assault Zimmerman. He could have outrun Zimmerman. While he was being followed, he could have called his father. Or the police.

      Speaking of the police, they did not explicitly instruct Zimmerman not to follow Martin. They asked Zimmerman to find out where Martin was going and eventually recommended that he not follow Martin on foot by saying “you don’t have to do that.” That is a wishy washy statement.

      I hope there is a civil trial and Zimmerman has to testify. Maybe we will learn more of his motives and his conduct, but the left is going ballistic over this case based on assumptions that do not fit the facts of this case.

      Already it appears that the Justice Department will not pursue a civil rights action against Zimmerman, because the evidence is lacking. That should tell you something.

      Thank you for your comments.

  19. Bennett Muraskin claims that “…Zimmerman was more obsessed by crime in his neighborhood than by race. ”

    What vehicle was the suspect driving?

    Burglars on the upper West Side of Manhattan are often pedestrians. Who, especially burglars, walks in Florida’s gated communities?

    Also — Does Michael Rosenberg’s crack that “progressive Jew gets old and becomes a racist” mean that he belives that Ralph Selliger is a racist?

  20. I find this discussion rather fascinating and a bit disconcerting. I enjoy the ability to have a forum where different opinions can be expressed openly and explored fully. At the same time, I am disturbed that Tikkun is being criticized for deciding to take down a blog that the editors/monitors of the blog were concerned violated their policy against racism. I would prefer to encourage and celebrate careful consideration and discussion of these issues and am grateful when someone with authority chooses to move slowly and take into consideration all the ramifications of their decisions and actions. Deciding to take a blog down to reflect upon how it might impact their entire community, to reflect upon whether it might stir more racism or raise concerns about being racist is worthy of appreciation rather than condemnation. I wish more people with authority and power took time to consider how their medium, actions, and responses impacted others – whether it promoted or served the public good, whether it might deeply disturb people or play to our lowest level fears or biases. (I am not saying whether I think Seliger’s article did that, I’m just saying taking time to reflect upon and think about that is worthy of praise.)

    Second, what was the great crime committed by Tikkun – taking down the blog and engaging in a dialogue with the author so he could have an opportunity to reflect upon what he wrote, to give him time to reconsider his article to see if he might have missed some nuances, to hear Tikkun’s concerns and see if they seemed reasonable to him and then to have an opportunity to change his blog if he deemed fit? What exactly is wrong with that? How many magazines do you know have blogs that allow anyone to post without being edited first? This is not censorship – this is thoughtful reflection. As it turns out, Seliger, upon hearing the concerns raised, decided to change his piece. It seems that the concerns raised by the editors of Tikkun were perhaps seen as valid by the author himself.

    Third, the posts that criticize Tikkun, pointing fingers and the like, are identical and thus seemed to have been written by one person. This is disturbing to me because I’d prefer to have people express from their hearts their own truth in a forum such as this rather than post a stock letter that was clearly written by one person. And as I have stated above, I do not agree with the criticisms contained in the posts and, perhaps more importantly, find the tone and allegations disturbing because I’d like more reflection and consideration of the intentions and needs that drove the editors’ decision rather than simply name-calling and pointing fingers.

    Fourth, the author regrets that he expressed himself so vulnerably when he told the story about the mugging he experienced and how that impacted him in future interactions with African American men. It sounds like he is upset and feeling vulnerable and exposed and perhaps would have liked more understanding and compassion in how Anna reflected upon and responded to that particular piece of his article. To this I have two responses. The first is that it seems to me that when you post a blog in a public forum you necessarily open yourself up to the possibility of criticism and critique from those who read the blog. The fact that the criticism and critique came from Tikkun rather than someone else is really meaningless. When we put ourselves out there in the world vulnerably, we subject ourselves to whatever responses others have and choose to share – publicly or otherwise. I appreciate that Seliger shared his story and was so vulnerable because I think the truth of the matter is that a lot of white people and others with privilege would never acknowledge that they too engage in some form of racial “profiling” or have internalized racism and fear. This is precisely the kind of racism that goes on for many, many people and yet few are willing to acknowledge it. This is one of the greatest tragedies of our country – that in spite of the Civil Rights Acts, in spite of affirmative action, in spite of the incredible progress that has been made, most of us who have white privilege have internalized racism – racism that is pounded into our hearts and minds on a daily basis through the media. It is our job to heal and work through that internalized racism so we do not allow our own irrational fears drive our interactions with others, as well as to work to fight against the perpetuation of racism in our society.

