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Opportunism and Trayvon Martin

How I wove a story too, and why mine is ok(?)

by Alex Briggs

"Background Checks Save Lives" said the three black and yellow signs held by the three young black children standing in between the two older white men on stage. The larger man on the left wearing navy blue launched in to a speech urging the crowd to come together and write their elected officials- that the time for change has come!

My general unease at another aimless rally held for restless liberals and my quiet discomfort at the calls for unity in the face of this tragedy gave way to a wave of indignation as it sunk in that this man- who turned out to be the Portland Chief of Police as i (luckily) found out later- was actually going to use the crowd gathered by the tragedy of Travyvon Martin to soapbox for greater gun control.

This is bullshit. I'll leave my thoughts on the complicated issue of gun control for another day, just like the Chief should have done. George Zimmerman not only carried a legal and registered concealed weapon, he even had special authority as a community watchman.

The fact that this white northern man has the self-righteous nerve to actually bring black children onto stage as an emotional appeal turns my stomach. As if giving over greater powers of regulation to our government would keep them safe- to play this emotional trick at a time when people's hearts were once again weeping for an unfair black death is a disgrace.

And as the very last speaker of the night!.. I am new to town and don't know anything of the NAACP, who organized this rally- but I hope they felt as uncomfortable with these dynamics as I did.
Returning to work the next day though I struck sparks with the Blacksmith I work with- he claimed that eyewitnesses saw Trayvon attacking Zimmerman, and no overt aggression preceding this- from here he claimed that Zimmerman acted in self-defence, and that the verdict of not guilt beyond reasonable doubt was valid.

He had followed the case closely, and I have to admit that I didn't, and haven't.
I realized that I too was being an opportunist in this situation- with all of the busy world I did not take the time to read into all the details, I simply took up the surface narrative and wove it into a story that supported the worldview I already hold.

But here's my defense: the connection that the Police Chief made was cosmetic- both the Trayvon case and gun control (Newtown) involve guns, but that is essentially where the comparison ends.
I realized that my interest in the Trayvon case was that it highlighted the injustices and inequalities faced by non-white people in America. I don't know the details of what happened between Zimmerman and him, how troubled Trayvon's past and current life were, or any other details about the case- but i know that non-white people face structural racism all the time, and more often than it should this racism comes in the form of the police, often with violent force.

This is a statistical fact about our country and it is not a cosmetic connection to make- I truly believe that structural racism is the root cause of this tragedy.

And we don't have only statistics to go by. I have heard many second hand accounts of police violence in low-income (predominantly immigrant) communities, and there are even unresolved cases of police murder here in this state. From here is the story of Keaton Otis:

On May 12, 2010 Keaton Otis was pulled over by Portland's "Hotspot Enforcement Action Team" (HEAT) for looking like a gang member and driving a nice car (his mother's Toyota). Officers punched him in the face and hit him with a Taser three times; one officer was hit by a bullet they say came from a gun Otis pulled from the glove compartment. A hail of 32 bullets was fired at Keaton, hitting him 23 times and killing him.


Once again a black man was considered "sketchy" and law enforcement took this as an invitation to escalate a situation which ended in their death. This is not justice, it is sanctioned murder, and Keaton Otis is an even better example of it- tazed three times for driving his mother's car before he turned to a gun to try and make it stop, and was killed for it.

This is the importance of the Trayvon case, and the potential I saw as being wasted at the rally. This is the story that should have been told there, a call to examine our own backyard and see what injustices are being swept under the carpet. Law Enforcement is necessary in the (current) system we find ourselves under- but that does not mean they can be given carte-blanche. It is up to us to watch the watchmen and keep all voilence out of our communities- including the police.

This is opportunistic of me, it is reducing the complicated case to a single (underlying) component and recounting this story to try and support the changes I want to make in the world. But I think these are just the kinds of opportunities we Must Stop MIssing. The world is not in stasis; it does not seem to be becoming a better place to me, and I blame this on the injustices we fail to face in and around our daily lives.

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