It’s not about Valedictorians (or Drug Mules)

Ivaledictorian probably need to start this post with a disclaimer, I really am a conservative Republican. While it is well known that I was not a Ron Paul supporter, I have always had libertarian leanings (I opposed the Patriot Act, I think it is wrong for the NSA to spy on US citizens without cause, I believe we should not go to war without an explicit congressional declaration and I believe that Federal government lacks the authority to over rule state medicinal or recreational marijuana laws.) Like Congressman Steve King, I am also an immigration hawk — so much so that in 2008 I was a Tom Tancredo supporter (before he got tangled up in the National Popular Vote) In my previous post, I expressed my displeasure with Congressman Steve King’s choice of words in opposing the Gang of Eight amnesty bill and the Dream Act. While I share his opposition, I believe that a side-effect of his use of such obviously loaded language is to take the focus off of the what both the congressman and I believe is the primary issue. The territorial integrity of the United States and the rule of law.

After talking about 130 pound drug mules with calves the size of cantaloupes, he said,

… until the folks that want to open the borders and grant this amnesty can define the difference between the innocent ones who have deep ties with American and those that have been … undermining our culture and civilization and profiting from criminal acts, until they can define that difference they should not advocate for amnesty for both good and evil …

When I heard the above statement from King, I was shocked!!! Did he really say that if you could separate the sheep from the goats that he would support amnesty? The interviewer then asked,

And how would you recommend separating the good from the bad

King’s response,

I suggested it can’t be done. But you can protect and preserve the rule of law. It is an essential pillar of American Exceptionalism and if we grant amnesty, to even a smaller component of this population of 11 million then what we have done is, we have set aside and destroyed the the rule of law …

At the end of the day, I agree with Steve King (at least on immigration — not on the NSA). This talk of drug mules and valedictorians is simply a red herring. I suspect that most illegals who entered as children are neither. Some will take advantage of the situation and become valedictorians, others will squander it and end up in our prisons. But these outliers do not form the basis of a rational argument.

I oppose any plan that under any circumstances grants citizenship to those who enter the country illegally.

I am a right-wing, Christian, conservative, Republican, opposed to the ‘Dream Act’ and any other form of Amnesty — even I think Steve King should apologize

kingIs it just me? Am I the only republican in Iowa besides, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson who thinks Steve King’s recent comments on immigration were out of line? Maybe it is because I am a brown-Hispanic, but I think Congressman Steve King’s recent comments on the Dream Act were unnecessary and inappropriate. They lacked the level of civility and decorum that I expect from my guys in Congress. I heard the congressman defend his statements on the Jan Mickelson and Simon Conway shows on WHO radio yesterday. I heard the entire interview from Newsmax and I still think the congressman was out of line. King was speaking about the so-called Dream Act and the Gang of Eight immigration bill.

Let me start by saying, I agree with King. I oppose the Dream Act and I oppose the Gang of Eight immigration bill. I strongly oppose any Path to Citizenship for anyone, who at any time under any circumstances entered the United States illegally. My problem with the Congressman is not with his votes or his position on immigration, my problem is with what he said, and the way he said it.

Here is an excerpt from what Congressman King said,

Some of them are valedictorians — and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. …

For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert … Those people would be legalized with the same act

I know that the Congressman has been on the border and spoken to the Border Patrol but where did his numbers come from. I agree that not every youngster brought into this country illegally is a valedictorian. In fact only a very small number of children born and raised in this country grow up to be valedictorians (unless they attend Cedar Rapids Washington High School which graduated 67 valedictorians in 2011!) But is the ratio of valedictorians to drug mules really 1:100? And if so, how does the congressman know? Further the depiction of illegal immigrants as being 130 pounds … with calves the size of cantaloupes is bordering on racist. (To be fair, many of King’s critics have also used loaded terminology to describe the resident’s of King’s western Iowa congressional district.)

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a very politically correct person. In fact I will sometimes write or say something outrageous for effect. However, whenever I do so, I do it knowing that I am deliberately violating some societal norm. Listening to Congressman King defend his statements, I am not sure that he understands why they were objectionable. Rather than apologizing, or saying (like Rush Limbaugh) that he was being absurd to illustrate absurdity — King doubled down and said his critics did not listen to the entire interview.

I listened to the entire interview, and as an Iowa Republican, I expect better.

I believe the jury made the right decision — but I’m not celebrating (part 2 in a 3 part series on the George Zimmerman Trial)

stand-your-ground-250x250This post is the second in a series on the George Zimmerman trial. The first post really wasn’t about the trial at all, rather it gave opportunity to insert my thoughts, perceptions and experience into the current debate on race. In this post, I want to focus on the trial, the verdict, and the law. In my next post, I will discuss some of the aftermath of the case. As I said previously, I think that both my liberal and my conservative friends may be surprised at my comments.

