Trayvon, Part II: Racist Trees; Criminal Forest

A frequent commenter of ours has become obsessed with which racial box George Zimmerman checks on Census forms. To him, it seems to unravel the point of my Trayvon article from a few days ago. I think he thinks the point of my piece was the persistence of white on black racism across generations. Thus, this analysis is voided if George Zimmerman declares himself Hispanic.

When I pointed out that I was talking about violence across “tribes” — or affinity groups — and the way custom and law work in tandem, he responded like this:

So you recount Florida’s racist past in some detail and you expect to segue into some generic “tribes” conversation?

And this:

In this case “racist whites still commonly kill black people”. Real subtle with the whites lynching a black man for the illustration. Defines those “tribes” of yours quite well.

I find these responses fascinating — and annoying — because of the difference between what the commenter thinks I’m describing and what I think I’m describing.

The defining characteristic of the lynchings and other/racial tribal violence of the pre-Civil Rights era isn’t racism. It’s lawlessness. Lynch mobs weren’t primarily concerned with racism; they were primarily concerned with performing torture and murder. They were vicious criminals. Waving around flesh of innocent men for fun is something way on the other side of racism.

Florida’s society in the 20s wasn’t simply or even primarily racist; it was criminal. The white Protestant establishment was a mafia more brutal and corrupt — and far more pervasive — than anything Mario Puzo ever dreamed up. It systematically stole the labor of black Americans well after slavery ended; it systematically sought to restrict their movements between states; it systematically and violently stole their right to vote; and it systematically enforced illegal codes of conduct — against all races — with illegal corporal punishment and execution.

Moreover, it’s just a numerical fact that if you’re white with roots in the South — and even the North — that some grandparent or great grandparent likely either committed an awful crime, took part in a mob that enabled the awful crime, or had information about horrible crimes that they withheld from law enforcement, which probably didn’t want to hear it anyway. None of these crimes were punished. And they helped certain types of people build generational wealth that their heirs — including me — enjoy today. Almost without exception, we white people are the heirs of criminals, many of whom were also loving and kind and honest in most other portions of their lives. Such contradictions lie at the core of human experience.

These are not pleasant facts to consider. And there is little or nothing we can do to makes things right. But we should, at the very least, call this time what it was — our lawless, libertarian past. It’s an era — pre FDR — that so many of you Ron Paulians think of with nostalgia because of its lack of functioning government to restrict behavior. Trayvon Martin’s death — putting aside its real world horror — gives us a useful flashback to the reality of nostalgia for a different America. His blackness is only part of the reason.

After all, anyone who knows anything about my book knows that it’s called “Age of Barbarity,” not “Age of Racism”. If you’ve read any of it, you might also know that it opens with a brutally graphic depiction of the white-on-white castration of a Catholic priest in 1924. (I know this probably is not going to help me sell books.) And its climax centers on an election in 1928 in which one candidate asked the public if it approved of white women being stripped and beaten. That vote was very close; and I won’t tell you who won.

I picked the 1923 Gainesville sidewalk killing to illustrate my Trayvon piece because tribal conflict over public deference lay at its heart. It was very similar to the tribal conflict over public space that lay at the heart of Trayvon’s killing. I also picked it because the observed custom of the time — and therefore law — allowed white men to murder black men accused of serious crimes, just as it allowed white men to castrate troublesome Catholic priests and strip and whip and probably rape all types of women if they were thought to be drinkers or have too much sex. Racism was a subset of the tribal motivations.

These customs — sanctioned by law enforcement — made a mockery of law and made criminals out of respectable men and corpses out their often innocent victims. Custom and law absolved these men without so much as an inquiry as long as they acted against the right tribes in nominal protection of the “innocent” of their own tribe.

Consider this from the Gainesville Sun editor writing immediately after the Rosewood pogrom/massacre, set in motion by an unsubstantiated accusation of assault on a white woman:

Let it be understood now and forever — that he, whether white or black, who brutally assaults an innocent and helpless woman — shall die the death of a dog.