    My second response to Seliger’s distress is that while I appreciate his vulnerability and honesty I also want it to be seen for what it is. Seliger’s generalization and fear of young African American men from one experience is racism. I had an experience many years ago when a friend called me to ask me legal advice. She had bought and paid for a car and the dealer was trying to get her to come in and pay more money for the car (she had the car in her possession and a signed contract for the car, which she had already paid for). She wanted to know if she had any obligation to pay more for the car. In the discussion she said to me, “It’s not like I “Jewed” them down.” I was dumbfounded by her anti-Semitic comment – but anti-Semitic it was. She immediately realized how deeply offensive her statement was and profusely apologized. But just like her comment was anti-Semitic, Seliger’s generalized fear of all African American young black men is similarly racist. Yet this type of internalized racism will only be overcome when we can empathize with the fear, acknowledge it without blaming, and then try to help the person with those fears overcome them. The strategies are multiple: helping them meet and hang out for an afternoon with teenage African American boys; talking through with them the features of African American life imposed on them by a racist society; exploring the way the media has helped shape a fearful sense of African Americans; helping them understand the conditions of poverty and the limited ways that this society has dealt with poverty, etc.

    At the same time, I want to also acknowledge that the vulnerability that Seliger expressed is of an entirely different nature than the vulnerability experienced by African American men. The risk Seliger ran by being vulnerability is that he might experience either a blow to his ego and/or emotional discomfort – a choice he made and can choose not to make in the future. Whereas the vulnerability African American men experience everyday is of a completely different magnitude. Seliger’s vulnerability pales in comparison to the vulnerability African American men and boys face everyday – a vulnerability for their very physical safety and well-being – a vulnerability that is even more risky and exposed now than it was before the Trayvon Martin case and a vulnerability that is not of their own choosing or under their control. So the more vulnerable we white folks allow ourselves to feel in the world, even if it’s just on the level of ego and emotions, the more sensitive we may begin to be towards the real vulnerability and risks that African American men and boys experience everyday simply by walking out their front door. And maybe, just maybe, out of this discomfort we will mobilize and genuinely stand in solidarity with African American men and boys (and all the “Others” who are similarly profiled and categorized) and fight for Martin Luther King’s dream that someday a man will be judged by the depth of his character rather than the color of his skin.

    • Dear Cat Zavis:
      Thanks for sharing your heartfelt thoughts, but you should know that Tikkun did not “dialogue” with me. It took Tikkun a couple of days (I don’t recall exactly how long) to reply at all when I demanded to know why they returned my piece to draft. When Michael Lerner finally responded, he read me the riot act, placing me on probation as a blogger; I would now have to clear material with the editors in advance rather than posting directly as I’ve done 90 times previously.

      I object to how Tikkun intimated that my views and my experience are in any way illegitimate, even racist. I wrote honestly of incidents in my life that revealed how modern urban living can force unwanted choices upon us. I fully sympathize with the African-American teenager I challenged momentarily at the entrance to my very integrated apartment building and explained why I had done so (an earlier instance of being mugged in my building, after letting in some young guys I should have been suspicious of). I have no special problem with African Americans of any age, but I’d be a fool not to be cautious at times. Happily, my building (and neighborhood) have been remarkable for cordial race relations for many years.

      Yes, Cat, I did take the time to reexamine what I wrote the first time and to conclude that I had been too coldly analytical and should have mentioned the kind of anguish that Black America is going through as a result of this verdict. In fact, I wish I had entitled my piece slightly differently as well: “Trayvon Martin: A Tragedy but Not Murder”; because I think that Zimmerman may well have been convicted of a crime other than murder if he were charged differently and prosecuted more competently.

      Tikkun could have found a way to disagree with me without denigrating my views and my character. As I’ve said before, I readily acknowledged a flaw in my original post, but I feel more wronged than wrong in this entire episode.

      • Ralph, I actually agree with you. I think it’s fucked up that we don’t let a lot of this dialogue happen; I don’t think it’s heavily racist to stop someone you don’t recognize in a place where you’ve suffered a trauma before and ask their intentions, and I don’t think you should have been read the riot act. That said, I think this discussion has been constructive. And I think your blog post was constructive, in that it opened more discussion. And I think that perhaps even your talk with that black teenager, in which you explained your reasons for profiling him at the entrance to your apartment building, may have been constructive. In every case, you created the chance for dialogue and more understanding, and thus a decrease of the judgement that leads to profiling and, obviously, death.