When the verdict came in my Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up. Most of my online friends are white conservative Republicans many with libertarian-leanings. A large number would self-identify as evangelical Christians and many are gun owners as well. While I agree the jury returned the correct verdict, I was surprised at the level of glee (I am not sure how else to describe it) in the posts. They were celebrating the same way I did in the summer of 1978 when, while detassling and listening to a transistor radio, I heard the that the Supreme Court had overturned racial quotas in collegiate admissions in the landmark Bakke case! (I know, I was a political geek even then.)

Many of the status updates I saw were ecstatic, some examples:

Justice!

Restored my faith in the system!

Amen!

This rambling post is my response to the verdict. I will discuss: The Facts, The Non-Facts, The Law,  The Verdict, and The Conclusion.

By way of disclaimer — readers should be aware that the author is a Christian, conservative, libertarian-leaning Republican of mixed race who holds an Iowa Non-Professional Permit to Carry Weapons, but has never owned a gun.

The Facts

The facts in this case are relatively straightforward. But, in the homage to Bill Clinton, I want to clarify “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” By fact I mean statement that is demonstrably or verifiably true. There can and are true statements regarding this case that cannot or have not been verified. For example some of George Zimmerman’s statements to police describe events for which there were no witnesses. While these may be true, I will in this discussion put them in the Non-Fact category since they are not verifiable.

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old black high school student. Martin was staying at the home of his father’s girlfriend who lived in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. Martin was serving a suspension from school after drug residue had been found in his backpack. On the night of the shooting, Martin was returning to his father’s girlfriend’s house carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona Watermelon Fruit Cocktail Juice. Martin was wearing a dark hoodie. Martin was unarmed on the night of the shooting. Martin’s social media posts and other electronic communications indicated that he had been involved in fights. Martin’s drug and fighting history was not admitted into evidence in court.

George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic was a  29 year old part-time college student. Zimmerman had applied unsuccessfully to join the Prince William, Virginia Police Department and took courses towards an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Zimmerman was captain of the neighborhood watch. On the night of the shooting, Zimmerman was armed with a Kel-Tec Pf9, 9mm handgun.

On the evening of Feb 26, 2012, Zimmerman was driving through the neighborhood and he called 911 to report a ‘suspicious person’. [911 transcript]

The dispatcher asked Zimmerman if the guy is ‘white black or Hispanic.’ Zimmerman responded, ‘He looks black.’

As Zimmerman continued to talk to the dispatcher he says, ‘… he’s running!’

The dispatcher and Zimmerman discuss which way Trayvon is running.

The dispatcher asks, ‘Are you following him?’

Zimmerman replies, ‘Yeah.’

The Dispatcher says, ‘OK, we don’t need you to do that.’

Zimmerman says, ‘OK.’

Police found Zimmerman standing next to Martins body. Martin had been shot in the chest at close range. Zimmerman had injuries to his face and the back of the head.

Zimmerman admitted to shooting Martin.

A witness made a 911 call in which screams from a struggle and a gunshot are heard.

A witness saw Martin on top of Zimmerman delivering repeated blows.

The Non-Facts

There are a number of assumptions in this case that many people believe are facts. While they may be true, they are largely unsubstantiated so I list some of them in the Non-Facts section.

George Zimmerman is a racist. [Well, everyone’s a little bit racist :)]

Trayvon Martin was not a racist.

George Zimmerman singled out Trayvon Martin because he was black.

Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman therefore Zimmerman acted in self defense.

George Zimmerman attacked Trayvon Martin, therefore Martin was killed while defending himself.

Martin purchased Arizona Tea and Skittles to make Purple Drank.

The Law

In this case, the prosecution asked for 2nd Degree Murder. Florida law defines 2nd Degree murder as:

The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual …

The judge in her instructions gave the jury the option of finding Zimmerman guilty of Manslaughter as well. Under Florida law, Manslaughter is:

The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification according to the provisions of chapter 776  …

The chapter 776 reference above includes Florida’s Stand Your Ground law 776.012

… a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or (2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.

This is further clarified by 776.013(3)

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

The Verdict

I believe that the jury made the correct decision. I was really surprised when the prosecution chose to try Zimmerman on 2nd Degree Murder. Apparently the judge was as well since she added the option of manslaughter in her instructions to the jury. Even without the no duty to retreat provisions of the law, I do not believe that a case could have been made for manslaughter. If Martin had attacked Zimmerman, Zimmerman may not have had an opportunity to retreat so Stand Your Ground would not even apply. Based on the lack of eyewitnesses there was insufficient evidence to convict Zimmerman of anything.

The jury made the right decision — George Zimmerman should have been found not guilty.

