Nel's New Day

July 23, 2013

Zimmerman Trial Leaves Terrible Legacy

The dialog surrounding the Trayvon Martin killing and the George Zimmerman trial has swirled throughout the media for the past ten days, with terrifying responses. Conservative pundits used President Obama’s speech about Martin to continue their racist statements. Sean Hannity wondered if Obama compared himself to Martin because “he did a little blow.” Fox News’ Todd Starnes called President Obama “unpresidential” and “race-baiter in chief” who is “trying to tear our country apart.” Conservative commentator Pamela Geller called the president a “buffoon,” “racist,” and “eager to publicly lynch Geroge [sic] Zimmerman” and argued that the president is guilty of “sedition.”

According to Geraldo Rivera, Martin was responsible for his own killing because he wore a hooded sweatshirt on that rainy night. The smear campaign on conservative media last week continued the one that they have waged for the past 15 months since the Zimmerman killing became a national story. George Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, furthered the racists remarks in his book, published a month before the trial finished, in which he listed many black organizations and leaders in the chapter “Who Are the True Racists?”

In the beginning of the discussion, even conservative columnist Rich Lowery agreed with Al Sharpton that Zimmerman should be charged because of the killer’s “stupendous errors in judgment.” Glenn Beck, however, fanned the fire of hatred by publishing a list of criminal offenses that Martin might have committed while he was alive. On Fox, guest Doug Burns, a former federal prosecutor, hypothesized that it was possible to kill someone with Skittles or break a bottle of iced tea and kill someone with the jagged edge.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote a column explaining why Zimmerman was not at fault when he assumed that Martin’s hoodie made it clear that the boy was a thug. As an older white man, Cohen described Martin’s sweatshirt as  a “uniform we all recognize,” probably just as “we all” know that women who wear provocative clothing deserve to be raped.

By the end of the trial, many people still didn’t know that Zimmerman had stalked Martin, even after the police had told him to stop. And they have the support from the NRA that claimed “Stand Your Ground” laws are “a fundamental human right.”

Since the trial, revelations indicate that the flawed process may have contributed to Zimmerman’s exoneration. Initially the sequestration of the jury members was depicted as onerous, but the $1,500 expenditure per day per juror makes the experience appear rather luxurious, especially with steak dinners, manicures and pedicures, and excursions. They were permitted to watch television and movies, visit shopping malls, and receive unsupervised visits from families, and check their cellphones at the Marriott where they stayed.

Juror B-37 shows this freedom when she wrote about discussing her proposed book—now scuttled—with her husband, just the morning after the jury decision was announced: “The potential book was always intended to be a respectful observation of the trial from my and my husband’s perspectives solely and it was to be an observation that our ‘system’ of justice can get so complicated that it creates a conflict with our ‘spirit’ of justice.”

The same juror clearly revealed her bias in her interview with Anderson Cooper when she said Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place” when he tracked and killed Trayvon Martin but refers to Martin as “a boy of color.” Although the juror didn’t consider the man she called “George” guilty, she said about him: “I think he just didn’t know when to stop. He was frustrated, and things just got out of hand.”

Although Zimmerman did not proclaim the “stand your ground” defense, it was used in both the jury’s discussion and in the jury instructions. Judge Debra Nelson clarified that the jury should consider the law:

“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

After the trial, Juror B-37 said that they used the “stand your ground” defense to declare Zimmerman innocent of murder. Using that law, the jury came up with the only verdict that they could, using Florida’s law allowing people the right to hunt down another person and then claim self-defense. The dead person has no rights to self-defense, but the killer has many rights with no need for remorse. Especially helpful in Zimmerman’s case is that his father is a retired Virginia Supreme Court magistrate who published the e-book, Florida v. Zimmerman–Uncovering the Malicious Prosecution of My Son George, immediately before the trial.

Although hindsight is 20/20, William Boardman’s analysis of the lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda rings true. He describes de la Rionda’s voice in his closing as “flat, his tone subdued and resigned” when he characterizes Martin an “almost dismissive way.” Throughout the trial, the prosecution humanized Zimmerman far more than it did Martin. De la Rionda also spent ten minutes apologizing for his witness, Rachel Jeantel, and, after the trial, said, “We don’t get to pick our witnesses.”