And here’s my great aunt, discussing just a few years ago the stories she heard about how the Reconstruction era KKK came into being:

“Most of the southern men were killed in the Civil War, and there were many, many households that were just women and children, and they were in danger.”

And now, consider this from Durrell Peaden, a former state senator and sponsor of stand-your-ground in 2005. He said this just the other day.

“The intent was to protect women and children. They’re using it to protect someone who ought to be in jail. The state attorney ought to do this job.”

Another heir to a noble tradition.

Laws, even laws against murder, have no meaning if they are not enforced. Stand-your-ground is redundant; it did not invent self-defense, which is very, very rarely clear cut. You can still defend yourself without it; you just have no expectation of impunity because of your feelings.

More importantly, stand-your-ground depends upon elected officials — or people appointed by elected officials — doing their jobs, often in defiance of their own tribes. Its vagueness and deference to feeling is a massive loophole that tears right through the middle of the 14th amendment and offers ample opportunity to establish new traditions of lawlessness. We see it in the continued freedom of George Zimmerman. The public pressure building against him and the Sanford Police Department only exists because of custom and luck. People happened to find about it; and people happened to find it outrageous because of now longstanding custom. Only 80 years ago, the public would not have found it outrageous. Law, to have meaning, cannot depend upon case-by-case public ratification.

By fighting off the Gainesville lynch mob in 1923, Sheriff Peter Hagan began to create the custom and expectation of law enforcement that today has brought down a richly deserved rain of hellfire upon the Sanford Police Department.

And my great grandfather J.V. Walton, who was a segregationist fond of the word “nigra,” helped him change those customs through his skill and bravery as a lawyer.

How can that be? J.V. was a racist, right?

Yes, by today’s standards. But he believed in law. He believed in the spirit of the 14th amendment, in equal protection of law. The 14th amendment did not outlaw racism. It did not require Asians and blacks and whites and Hispanics and anyone else to like or associate with each other. It did, however, unequivocally bar Asians and blacks and whites and Hispanics from killing or stealing from each other with impunity.

The criminal white establishment of the South — and much of the North — defied or ignored the 14th amendment for 100 years. Its descendants still hate the 14th amendment; they constantly want to change it. Hispanics, perhaps like George Zimmerman, are on the receiving end of this now. Anchor babies and all.

Stand-your-ground, whatever its intentions, is another assault on the 14th amendment. It’s step back toward a world run by criminals, who are incidentally racist, whatever that even means.

15 thoughts on “Trayvon, Part II: Racist Trees; Criminal Forest

  1. Wow, quoted in a Billy Townsend opinion piece, I’m moving up in the world!

    When I see you write “our lawless, libertarian past.”, I hear that quote from the Princess Bride:

     “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

    THE central tenet of libertarianism is the principal of non-initiation of force. That is, no one has a right to initiate force, in any form be it physical or fraudulent, against another person. That is the defining difference between the individual and the State. The State may initiate force. This is what allows them to break in your door at 3AM on a false drug accusation and walk away without consequence or arrest you when the county has auctioned your land for back taxes and you won’t leave. Libertarians are by no means lawless or even libertine, we are just commonly  painted that way by the ignorant.

    In order for me to buy your lawlessness argument, I would have to ask a few questions. If the times were indeed lawless, were ALL groups targeted equally by criminals? Were white men and women abused as badly as blacks? 

    In those days, weren’t whites far wealthier on average than blacks? Wouldn’t make sense that whites might have experienced a higher proportion of the victimization since they had the money and blacks didn’t?

    Your lawlessness argument makes no sense today, and only a little for our past. Hagan’s example was that the law was going to be applied EQUALLY to blacks and whites. Bless him for his courage. Show me some examples of courageous people like Hagan holding back white mobs seeking a white prisoner and maybe the lawless argument will make more sense. We have more laws today than we’ve ever had and we live in the safest times we’ve ever lived in. Aside from idiot examples like these Sanford keystone cops or when the cops are protecting their own, lawlessness isn’t much of a problem for most of the country.

