Monday, September 2, 2013

Moral Relativism – where are we going, exactly?

Over the last eighteen months every American that pays attention to any “news” has been subjected to the reporting in the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman incident in Sanford, Florida.  The case was, as the trial showed, a messy affair with a ton of emotions on both sides and accusations of “racism”, “profiling” and even conspiracy theories that the Sanford Police were going to let Mr. Zimmerman (who is now identified by the new term “white-Hispanic” in the news media) go or that the Federal Department of Justice or the Florida Attorney General’s Office were going to railroad Mr. Zimmerman into a conviction for murder (although a jury ended up acquitting him) or a violation of civil rights charge (which, I imagine could still happen). 

I followed the case pretty closely and was struck by the misrepresentations from both the left and right.  Yes, IMO, MSNBC and others worked very hard to make Mr. Zimmerman into a “racist” by editing his words in the 911 call along with the pontification that while raised in a multi-ethnic home, a past history of dating black woman along with advocating against the Sanford Police in a case involving a homeless Blackman and mentoring black children, Mr. Zimmerman must be racist and must have profiled Mr. Martin simply because he was black.  Those on the “right” were also guilty of finding every flaw of Mr. Martin’s short life and working to make him out to be not only a thug but also a drug induced criminal.  Mr. Martin’s family was viewed with suspicion because of his family status (divorced parents) and the so-called money aspect of the Trayvon Martin Foundation they found along with the legal case against the homeowners association.  Mr. Zimmerman and his family were the subject of overt innuendo and threats by a variety of groups including the New Black Panther Party and IMO the promoting of street justice by folks (some famous) who willingly posted what they believed to be the families address on twitter.  Sadly, even Pres. Obama became a bit-player in this fiasco with his infamous words, “if I had a son”.  Those on the left saw this as compassionate while those on the right saw this as “baiting”.   For me, I saw it as an ill-timed comment about an ongoing criminal case that as an attorney the President should have known better than to make.  For me, in reality, I believe the truth was someplace in the middle as it often it. 

I don’t believe that Mr. Zimmerman is or was “racist” because he saw Mr. Martin as a “suspect” individual that night.  I believe he was a man who had seen his community decline in terms of safety and saw an increase in crime.  As someone with a B.S. in Corrections and Juvenile Services, not question that I am a bit of a numbers (statistics) nerd.  Because of this I spent a great deal of time on Zillow and other resources looking at crime in Sanford and found that although it is a small community they do have a high level of crime when compared to communities of comparable size and socioeconomic breakdown.  Does that mean it is a horrible place to live – well, of course not but it does mean that the community has “issues” that need to be addressed.  It is possible that Mr. Zimmerman was a good citizen and concerned about his community, sure and it seems there exist no evidence to suggest otherwise.  I do think that Mr. Zimmerman’s criminal history is relevant but at the same time understand he was not convicted of two of the three crimes he was charged and was even diverted in the one conviction. 

Mr. Martin was without question a teenager who made stupid teenage decisions that most of us are guilty of.  Did he post inappropriate photos on facebook and twitter?  No question but the reality is that this is now the world we live in and thankfully for folks my age we did not have “social media” back in the 1980’s or a great many of us would not be able to ignore or forget the ignorance that was our existence during high school.  I don’t question that Mr. Martin used drugs and alcohol but I don’t think that makes him a “thug” or horrible person but a misguided teenager.  I don’t question that Mr. Martin struggled with school attendance and behavior but then again so to do hundreds of thousands of teenagers, myself included when I was that age. 

As and avid blog reader and faithful follower of the news, my biggest issue with the Zimmerman case was the continued polarization of citizens into “camps” by blog writers, commenter in the news and even the general public who commented on the news or in blogs.  If you were not passionately seeking, “Justice for Trayvon” then somehow you were seen as uncaring and possibly racist.  If you were not in the “Zimmerman camp” you were part of the “liberal ignorance”.  If you were white and pro-Trayvon you were suffering from, “white guilt” while God forbids you were black and expressed any uncertainty in Zimmerman’s guilty as this would mean you were an “uncle Tom”.  Sadly, the polarization becomes a wedge when opinions should be seen as a chance to learn and expand your base of understanding and knowledge of others in a compassionate and intelligent manner. 