The Conclusion

As I said before, I think a correct verdict was handed down by this jury. It was a decision consistent with the facts and Florida law. Was it justice? Since only George Zimmerman knows what really went on that night I have no idea.

On the other hand, I do think that George Zimmerman made a poor decision to exit his vehicle and that resulted in the confrontation that left Martin dead. A poor decision but not an illegal one. Zimmerman was under no legal compulsion to heed the dispatcher’s advice and not follow Martin. Part of any reasonable training on carrying a concealed weapon is the advice to not provoke conflict. Deadly force should be a last resort and while one is carrying a weapon, unless one is under imminent threat, every effort should be made to avoid potential conflict that could necessitate using it.

Zimmerman is not a hero as some of my conservative friends have suggested. Nor do I think he makes a good poster boy for Stand Your Ground. Even so, I definitely am a supporter of Stand Your Ground (and related Castle Doctrine) laws. As the Florida law says, and person who reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony should be free to use force, up to and including deadly force, to protect themselves if they have not initiated the confrontation, there should be no duty to retreat. In Iowa (since this is an Iowa political blog) Republicans have an opportunity to take over the Iowa Senate in 2014. If we do so, we need to enact a Stand Your Ground law.

What about race? What if Zimmerman decided that Martin looked suspicious because he was black? My answer is that it changes nothing in this case. He would have broken no law if he called because he saw a black teenager after midnight in his neighborhood. The issue at hand in this case, under Florida law was, did Zimmerman reasonably believe that he was under imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. And if so, had he the initiated the conflict by attacking Martin or otherwise breaking the law which would have exempted him from the protections of Florida 776.013.

It is likely that the Martin family will file a wrongful death lawsuit against Zimmerman. They have already settled a similar suit against the homeowner’s association on whose behalf Zimmerman was acting as neighborhood Watch Captain. I believe that if such a suit is filed, the Martin family should and will prevail.

Finally, the racial angle. This case has divided public opinion along racial lines. Since I am of mixed race, my opinions are mixed. Of course, the usual suspects (including President Obama, whose son — if he had one — would look like Trayvon) are using this incident as a cause célèbre to incite anger in the black community.

As I look at Facebook and Twitter, many of my friends are gleefully posting every news story they can find of black-on-white or black-on-black violence. In my opinion their actions are just as bad as those of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

As I said, the jury reached the correct verdict — so why am I not celebrating? One life lost, one life destroyed, two families devastated. Racial tensions increasing across the country. I see little here to celebrate. I am naive enough to want to live in a color blind world. I may lack the eloquence of Martin Luther King, but:

I want to live in a world where the only time I need to worry about the color of my skin is to determine whether I am tan enough to wear a salmon colored shirt — sadly I am not 🙁

Once again, a rambling post. My next post will be on the aftermath of the trial. In particular the federal response and the possibility of federal hate crime or civil rights prosecution.

 

I have four sons and one of them looks like Trayvon Martin, I on the other hand look like George Zimmerman (Part 1 in a 3 part series on the George Zimmerman trial)

DSC_4313This post is the first in a three-part series on the George Zimmerman trial.This is really a post about race. From the beginning, the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent trial of George Zimmerman was about race. Had Martin and Zimmerman both been black (or white Hispanics) no one outside of Florida would ever have heard about the case. At NBC, the today show edited the 911 call

made by Zimmerman to make it look like he was profiling Martin because of his race. In the edited audio, Zimmerman tells the 911 operator:

Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good … he looks black.”

What actually occurred was an exchange between Zimmerman and the 911 operator.
Zimmerman: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
911 Operator: “OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?”
Zimmerman: “He looks black.,”

Zimmerman only brought up Martin’s race when prompted by the dispatcher. Whether Martin was targeted or profiled because he was black, only Zimmerman knows. By selectively editing the 911 call, NBC news did much to make this look like a racial issue.

Further clouding the issue is the characterization of George Zimmerman as a white Hispanic. The two terms don’t really go together, white speaks to race and Hispanic speaks to origin.

Race in America is complicated. The picture above is me and my four sons. By background, my father was from Jamaica. His father was from mainland China and his mother was Jamaican quite possibly by way of Africa. Racially he appeared to be black with a hint of Asian features. My mother is from Guam, Guam is a Pacific island in the Micronesian chain. So racially, I am of mixed race, African (not African-American), Jamaican, and Chamorro (the name for people from Guam). But it gets more complicated than that.

The Census Bureau defines Hispanic as:

… Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.

By that definition, I am Hispanic too! Guam was colonized and held by Spain until the Spanish-American War. Guam’s culture has been heavily influenced by Spain, the language (Chamorro) has strong Spanish/Latin influences. The dress, culture and religion have all been shaped by Spanish rule. My mother even has a Hispanic maiden name — Cruz. Yes, I am the guy that gets to check almost all of the boxes on the forms. (In reality, I never check any of the race/ethnicity boxes!)