Jarvis DeBerry wrote about the comments from a former prosecutor who tried hundreds of cases in the defendant in his column, “Did George Zimmerman’s prosecutors try to get him off?” The lawyer argued prosecutors should have sought a change of venue because of the potential conflicts, including a probably tainted jury pool. The jury was composed of six white women, including the infamous B-37 who claimed that there were “riots in Sanford” that never happened.

Running the prosecution team was elected state attorney Angela Corey, who was appointed by the governor as special prosecutor for this case after the local prosecutor’s recusal. Corey is a controversial figure in Florida legal circles and was accused of filing a “perjurious affidavit” in the Zimmerman case by attorney Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School in 2012. Corey was criticized by others for charging Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder since, they argued, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it.

When the Department of Justice took the gun used to kill Martin as part of an ongoing civil rights investigation, right-wingers became incensed about the lack of his rights and the thought that he wouldn’t have a gun available to stalk and kill someone else. A variety of sources, including a gun store, conservative author, and an Ohio PAC, have offered to supply him with weapons.

First, Zimmerman still has at least one gun because he and his wife had multiple guns. And second, Zimmerman’s own attorney, Mark O’Mara said, “That particular weapon, he should never carry again. There’s no reason to carry a weapon that’s already killed somebody.”

With the end of Zimmerman’s criminal trial, Florida continues with another “stand your ground” defense. Michael David Dunn, 45, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of an unarmed black teenager who listened to loud rap music while sitting in the back seat of a car. Witnesses saw the white guy get out of his car and shoot the teen at least eight times.

Dunn said he felt threatened and acted in self-defense because the law gives him the right to “stand your ground.” It’s a case of SBSWB: Sitting in the Back Seat While Black. Steven Colbert may be right when he said that the United States needs border security to protect us from Florida.

Martin’s death is tragedy enough, but it is followed by parents across the United States being forced to tell their black children that they are second-class citizens. Parents can tell their white children, “Stranger Danger.” Black children must be trained to see every white man as “Stranger Killer” who has the right to murder blacks with no justification other than they felt threatened by the black’s existence. That is the legacy of ALEC’s “stand your ground” law and George Zimmerman’s trial.

April 20, 2012

ALEC Becomes Visible, Loses Support

Shrouded in secrecy, an ultra-conservative organization has operated for at least 30 years to destroy the poor and middle class people in the United States until George Zimmerman followed and killed Trayvon Martin, who was armed only with Skittles and an iced tea. Although law enforcement groups opposed the so-called “Stand Your Ground” law, people in Florida are permitted to attack a perceived assailant without retreating. John Timoney, former Miami police chief, called the law a “recipe for disaster” and said that he and other police chiefs had correctly predicted it would lead to more violent road-rage incidents and drug killings.

Behind this law is not only the NRA but also the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a collection of wealthy corporations and highly conservative legislators, that exists to prepare ultra-conservative legislative bills that have swept the country as more and more states are held hostage by Republicans.

Once people began to learn about ALEC’s destructive nature, they protested, frequently with on-line petitions against its supporters. At least 12 major corporations, the number growing daily, have withdrawn their donations, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Intuit, Kraft, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Gates Foundation. Petitions are still out there to persuade State Farm Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, and AT&T to drop their support.

The pressure is paying off: ALEC has announced that it will be “eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.” That’s the task force that was behind the controversial voter ID, “stand your ground,” and anti-immigrant laws.

Complaining about “an intimidation campaign,” ALEC claims that its aim is “economic vitality.” Toward that end, they strive to break unions, repeal minimum wage laws, privatize public lands, repeal capital gains and estate taxes, oppose efforts to address human-created climate change, repeal sick day laws, require super-majorities to raise taxes, restrict women’s reproductive rights, and even push laws stating that kids’ eating rat poison is an “acceptable risk.”

In the name of “economic vitality,” ALEC has model laws in the educational field to teach creationism and stop the teaching of human involvement in climate change. Their ultimate goal is to strip public education of all financing,  funding only private religious academies. The Supreme Court allows Arizona to funnel public taxes to religious schools, and Tennessee now promotes creationism and climate change denial in its schools. Denying any involvement in ALEC, New Jersey governor Chris Christie uses its model bills for education “reform” including the use of standardized testing and reforming teacher tenure. ALEC is also in Minnesota working for “torte reform.” 

ALEC distributes hate messages, such as the pamphlets about the “Ten Harms of Same-Sex Marriage” and worse. According to this material from the Family Research Council, marriage equality would result in fewer people marrying or remaining monogamous followed by polygamy.

