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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Trayvon Martin and Edward Snowden: Be the Change You Want to See in the World

So George Zimmerman walks for killing Trayvon Martin. Or to be more precise, pursuing, provoking a fight (that he quickly realizes he can't win) and subsequently shooting Trayvon Martin. Good job, America - how's that shining city on a hill thing working out?

I don't want to be too simplistic or snide with the above, but it's hard not to feel disgusted. Sure, I read the article in Slate where Justin Peters pointed out that the case against Zimmerman isn't clear beyond a reasonable doubt, and I agree that you can't convict a person based on the public sentiment against them. But if we look at Emily Bazelon's article this morning, following the verdict being handed down, she notes something even more chilling:
After all, as Adam Weinstein points out, the lesson right now for Floridians is this: "in any altercation, however minor, the easiest way to avoid criminal liability is to kill the counterparty."
So does this mean that in Florida "stand your ground" is going to turn into "preemptive strike, shoot to kill"? A reasonable person would hope not - would hope, in fact, that this tragedy spurs Florida (and other states with "stand your ground" laws) to change the legislation. But it seems more and more apparent that there aren't any reasonable people writing legislation in America. You only have to look at what's been happening in Texas, with the abortion bills and Wendy Davis's filibuster, to see that.

This comes at the same time that the extent of the government's spying program, PRISM, becomes gradually clearer. When the news broke, I remember being surprised at how little reaction there seemed to be - while we've got protests in Brazil that started over bus fares, protests in Turkey that started over land redevelopment, and in Egypt the populace has deposed the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi. I get a lot of "progressive" petitions (I use that word in quotation marks, because I'd like to reclaim the word "liberal"), and it was weeks before any of them addressed PRISM or Edward Snowden.

Not to get too nerdy, but the best assessment of the predicament we're in came from John Champion and Ken Ray's Star Trek podcast, Mission Log (bear with me). In the podcast from last November, while discussing an early episode, one of the hosts - I believe it was John, but can't confirm - pointed out how the Enterprise had disabled an alien ship that had threatened it, and then Captain Kirk offered to help the alien ship. While discussing that, he talked about how that tied into how we need to adhere to our ideals all the time, not just when it's convenient - and he tied that into the political climate at the time.

It struck me then (I was listening to it earlier this week), and it feels incredibly relevant now, with this judgement handed down. It's too easy to be cynical, to believe that our actions don't matter if we talk about the right ideals, but neither of those things is productive, frankly. Do we want to be a country where people can walk down the street without fearing for their lives? Do we want to be a country that doesn't treat its citizens as potential criminals or terrorists?

Then let's get off our asses and live those ideals. If you're scared of missing American Idol, DVR it.