    The Martin story is interesting today more because of its general rarity. If it were common anymore, it probably wouldn’t make the news or attract the race baiters like Farrakhan and Sharpton. Nothing like a good tragedy to push a racial agenda. Why don’t you throw some of your outrage at them?

    Nice try at redirection Billy, but the illustration on your first piece was loud and clear. 

  2. I am completely uninterested in what you buy or don’t buy. I am interested in the distinctions I wrote about. People can assess your response to them however they see fit. I don’t have anything to add.

    • Without the background racism meme, you don’t have a distinction. I can well imagine the conversations you have in your own head make sense to you, but that other voice you’re hearing doesn’t make a good debate partner.

      We’ll have better race relations in this country when the Left of the political spectrum stops insisting on injecting racial prejudice into every encounter between peoples of different color. Evil and stupidity crosses all racial boundaries in equal measure.

      Zimmerman looks like a wanna be cop mutt with too much testosterone and too little sense. Martin was just the unfortunate kid who crossed paths with him under unfavorable circumstances and then the Sanford cops went all stupid and ignored the law. That’s all this incident has to be about. 

      Until we discover Zimmerman’s anti-Black manifesto, how about we leave it at that?

    • Billy, I think the “lawless, libertarian past” stuff is disingenuous. You’re conflating Libertarianism with lawlessness, which is completely untrue.

      • Not in reality, DR. It is a simple fact that libertarians claim long to go back to the governing structures of the pre-30s. They say it all the time. Those structures produced what I’ve described, and gov’t eventually beat it back. 

        Now, I will grant you that this longing has more to do with fantasies about human nature and history than a wish for mobs or whatever. But libertarians, like Barry Goldwater, fought the structures that made unraveling the violence and injustice of much of our history possible. Segregationist flocked to Goldwater’s bandwagon. Therefore, it completely irrelevant what the intent is, only what happens

        As a serious and honest libertarian, unlike that other goofball, you need to reckon with the limits of what your philosophy will and did provide. And I suspect, if you were on the receiving end of the darkness a loosely policed culture produces, you would be less blythe about it.

        • Maybe “Republitarians” — Neo-Republicans calling themselves Libertarians — long for the good old days as you’ve heard, but Libertarianism doesn’t call for lawlessness in any way. Some of the best Libertarianism comes from our founding documents and the words of the founders of this country; the very foundational laws and lawmakers of this nation.

          Well, we all know we judge people by the company they keep, but we also know we shouldn’t do that because such snap judgments are not entirely reliable. I would take Goldwater over LBJ or Nixon any day. (The Goldwater Myth – Claremont Institute) I guess when we get scared about who keeps company with whom, we lose track of what our laws are supposed to be doing, and that’s giving us liberty while punishing those who try to take our liberty. I don’t like a citizenry so scared of its own shadow that laws keep being made to tackle every small issue (40,000 new laws to go into effect in 2012 – MSNBC). It’s far too easy to slip into the Kyklos Cycle when we call upon ourselves to be tightly policed.

          • It doesn’t call for lawlessness; but it refuses to restrain it. That’s its record. I would take Goldwater over nixon, but certainly not LBJ.Libertarianism rejects tyrrany in theory but depends upn human charity to figth it. Doesn’t work.

          • Yes, I’ve seen some libertarian theory rely on charity, but it’s certainly not the basis of the philosophy. The same philosophy you claim created such lawlessness fostered those men you admire who fought for the rule of law over the rule of men. The rule of the whims of powerful men is anarchy, not liberty, or libertarianism.

  3. Mea Culpa
    New information is developing that might make my judgement of Zimmerman and the Sanford Police too quick and harsh. I guess I should have waited longer too.

