Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bill Cosby Cuts through the Clutter

It may be a little ironic that I'm the one saying this, but I really do think it’s kind of problematic that entertainers seem to have a more thoroughgoing understanding of the world than the so-called pundits do. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert aren’t watched by so many people just because they’re funny: they’re also a more reliable source of information than most journalists are, especially to those with enough of an understanding of humor to readily differentiate between objective fact-telling and comedic exaggeration.

To these gentlemen, I would add the name of Bill Cosby, whose recent comments on the Trayvon Martin case are as cogent as they are measured. No, I don’t agree with him all the time (what fun would that be?), but Mr. Cosby, unlike a number of other celebrities from Spike Lee on the left to Ted Nugent on the right, is almost always worth listening to. His remarks on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley seem to me to cut to the heart of the issue:
When a person has a gun, sometimes their mind clicks, that this thing… will win arguments and straighten people out, and then in the wrong hands, in the wrong mind, it’s death….

You’ve got to protect yourself in your own home. But I also believe that when you tell me that you’re going to protect the neighborhood that I live in, I don’t want you to have a gun. I want you to be able to see something, report it, and get out of the way…. I don’t want you to get hurt. And I don’t want you to hurt anyone….

What is solved by saying “he’s a racist; that’s why he shot the boy”? …. It doesn’t make any difference if he’s racist or not racist: if he’s scared to death, and not a racist, it’s still a confrontational provoking of something….

I used to have gun. The policeman who okayed it said to me, “Mr. Cosby, when you pull this trigger, you can’t call it back.”
It’s not entirely clear whether Cosby is merely mouthing pedestrian liberal platitudes about gun control. Even if he is, he’s raised the level of discourse on the Martin/Zimmerman case considerably. But he just might be concentrating his attention (and therefore ours) on a more specific issue: the notion that those entrusted with our protection ought not to make us less safe.

The idea of a neighborhood watch, at least in the truest sense, is virtually an inherent good. People who actually live in the area come to know who belongs and who doesn’t, and they’ll have a particular interest in maintaining order. But strap a gun onto an otherwise model citizen, and there’s a good chance he’s going to go all Junior G-Man on you.

I talked last time about the alarming and precipitous decline in the importance of the police and quasi-police officers employing pepper spray irresponsibly. What is shocking here is the increased availability of this stuff to low-level (and presumably relatively untrained) personnel, not that the underlings are likely to abuse what little authority they have: that part is entirely predictable. It’s the same phenomenon that feeds the self-importance of small-town cops: call it the Barney Fife Syndrome.

It may be that George Zimmerman is a racist, but the two central pieces of evidence that he might be are unconvincing at best. Silly me, I believed the tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call released by the media was… you know… real. It turns out to have been manipulated by some unethical jerk of a producer, whether out of political motives tied to ends-justifies-the-means thinking or simply a desire to make the story “sexier,” independent of its veracity.

Seriously, if you believe the “a mistake, not a purposeful act” argument employed by “sources,” please leave this blog immediately. This is fare intended for those with IQs above room temperature. NBC, this go-‘round’s sanctuary of mendacious pseudo-journalism, fired the “veteran producer” involved, but of course never identified the culprit so we have no real assurance other than the word of the people whose truth-telling is specifically under question that a). s/he was really fired or b). s/he won’t be promptly hired by somebody else. Anyway, the transcript of the real, i.e., unedited, tape shows that Zimmerman identified Martin as black only after being asked the suspect’s race by the police dispatcher.

Similarly, it wasn’t Zimmerman who made a big deal out of the fact that Martin was wearing a hoodie: no, that would be Geraldo Rivera, to whom neither truth nor the common weal have ever mattered nearly as much as, well, Geraldo Rivera. A more self-important grand-standing douchebag has yet to have trod the planet. The point here is that Zimmerman’s reference to what Martin was wearing, like the racial description, comes only after a prompt by the police.

It may be, as the anvil chorus on the left has intoned virtually incessantly, that Zimmerman was treated differently than would have been the case had the races of the two principals been reversed. It does not strain the brain overmuch to imagine that cops and district attorneys in a small southern town might (not to say did) inappropriately factor race into their thinking. But even if that’s true, it’s not Zimmerman’s fault. Was he really supposed to demand to be arrested for actions he apparently didn’t think were criminal, just because the guy with a bullet in him had a little more melanin than Zimmerman himself?

More to the point, however, is Cosby’s point: it doesn’t matter. Zimmerman may or may not be a racist, may or may not have thought himself at risk, may or may not have perceived Martin as a threat based (exclusively, largely, partially…) on the basis of race. But a couple of things are clear: if Zimmerman had listened to the dispatcher and not followed Martin, the latter would still be alive and the former would like his life right now a whole lot more. And if Zimmerman were unarmed, the chances are he’d have stayed put and waited for the cops to show up. Also, of course, it’s a lot harder to shoot someone if you don’t have a weapon.

I’ll leave it to others to cite statistics and to wax rhetorical about the ALEC-driven “Stand Your Ground” law that (wait for it…) may or may not have contributed to the tragic events in Florida. Nor am I interested in debating the intricacies of gun control legislation. Did George Zimmerman have a legal right to carry a gun? Yes. When all the facts are in, might we (meaning all of us but the hopeless ideologues) agree that he did nothing illegal according to the laws of the jurisdiction? Yes. Even in the absence of such consensus, might a “not guilty” verdict be appropriate on the basis of reasonable doubt? Yes. Was it a good idea to have an apparently untrained, slightly paranoid, self-important yahoo carrying a loaded gun through the streets of his neighborhood? Why, no. No, it wasn’t.

1 comment:

Phil Kraemer said...

Dear Curmudgeon,

It appears that part of your analysis still relies on an artfully edited 911 recording. The full recording has Zimmerman responding "okay" when told by the 911 operator that they did not need him to follow Martin. Zimmerman remained on the line long enough that his breathing returned to normal and the meeting between these two unfortunate people took place shortly thereafter.

I am not sure how large a part this played in your overall analysis, but it appears to have some pertinence.