Thursday, July 18, 2013

Curtis Sliwa on Trayvon Martin

From the Daily Beast:

Bernhard Goetz on George Zimmerman: ‘The Same Thing Is Happening’

by Harry Siegel, Filipa Ioannou Jul 12, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

Thirty years after the shooting that divided New York, the ‘subway vigilante,’ Al Sharpton & Curtis Sliwa talk to Harry Siegel and Filipa Ioannou about the Trayvon Martin case.

. . . .

But Curtis Sliwa—the founder of the Guardian Angels, the multiracial red-beret-wearing urban patrol group whose members were ubiquitous on trains and elsewhere around 1980s New York, and a prominent ally of Goetz at the time—laughed at the comparison.

I was a big fan of Sliwa and his organization back in the 80’s.  He bravely stood up for Goetz and other crime victims who sought the means for their own protection back when it was nigh impossible to legally carry a gun anywhere.  The Angles may have been dramatic, but they were an inspiration to those of us who were tired of hearing that citizens had to rely on the police rather than themselves.  And for his trouble, the likes of Al Sharpton (who, let’s remember, was around back then pimping Tawana Brawley) said the same thing about Sliwa as he now says about Zimmerman.

The point is that Sliwa has earned a respectful hearing.

“Bernie Goetz is Charles Bronson in Death Wish,” said Sliwa. “He had enough, and Darrell Cabey represented every guy who had tried to mug him before. George Zimmerman is Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. He’s a nut. He’s a complete nut job who thinks he’s on a ‘mission,’ and this young black man ended up on his radar screen, and then dead.

“Because I deal with the wannabes who want to join the Guardian Angels, I see right away what this guy Zimmerman is: a self-appointed guardian. It’s him determining who is and is not a threat. Forget laws, forget standards, forget the police. Goetz had already been victimized, thrown thru a plate-glass window (in an attemped day-time robbery on Canal Street in 1981). When the four guys began to surround him on the train, to do that dance that many of us were used to back then, when the predators would sniff you out and maybe they’d rob you but they would empower themselves and you’d be completely emasculated and realize there’s nothing you can do if these guy pounce––but this time he got the jump.”

I need somebody to walk me through the significance of the charge against Zimmerman for being a “wannabe”.  If the point is that Zimmerman didn’t have police training – that, for instance, he didn’t have the skill to keep from losing a fistfight with a 17 year-old – then fine.  But as psychological analysis, the obvious rejoinder is that what is an actual police officer before he becomes a police officer but a wannabe police officer?  I don’t actually know – I’ve read that police officers generally have a high personal (and professional) need to maintain dominance, but otherwise I have no idea why people chose law enforcement over other careers.

Those trying to suggest Martin was likewise some sort of thug who brought on his own death because he smoked marijuana or bragged with friends about fighting, “they should impale themselves," said Sliwa. "Here’s a kid, goes out at half-time to get Skittles and iced tea, puts his hoodie on because it’s starting to rain, doesn’t say anything to anybody, isn’t eye-fornicating anybody, just minding his own business. He doesn’t have a M.O. He doesn’t do home invasions. What the hell are you following this kid for? Goddamn right he fights back. The same law that says you can stand and defend yourself in Florida—Martin is defending himself against a guy approaching him with a gun and confronting him.”

Several things here.  I will stipulate that young Trayvon was not, at the time Zimmerman followed him, in the process of committing a crime.  But Sliwa should admit that if Zimmerman was a wannabe cop, Trayvon was a wannabe gangsta.  He wasn’t actually a gangster:  drugs, petty theft, fistfights and mugging with guns on facebook do not make someone a hardened criminal.  But he went out of his way to look like he “was up to no good.”  Yes, it was mostly an act.  But the act was good enough to fool Zimmerman.

Second, Sliwa is buying uncritically, in the teeth of the evidence, the media’s accusation that Trayvon was “fighting back” instead of the person who initiated the fight.  If Sliwa wants to argue that it is lawful and prudent to physically attack a stranger when he follows you, then he should say that outright.

“Oh no,” Sliwa said when asked if he would stand behind Goetz in the same circumstance now. “Today, 2013, it’s Disneyland in comparison. Imagine you’re going back to a time when this city was out of control, when anarchy prevailed, when the gun that Goetz carried––there were a lot of illegal weapons being carried by law-abiding people who just felt it was their only line of defense.”

Alternately, he said, if Zimmerman had shot Martin in exactly the same circumstances 30 years ago, “he would have been given the benefit of the doubt. People would have said, ‘Yeah, that kid was probably up to no good.’ So, Zimmerman’s mind-set was circa 1977 New York City and that’s not 2013 Sanford… He lives in a fantasy make-believe world where there are enemies, potentially predators, lurking everywhere. He’s what we used to call in the neighborhood a screwball.”

I can relate to this.  It’s not 1977 New York anymore.  It would be easy for someone to accuse me, based on Monday’s post, of cultivating a paranoid worldview.  It would be easy to characterize my house as an armed camp in wild disproportion to the actual threat I face in lily-white Φ-ville.  “Why do you need to own so many guns?”  “Why do you need to carry a gun when you are walking around your house, playing frisbee with your kids, mowing the lawn, going out to dinner?”

My best answer is that stuff happens.  I could probably sell all my guns tomorrow, put the money into landscaping, and live a long and healthy life, kind of like I could cancel my fire insurance once I pay my mortgage.  But I choose to keep both because I cannot afford the consequences of needing them and not having them.  I can’t afford replacing my house or murdered family members, and relatively modest cost I don’t want to pay the psychological cost of being the victim of a home invasion.  Because like Zimmerman’s community, Φ-ville also suffers burglaries fairly routinely, and we’ve had at least one home invasion that I know of.

It may be that fortifying myself against these serves some dark psychological need.  But let me turn the question around and ask Mr. Sliwa:  how much crime am I expected to tolerate before such preparations become defensible in his opinion?


månesteiner said...

The turn around question you ask of Mr. Sliwa, that same question, asked of Mr. Obama, has a very clear answer.

" much crime am I expected to tolerate before such preparations become defensible in his opinion?"

Answer: The sky's the limit.

Anonymous said...

You know who else is a wanna-be cop?

Every cop. We don't draft them. If they didn't want the job, they wouldn't have the job.
And while we are at it, just where does Sliwa fall in the Cop-wannabe-civilian continuum?

How much self defense is permissible?

Having a gun is not a crime. It's not even "bad judgement" as the jurors believe. Being in a neighborhood watch is not "looking for trouble".

Then the confrontation started, Zimmerman called the cops. Martin called his friend. Zimmerman's conversation is on tape. We don't really know what Martin talked about.

But if they were depending on the police to protect them, they were both out of luck.