    Wouldn’t it be something if he really didn’t do anything wrong…

  4. Wow, was I wrong. Sorry Billy, I guess you got this one right. Lawless tribes we are…

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/os-trayvon-martin-new-black-panthers-protest-20120324,0,1231157.story

    SANFORD — Members of the New Black Panther Party are offering a $10,000
    reward for the “capture” of George Zimmerman, leader Mikhail Muhammad
    announced during a protest in Sanford today.

    When asked whether he was inciting violence, Muhammad replied defiantly saying: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
    The bounty announcement came moments after members of the group called
    for the mobilization of 10,000 black men to capture George Zimmerman,
    the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin last month.
    Muhammad said members of his group would search for Zimmerman themselves
    in Maitland and Jacksonville — where the 28-year old worked before the
    shooting, employees there told the Orlando Sentinel.

  5. Yes, in fact, I think you are right. This illustrates my lawlessness point quite well. I appreciate the link. You are far too dense and motivated by whatever pathologies motivate you, but what you say sarcastically was in fact the core point of both of my pieces. Anyone who read them honestly knows that.

    You will never, of course, acknowledge that fact, even though you just acknowledged it. That’s how dishonest and twisted you are by whatever twists you. It’s why people argue with you for a few minutes and then stop when they figure out they’re dealing with a self-indulgent three-year-old

    I’ve made an exception to ignoring you here because it was amusing to see you spitefully throw the point of my pieces in my face as if it wasn’t the point of pieces. I have never, ever had the experience of someone saying to me, “Yes, you’re right; so take that.” But then again there are very few people so strange as you. I will now commence ignoring you again.

    • Man, you need better sarcasm filters. 

      In fact I don’t believe we are a bunch of lawless, racial tribes. Most of us have moved beyond that. Unless you want to describe Zimmerman’s HOA as a “tribe” of course. But that would have your use of racial visualization and examples make even less sense. These exceptions, and I believe they are exceptions, while egregious, are not typical of today’s and maybe not too much of yesterday’s society. 

      You’ve painted “tribes” along racial boundaries. Here’s some inconvenient facts: whites mostly kill whites, blacks mostly kill blacks, and “others” mostly kill “others” at least according to the FBI murder statistics. The attached chart outlines this. The original data is here: http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_06.html
      So I guess we tend to hunt within the tribe, eh?

      Wow, there is a use for the government having us check those little race boxes after all. And here I thought all along it was just to divide us up and pit us against one another to compete for stolen resources…

      •  As an antiquated lawyer – and, I warn you, not very e-mail conversant – I have followed with interest the conversation between Mr. Townsend (Billy? I don’t know much about commentary etiquette) and SkepticalEnlightenment (Mr. Enlightenment?) as the conversation has taken a bit of a turn to personalities and less to subject matter. “Meme” is an excellent term, but may I suggest that it usually denotes a vertical cultural transmission between generations rather than a horizontal transmission between parallel tribes as it has been used here. It is supposed to be analogous to genes but in a cultural context (see Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene, and a host of his other writings).

        As a former prosecutor, as well as a defense attorney, I have represented both accusers and accused in a number of criminal cases. I have even had to deal with considerable publicity in several altho certainly not of the degree of the Martin/Zimmerman case. However, I have seen how extensive press coverage can produce alleged “facts” that don’t stand up when subjected to the tests to which they are subject in court. Trials are far from being “just” – as in a demand for “justice” – but when it comes to facts it’s the best we have. I have listened to 911 call recordings, seen video tape ofa handcuffed Zimmerman being taken out of a police car (it looked like a booking procedure following an arrest rather than an avoidance of the arrest itself) but I certainly can’t be sure. The video also seemed to show no injuries of the kind Mr. Zimmerman allegedly described – and which were backed by the police report – that is normally written after an arrest incident. but I did see an injury on the back of the head of an unidentified man on another tape. That has only been shown one time as far as I know and it could have been anyone at anytime. Now we have voice comparisons (a far from exact science) that allegedly say Mr Zimmerman was not the one screaming for help.Apparently the cell phone message from Mr. Martin’s female interlocutor has not been released, as it should not be in normal criminal proceedings, but given the current atmosphere I’m surprised we haven’t seen and heard it. I could go on and on with just with just the points (not facts) I’m aware of now, but I predict that many more startling questions as to just what happened will arise, be reported on and then spun by commentators for their own agenda (I watched Chris Hannity and an MSNBC pundit I did not know just a few hours ago – needless to say, I heard very different conclusions from the same evidence -or at least that part that each chose to bring up or omit for their obvious purposes) before this matter is finished.