After the NRA conceived Florida’s so-called Stand Your Ground law and promoted its passage, the gun-advocacy group brought the bill to ALEC in 2005, when legislators and corporate lobbyists on the Criminal Justice Task Force voted unanimously to adopt it as a “model bill.” Since becoming first an ALEC model and then a law in dozens of other states, the number of homicides classified as “justifiable” has dramatically increased, jumping 300 percent in Florida alone. In 2009, members of the same Task Force approved the model “Voter ID Act,” versions of which were introduced in a majority of states in 2011, illegally denying voters the opportunity to participate in elections.

Members of the now-eliminated Task Force have included for-profit prison providers like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has also served as the co-chair. The ALEC Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force has created model bills that lengthen sentences, dramatically increased incarceration rates, and—of course—privatize prisons, putting more of those inmates under the control of for-profit corporations.

Fifteen years ago, Scott Walker, currently Wisconsin governor, introduced the “Truth in Sentencing” bill passed by the legislature which requires inmates to serve their full sentence without options for parole or supervised release. The law removes incentives for prisoners to reduce prison time through good behavior and participation in counseling as well as eliminating the ability for judges and parole boards to decide that the financial and social costs of keeping a particular person incarcerated no longer furthers public safety goals.

Walker failed to make money for CCA by losing his bid to privatize Wisconsin prisons, but Arizona Republican Rep. Russell Pearce was more successful when he collaborated with CCA to privatize half the immigrant detention centers at the same time that he persuaded the state legislature to pass the ALEC “model” immigration bill that became SB1070. An immigrant contesting their deportation can wait up to a year for a hearing, even though many of those detained have not committed a crime and have no criminal record. Taxpayers give CCA $122 per day for each detained immigrant in these centers. Pearce is known nation-wide because of the successful recall against him.

ALEC also made money for the for-profit bail bond industry’s trade association, the American Bail Coalition (ABC), through ALEC’s anti-immigration laws. An immigrant facing removal in some cases may be released on bond and will often pay a commercial bail bondsman for  release. Immigration bonds are usually between $5,000 and $10,000 although the bond can be much higher. A for-profit bail bondsman who receives 10 percent of that bail as a nonrefundable fee can collect significant profits for doing very little. ABC has called ALEC the industry’s “life preserver.” After the dissolution of ALEC’s Criminal Justice/Public Safety & Elections Task Force, ABC moved over to the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force.

In one specific way, ALEC affects almost everyone in its attempt to raise prices for Internet use. Although ALEC’s restrictive bill  failed to stop the public broadband system in Lafayette (LA), the “model” remains in ALEC’s library. Lafayette’s system offers Internet speed at a 750-percent cheaper cost to users than rival Cox’s service at the lowest tier. If the corporations that run ALEC get their way in the future, you will never have cheaper and faster Internet service.

While ALEC tries to keep Internet subscribers paying top dollar, they use it to protest what they perceive as “unfair” treatment, sending their message out to conservative bloggers of how to defend ALEC. In addition to its false claim of transparency, it also touts its “diversity of thought … a non-partisan resource”: ALEC leadership has one Democrat and 103 Republicans. Because of the closed-door policy, constituents don’t know that corporations write and approve ALEC legislation. Bloggers were told that ALEC will soon launch a website called “I Stand with ALEC.” (Until it comes up, you can find real information about ALEC at a website exposing their activities.)

Sounding virtuous about its work, ALEC said, “America needs organizations like ALEC to foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way.” ALEC Task Force meetings are closed to the press and public and take place behind closed doors. The Koch brothers are large donors to ALEC; they well understand the importance of opacity.

Unfortunately, ALEC is not unique in the land of blueprint legislation, borrowing bill prototypes or model bills from a central national entity and then adapting them for introduction in statehouses. People who notice that the women’s anti-reproductive rights legislation sweeping Republican states pretty much look alike can thank Americans United for Life (AUL) that took over from ALEC in this area. Behind this organization is former Mike Huckabee staffer Charmaine Yoest and former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson, who now claims “that Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with Satan.” Johnson is also behind Komen’s defunding Planned Parenthood. Not much has been said about their funding, but they certainly seem to have clout.

As The Nation reports, conservatives in ALEC think everything in government should be “demonized, starved, or privatized.” That’s probably true for all conservatives.

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