Watching the trial it became clear to me that the State of Florida had gravely overreached in charging Mr. Zimmerman and that convicting him for murder would be impossible given the scenario of the case they offered.  I was struck by the fact that the State sought to include a “child abuse” charge against Mr. Zimmerman and could only wonder if they saw they hypocrisy in doing so.  Consider the State sought successfully from arguing any of the past “bad acts” by Mr. Martin as Mr. Zimmerman would not have had any knowledge of the them but somehow Mr. Zimmerman was suppose to know that a man who was over six foot and clearly in better shape than him was now a “child” prior to the conflict.  To me this behavior by the State was a clear indication that not only were they reaching but also they were willing to throw out everything including the kitchen sink in an effort to gain a conviction. 

I was not surprised by the verdict nor was I surprised by the way the “left” and ‘right” behaved after the verdict.  What does surprise me is just how far we have come with “moral relativism”, in my view.  We are a nation of laws and I have always believed that we should respect those laws even when we disagree with them.  I am fine with the idea of civil disobedience but not with the desire that some on the “left” have expressed that a lack of a conviction against Mr. Zimmerman somehow means that it is “open season” on Blackman in America.  The truth is that crime statistics not only don’t support this supposition, giving a national voice to such “ideas” does nothing but also continue to promote a divide in our Country while ignoring the real crime that occurs in our society.  I have also been surprised by the continued talk of “stand your ground laws” by those opposed to the Zimmerman verdict simply because of the dishonesty they show, IMO, by taking such a position.  In truth, “stand your ground” was not even a part of the Zimmerman case.  Yet, here we are. 

I have not commented on the case simply because it is such a political hot potato and because I honestly believed that more moderate voices would prevail.  While those “moderate voices” did prevail in court our public moderators have remained, “left v. right”, “us v. them” and so on.  This is the “moral relativism” that I see as troubling.  It is that you are either with us or against us without an acknowledgement that good people can see things differently.  When the Florida AG, Angela Corey said on HLN that Mr. Zimmerman was a “murderer” after he was acquitted it gave a voice to civil disobedience and “morally relative thought” that I find not only objectionable but also sickening.  Like it or not Ms. Corey’s position of authority gives her voice a weight that most are not afforded and by her own words gives cover to those who wish to view the legal process with objection. 

In the movie JFK, Jim Garrison gave a speech to his office where he spoke of “black being white, white being black” and that we are “through the looking glass”.  Seems we are in many cases as just this past weekend Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon, was the grand marshal at Florida A&M University or FAMU as they opened football season.  Mr. Martin was there to promote the Trayvon Martin Foundation and to raise awareness for the victims of violence.  While both are honorable and worthy causes the truth is one other significant thing took place that day at FAMU.  For the first time since 2011 the FAMU Marching Band was able to take the field.  FAMU Marching Band had been suspended from marching after the hazing incident that resulted in the death of Robert Champion.  Since that time thirteen people from FAMU’s Band have been charged in the manslaughter case and face prison for the role they played that resulted in Mr. Champion’s death.  While it is without question that FAMU has a right to move on from the criminal behavior of those charged in the death of Mr. Champion, I can’t help but wonder if anyone at FAMU or with the Martin Family considered the “moral relativism” that was shown the day Mr. Martin acted as “grand marshal”.  Imagine that on that day Mr. Martin was present to bring awareness to victims of violence and to serve as a reminder to those present, many of whom believe justice was not served in the Zimmerman case and use such belief as an indication of our “communities” supposed continual racial animosity, while at the same time headlines in the news and the audience “welcomed back” the FAMU Marching Band who at the time of the game have thirteen former members awaiting trial for the manslaughter death of a fellow band mate. 

Sometimes I wonder if we, as a people, consider the messages we send.  As a father, I hope that I can and do send consistent message’s to my children and pray that I can, even if I will fail (and as a human, I will), will make amends for the wrong messages quickly and with an apology.  Sadly, I don’t see us as citizen’s doing the same and fear where this “relative” though of “morality” will lead us. 

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