How long will we suffer together over the Zimmerman verdict?  The operative word here being “together?”  As much as we try to deny it, we are spiraling farther away from any chance at harmony and understanding and we are all to blame for it.  Those who are agitating for either side are as guilty as those who sit by and do nothing to demand civility and honesty from either side. “Us and them”, Says David Gilmore, and he had it nailed in the middle of the song just before the second sax solo:

Are we already on the dark side of the moon?

Are we already on the dark side of the moon?

“Well I mean, they’re gonna kill ya, so like, if you give ’em a quick sh…short, sharp shock, they don’t do it again. Dig it? I mean he got off light, ’cause I coulda given ‘im a thrashin’ but I only hit him once. It’s only the difference between right and wrong innit? I mean good manners don’t cost nothing do they, eh?”

Trayvon died and we posture on either side of the issue like rabid roosters, clawing the ground, puffing our feathers while crowing loudly over each other to no good end. We are using the tragic death of a young man to convince ourselves of our superiority over the other side, winning being more important than the devastating results of the scorched-earth policy we’ve engaged in.  Other young men are going to die and kill over this verdict, not because it’s inevitable but because we feed on the drama and want the self-fulfilling prophesy of our side to prove our point.

I can no more tell you what was in the hearts of George or Trayvon that night than I can tell you what the weather will be tomorrow.  Others in the debate however, are sure that they can tell you the deepest convictions of their chosen antagonist on that night.  Many who agitate for Trayvon are dammed sure George is the lowest form of human, a racist who was scouting for young black victims he could punish for the crimes of other people of color, imagined or real.  Others are quite sure that Trayvon had to be up to no good based on nothing more than his demeanor, dress and color.  Somewhere, God help us, somewhere there have to be people horrified at the thought that either of these sides are currently defining the debate, speaking for them without their consent or agreement.  Somewhere there has to be common ground, a debate that needs to be had; open, honest painful and cathartic at the same time.  Unfortunately with every protest, every accusatory broadcast and commentary, we put miles between each other as well as the common ground we profess to wish for.  If only it were so.

I am quite sure that I do not know the facts in detail.  I am also quite sure that none of the players on the stage with the most speaking parts and loudest soliloquies know either, much to my chagrin and their great shame. Maybe shame is not the right word, as they seem to be lacking in it.  I do know that Trayvon was killed. I do know that the jury felt George killed in self-defense.  And whether we like it or not, the law allowed him to do so without punishment.  If we do not like the law, we can change it.  But it will not bring Trayvon back.  But if we change it, we may very well be convicting people of murder for the crime of death by reason of self-defense, if in fact we wish to move that way.  I’m quite sure that given the right unfortunate circumstances, if I felt my life, or that of my wife or children was at stake, I may very well kill to defend as well.  I don’t think I’m unique in this, and if others were truly honest with themselves, I’d be surprised if it turns out that I am.  I don’t like to give it much thought; I’m not sure how I could live with the death of another human on my conscience.

Maybe that’s the key here.  Conscience.  After thousands and thousands of years on this rock, we developed a conscience only to have it diluted by what we want and what we believe is ours, rights or possessions.  We cannot value the lives of others without it and we’ve certainly shown that as a society, we don’t really value life that much at all.

What drove these men to their actions was what they had in common;  irrational fear.  A fear that was instilled in them by years and years of bombardment and indoctrination of how they should perceive others and how different the dreaded “them” actually is.  I have to believe that Trayvon was terrified of the white guy on his tail suspiciously tracking him for no reason other than Trayvon was black. Terrified enough to strike. George may very well have been afraid of someone he perceived as a threat, a threat that looked and acted an awful like the threats that had already visited his neighborhood.  Terrified enough to irrationally believe that he had to do something, God knows what.  Unlike many on either side, I cannot in good faith neither blame nor absolve either for their actions and the outcome.  In the end, either one had the opportunity to de-escalate.  Choices were made and subsequently acted upon.

So here we stand, another long, hot summer in the latest race war of this great country.  We scream and protest and denigrate, all the while tearing at the very fabric of the color-blind society we claim we are trying to knit together.  When we do speak about it at all, we fail to speak cautiously, in a thoughtful or altruistic way.  Far from being introspective, we are self-serving and accusatory, sure that whatever flaws we have hidden or failures we have experienced must be the fault of others, while willing to claim only our successes.  Free from blame and conscience, we interact with the dreaded “them”, convinced that we are far superior and if not, demonize them so that our own haunting failures don’t invade our sleep at night.

If we are not careful, if we don’t start to look inward for solutions instead of outward for targets to unburden our own hate upon, we will live to see our children slaughter each other for the sins of their fathers.  It would be a great shame to stand toe-to-toe in bloody combat, bleeding all over the very common ground we have been searching for.

For then it would truly be hallowed common ground.

 

Advertisements