Race in America is confusing. When my father came to this country as a young college student in the late 1950’s the DOT had no idea what to put on his Driver’s License, there was no check box for Jamaican, so they chose Caucasian. My father was a professor at UNI and I remember another professor saying in the press that he was the only black faculty member. I guess he was … since my dad was Caucasian!

My kids have is even worse than I do since I married a white girl. We are a mixed marriage, still relatively uncommon in Iowa. Coincidentally, my neighbors have a mixed marriage too — one Norwegian and one Swede — at least that passes for a mixed marriage in Minnesota where they’re from 🙂

My wife is of German/Polish/Scottish/Irish descent. Predominantly German with names like Schuler, Miller and Krause. So my kids are a little bit of everything. If you take a close look at the picture you will see that my boys and I run the gamut from dark dark brown/black to white with me being a bit brown in the middle. My son Jonathan, the whitest of the boys, is in the Army and his drill sergeant looked at his name tag and said”

Chung, are you adopted?

Last year I played in a ping pong (we call it table tennis because we’re Asian) tournament with three of my sons. Two of the boys won medals and when the tournament director paged us, all four of us went to the registration table. She looked at us and said, “Chung? Are you all related?”

brothersIn my own family it is also complicated. These are pictures of me and my brothers. (I am the good looking rather mysterious guys in the shades.) We also run the gamut. I am the lightest skinned of my brothers. Brian (in the middle) is the darkest and James (on the right) is in between. I recall an incident a few year ago when I was at the gym and I asked someone whether my brother (Brian) was riding an exercise bike. The person I asked said no, the only person in the room is African-American. Of course it was my brother Brian. One day Brian asked me whether African-Americans greeted me on the street.  I said no, I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about. He told me that since he looks black he is randomly greeted by other black people based on the color of his skin. (Sort of like the secret handshake of motorcyclists.)

This whole race thing is confusing. In addition, race and the perception of race is in my opinion also a matter of self-identification and cultural upbringing. While my parents were brown (mom) and black (dad), I grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. My parents were university professors and we grew up in a middle class neighborhood surrounded by families of educated professionals. Our neighborhood was probably as racially and ethnically diverse as any in a community like Cedar Falls. We had three black families (if you count us) all college educated professionals and an Indian  family. I went to Price Lab School, a laboratory school connected with the UNI College of Education. In order to provide a more racially integrated environment, black students (they weren’t — or is it we weren’t — African-American in those days) were bussed in from Waterloo.

Growing up, I never really thought about race. But I thought of myself and my family as being just like my friends and their families, all of whom were white. If pressed, I would probably have thought of myself as white — after all, my father’s driver’s license said Caucasian. When I was in high school, my dad’s cousin came to live with us for a while when she attended college. She is from Jamaica and related to my father on his mother’s side of the family. She is Jamaican African with out any Chinese background. On day I was at a friend’s house and his mom (a white non-Hispanic) said,

David, who was that black girl over at your house the other day?

It took me a minute. Black girl? What black girl? Then it hit me, she was talking about my cousin. I guess she was black. I told his mom, “Oh, you must mean my cousin Sharon from Jamaica!”

His mom then reassured me that,

We never thought of you as being black.

Fortunately I was raised in a time when young people were to be respectful of their elders and I did not make a sarcastic comeback like, “That’s OK, I never thought of you as being white”, or “Hmm … neither did I”

In defense of my friend’s mother, she is a sweet lady and treated all of her son’s friends like her own children regardless of race. She was however, a product of the times and circumstances in which she grew up. I share this not to criticize her but rather to share that until I was in high school I really had never bothered to consider my own racial identity.

When my eldest son was born I filled out the demographic information on his birth certificate. In the race section i listed all of the various races that applied (sort of all of the above). After we left the hospital, the form was returned to me, I had forgotten to sign it or something. I took a look and they had replaced my son’s rich heritage with the single word: CHINESE. I signed the form but before returning it,

… in an act of civil disobedience, I took a bottle of white out (yes, it really is called white out!), removed the word Chinese form the race box and replaced it with the single word … HUMAN. To this day I am certain that my son is the only official HUMAN born in the state of Iowa.

Personally, I do not think that the Zimmerman/Martin case was about race.

If race is the lens through which we must view everything in our society, then I don’t know how to view the results of this case because.

I am a white Hispanic (at least a light brown one) — I am George Zimmerman

I am African-American (well African-Jamaican) — I am Trayvon Martin

At the end of the day I am not George Zimmerman and I am not Trayvon Martin. Those racial and ethnic characteristics describe me but in a fundamental way — they do not define me. In the next two posts in this series, I will share my thoughts on the actual case and its outcome. Stay tuned, I think both my liberal and conservative friends will be surprised.