        I know I’m going on too long and I’ll try to finish. I think the problem really does lie in the statute which Mr. Enlightenment was kind enough to print in its entirety. Few – if any other – statutes forbid arrest, but this one does upon reasonable belief by the arresting officer that a “stand-your-ground” issue was involved. This decision is a terrible burden to put on a non-lawyer cop in a  chaotic situation. And I’ll bet my proverbial  bippy that this scene was as chaotic as they come.

        Typically, at least in my time, cops in that situation call the state attorney and do what he/she says. It is quite normal for a grand jury to be used as insulation in such a situation. Apparently this one was set for its normal convening time before the feces hit the fan and the SA looked like he gave it short shrift. If the FBI is looking at a civil rights case I predict the state attorney is where they’re focused. But I think – from the little I’ve heard and my own speculation – the statute and its supporters are the real culprits.

        I have bought and read Mr. Townsend’s book. I cannot speak highly enough about it. I doubt if anyone has ever researched the criminal atmosphere of the times as much as he has and he is certainly better placed than I (or any other commentator is) to compare the times. Still, they do differ and I’d like to see more discussion in a tone that gently seeks conviction without so much passionate  intensity on all sides.

        I’ll end on an unrelated question: the press has been diligently digging up background on each party seeking guns that have long since ceased to smoke. In conjunction Al Sharpton has steadily trumpeted the “facts” in this case without allowing for  confusion in the past facts about Zimmerman. As far as I can tell no-one has asked him about Tawana Brawley. If it’s legitimate to dig up irrelevant (by law) past occurrences, that would seem to be a fair question for the Reverend to answer.

        • As I intended to use it, meme seems to apply quite clearly here. I believe we are being painted with a brush covered in the sins of our fathers and being sold on the idea that they are our sins. We may not have reached the proverbial post-racial promised land, but has anyone noticed that we have a Black President? He wouldn’t have been my choice for the first Black to hold that office, but he has it and he won it with a majority vote of the American people.

          As the coverage in the last few weeks has established, there are few credible media sources providing information and background on this case. At worst, they are manufacturing facts and at best they are confusing multiple issues as one.

          Certainly a jury is going to have to sort this one out, but I can’t get over the fact that Zimmerman got out of his vehicle when told by the dispatcher not to. I don’t see how Zimmerman did not immediately lose the protection offered by the stand your ground statute. He may not have lost his right to self defense, but certainly he has a higher standard to meet now because he admits to pursuing Martin by exiting his vehicle and the protections it offered to physical attack.

          I think that as long as people like Sharpton and Jackson are around doing what they do, it’ll be harder for us as a country to move beyond racial issues. I do take some heart in seeing them fade somewhat between issues.

          For all Billy’s brilliance, I think he has fallen into the trap of thinking he’s somehow unsavory because he’s white and successful. By his success he hasn’t diminished anyone. That’s the meme the Left would yoke us with by continuing to portray Blacks as unequal victims of a racist world. We’ll never be equal so long as there is political capital to be gained from perpetual victimhood and its advocacy.

  6. I demand justice for the dozens of black men killed in Chicago since January 1st, 2012. 

    Why isn’t the New Black Panther Party forming posse’s to hunt down the killers in their own backyard? 

    No national press coverage maybe?

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