        Trayvon’s death was a-constructive. It was terrible. Don’t use your experience being mugged to justify Trayvon’s death, since the two are in no ways equivalent. Mugging is terrible too–I’ve been mugged, by black teens–but I recovered fairly easily. Trayvon did not. Let’s give him some respect, and not jump to defend a verdict that completely liberates his killer, regardless of whether he was guilty or not from a legal standpoint. He did not have to kill Trayvon–and that’s the point. He followed and stalked him on account of his skin color, never giving him an opportunity to explain or be “presumed innocent.” Zimmerman was not acting out of fear, as you may have been, but attempting to provoke a fight.

        I agree that this doesn’t make him a murderer; I actually agree with almost everything your blog post says. What I don’t agree with is your emphasis: who cares if it’s “legal” or not? It’s still wrong.

        So if you felt attacked, perhaps that’s why. I at least felt your focus was misplaced, and, while I didn’t want to correct that–you can write about whatever you want–I wanted to address it. It doesn’t matter that Zimmerman is innocent half as much as it matters that Trayvon is dead.

        Ian

        • Ian,
          Thanks for your note of understanding. As to where we may disagree, I’m not saying that the legality of Zimmerman’s case for “self-defense” is all that’s relevant here, which is why I state the following in my revised post: “[that my earlier version] may have appeared to place the victim, Trayvon Martin, on a similar moral plane as the killer, George Zimmerman, because it depicted both as acting in the wrong. I still believe that both made fatal missteps, but it’s clearly Zimmerman who initiated the confrontation, and in the end he walks away free while the young Martin is dead.”

          I would hope that you can also influence Tikkun to hold to its own guidelines for civil discussion, as stated online, regarding a comment from someone by the name of Michael Rosenberg, who flat-our calls me a “racist.” Since I reported this over the weekend, it’s early yet, but I hope that this individual is at least given a warning. Thanks again.

      • You may not realize it, but you are doing to Trayvon Martin exactly what people do to women who are raped; you are blaming the victim of a crime. If George Zimmerman had not gotten out of his car, had he waited for the authorities as he was told, Trayvon Martin would still be alive; he would not have been killed. George Zimmerman shot an unarmed kid who at the time of his death was doing nothing more than walking to his dad’s girlfriend’s home, minding his own business, talking on the phone with a girl, while carrying a bag of skittles and a can of ice tea. In fact, one of the 911 calls made by George Zimmerman said Trayvon was running away. Why did he go after him?

        Trayvon Martin was black. You could tell by the color of his skin. During WW II, Jewish people in Europe were made to wear yellow armbands because it was hard to identify them; in many cases they looked just like everyone around us. The armband gave those who hated Jews permission to hurt, injure and kill them. Black skin, yellow armbands, it’s all the same.

        I hope and pray that the minds and hearts of those who do not understand the burdens of being a minority (whatever their race, religion or sexual orientation), will be open before some other innocent person or people are killed. What would you do if someone you loved was killed, no matter the color of their skin, just because someone thought they were doing something wrong and took the law in their own hands? How would you feel then?

        • Dear Bev Alves:
          I’m sorry that you think I’m excusing Zimmerman in any way. The fact that the charge of murder was not proved doesn’t mean that Z. wasn’t in the wrong by getting out of that car, as he was advised against by the police. Unfortunately, he was not charged with a crime that the prosecution was more likely to win a conviction on.

  21. I read the above discussion for the first time today.

    I want to thank R. Seliger for airing his views and for Tikkun to publish them. I thank all the posters for taking the time to air their respective positions. I think words can be taken out of context sometimes and twisted around as R. Seliger pointed out. I am not as eloquent or erudite as many of the posters here so I am glad to have the opportunity to read these elucidations and have the opportunity to reflect on these thoughtfully. I believe a respectful airing of views is always useful to help people understand different positions.

    I was absolutely shocked to read the previous Tikkun announcement by Michael Lerner using the word “murder”, after the trial verdict several days ago. I very much disagreed with his comments. I immediately thought about withdrawing all further connection from Tikkun at that point. But now that Tikkun is publishing this discussion, I appreciate the opportunity and I thank you for allowing this intellectual discourse. I am learning from this exchange of views.

    I personally think this was a tragic accident rather than a racially motivated murder. Enough said. We need to move on and make a positive difference in our daily lives, instead of rehashing all this.

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