A month has passed since the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, by a voluntary Neighborhood Watch Captain in a suburban neighborhood of Sanford, FL. Since then, the killer has disappeared, the police chief has (“temporarily”) resigned, Rev. Al Sharpton has arrived, race-blogging has proliferated, the US Justice Dept. has come in, the State of FL has come in, The President of the US has addressed the issue, the TV “news” is reducing it to background noise, the families are grieving and there is a general fuss everywhere people care about justice.
Justice is, in fact, the issue. Without crime, there would be no issue of justice. In this case, justice has so far been paid a lot of lip service, but still eludes those of us who long to see and feel its reassuring presence in this case, and too many others. The reason is that, without justice, other issues are given time to grow up into a presence that pulls observers and those centrally involved in matters, aside from the true issues and evidence that are central to settling this, or any such case.
There is plenty of reason to look at the issue of race relations in the US in connection with the Trayvon Martin case, and to make of it a cause celebre for relighting the passions that, in the past, propelled US history and the US people to a “more perfect union” by removing much of the bulwark against integration and a fair and just society represented by Jim Crow laws and the segregation of white people and citizens of color, whether blatant and institutionalized, or subtle and secret. That issue of race isn’t completely missing from the Trayvon Martin case, but it isn’t the defining issue as some (non-whites) have presented it to be, and some (white supremacists) hope it will become.
There is no question that race differentiation simmers in the US sociocultural reality, due to its deep roots in one of the greatest and longest running atrocities in the history of human relations, i.e. the African slave trade. One needn’t scratch deeply at all to find modern analogues of any distinct element of that monstrous part of our national history, so strong has been its impact on our consciousness. The element we should look at most closely, for the understanding it can give us of the forces at work in today’s drama, is that of personnel. Since we are talking, after all, about justice, who are we really talking about? Justice is only ever called for, and need only exist where the presence of crime makes it necessary. The only perpetrators of crime are people.
George Zimmerman, at first glance, comes across as Mr. Open-and-shut in this incident, never mind the “blame the victim” contingent who still haven’t quite gotten the race thing figured out yet (“He slammed his chest into the poor watch captain’s bullet, officer.”). Take his gun and book him, Dano. Wait, What’s that you say? What is this “Stand your ground” rationale that transforms a piece of clear-cut police procedure into a case of self-defense?! You say there is no evidence, under Florida law, of wrongdoing, except for this one dead boy?
Making no arrest means that no crime has been committed, or at least not by anyone still alive. So this becomes a problem, because we are suddenly forced to rethink our entire position on what defines a crime, and how it is to be sensibly resisted. Let’s not waste time, then, and get to the bottom of our heretofore (apparently) wrong notion of what is a crime.
Most of us think of crime in terms of motive, means and opportunity, thanks to hundreds of CSI reruns down the years. What have we learned to expect in terms of the usual motive for crime? Most crimes appear to stem from one or more individuals’ desire to have what belongs to another, and without fair compensation. If we had to choose a word for this objective, the first word we think of is money. Anybody can get sex or drugs with money, but not everyone can get money with sex or drugs.
Revenge sometimes produces crime, but often as not, it can be traced to money, so let’s stay with it. Let’s follow the money, like any good crime scene investigator. We equate money with crime. It’s even tempting to think, if you’ve never had much money, that those who have the most money, must have come by it in one of three ways: really good luck (including being born with genius), inheritance (oops, what luck!), or as the result of criminal activity, including corruption and ranging from the mere shady deal, to blatant, wide-reaching fraud.
To cast the wealthy as a criminal class is a common enough impulse, and not without a lot of reasons to support it. After all, what better motive, means and opportunity can we find than money, money and money? Does anyone really doubt that it would take a criminal class devoted to absolute sway over all human affairs, based on the legislation-mandated production and consumption of capital and manufactured goods, to bring about the modern reality of our so-called civilization? We have found ourselves locked in it at the expense of all those things that, throughout most of human life on the planet, have been vastly more important to our well-being.
The “Stand-your-ground” laws passed by something like half of all US states, are roughly identical in language and consequence. None was written by any member of the legislative bodies that passed them. They are the immaculate product of institutes established for the purpose of achieving hegemony over society, and supported financially by such worthies as the National Rifle Association (NRA), and Koch Industries, and Exxon Mobil, and Halliburton, and the Carlyle Group, and Goldman Sachs, and all the armorers, Big Chem, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Finance, and every Daddy Warbucks operation in America and the allied national economies. If such laws were not forced down the throats of a political class unwilling to learn how to live without the money that accompanies them, they would still be embraced by the ideologues and ideologies of fear and avarice that produced them in the first place, which circles back to the money.
I accuse these and all others like them of collectively constituting a criminal class. If they are not a criminal class, then let them stand before the people, without their hired guns and mouthpieces, in the public square, and explain to us exactly why they not be so held accountable for the monstrous outcomes of so many of their actions in pursuit of endless increase in profits.
Why it is so important to them that we, the people, should be compelled to live always in fear that our neighbors are ready to surround us and take away all these many things the industrial oligarchs have led us to believe are necessary, while causing us, at the same time, to abandon so much that is really necessary: our sense of connectedness with each other, our willingness to share with all, our desire and determination to live in peace with all humankind, devoted to the principles that everybody eats, every illness and injury is treated, everybody gets a safe, clean place to sleep, and everyone has a chance to follow his or her dream of what they want to become, knowing that the dreams of each are united by values stronger and more worthy than mere money, and that, by pursuing that dream, they do not destroy the dreams of others, but help them to come true.