July 24, 2013
By Mike Rivage-Seul
Rather than identifying with Trayvon Martin, President Obama would have done better to note his similarities to George Zimmerman. Rather than wringing his hands over Stand Your Ground laws, the President should have recognized the identical logic that informs his own drone murders.
President Obama speaking about Trayvon Martin by www.cubadebate.cu
Last Friday President Obama startled Washington reporters and the world by expressing his thoughts about the Trayvon Martin verdict. That decision acquitted George Zimmerman of criminal guilt for killing an unarmed teenager in Sanford, Florida.
In his remarks, Mr. Obama spoke sentimentally of his own experience of racism, and about the dangers of Stand Your Ground laws. He cited the need to consider context in order to understand African-American rage over the Zimmerman verdict. Famously he said Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago.
In fact, the President would have spoken more honestly had he identified with George Zimmerman.
Professor Cornel West (Union Theological Seminary) suggested that in an interview on "Democracy Now." True, he found the Zimmerman verdict disturbing not simply because Trayvon Martin's death went unpunished, but because it revealed what has been termed a "George Zimmerman Mentality." That mind-set shaped by racism, fear, suspicion, and vigilantism has long afflicted our country in general and whites in particular even in this supposedly post-racial era.
More specifically, West charged that Stand Your Ground laws based on States Rights are ultimately aimed at controlling the black community. I would add that they are the modern equivalent of legalized lynching. In practice, the laws permit armed whites who feel themselves threatened by dark-skinned people to shoot those they deem threats to their security. Whites standing their ground have no legal requirement to retreat from the situation even if an escape route is available. The Zimmerman mentality represents lethal violence as a preferred option rather than a last resort.
Ironically, the Stand Your Ground, shoot-first attitude happens to be a key element of Mr. Obama's own drone program. Sharing Zimmerman's attitude of fear and racism, its "signature strikes" have been responsible for the deaths of at least 221 totally innocent dark-skinned children who happened to be nearby when Mr. Obama chose to fire his own weapon at those merely suspected of being or associating with "terrorists." In effect, all of those children were Trayvon Martins who would be alive today had they not been in the wrong place at the wrong time when a man with a weapon perceived a threat from a profiled target.
Such observations made me wonder what key passages in Mr. Obama's remarks would have sounded like if they were slightly altered to substitute references to Muslims, suspected terrorists, and innocent victims of drones for his original words about Trayvon Martin and African-Americans.
With those substitutions key sections of Mr. Obama's text would have read as follows (I have placed my additions in italics to distinguish them from the President's actual words):
"The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week, the issue of the 221 children I have recently killed by my drone policy. . .
"First of all, you know, I -- I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle's, to the families of the drone victims, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they've dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they're going through, and it's -- it's remarkable how they've handled it. . .
"But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. On second thought, I would have done better to identify with George Zimmerman. Another way of saying that is that I am George Zimmerman today.
"And when you think about why, in the Muslim community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the Muslim community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that -- that doesn't go away. . . .
"And you know, I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the Muslim community interprets what happened one night in _________ (Name the country -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia . . .). And it's inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. . . .
"Now, this isn't to say that the Muslim community is naive about the fact that Muslim young men are disproportionately involved in resistance to U.S. policy, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact, although Muslims do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.
"We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor Muslim communities around the world is born out of a very violent past in relation to the United States, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history."
Now the substitutions I've made may strike you as awkward. But I'm sure you get my idea.
The point is that Mr. Obama has no moral ground to stand on in lamenting George Zimmerman's violence or the ridiculous nature of Stand Your Ground Laws. Rather than identifying with Trayvon Martin, the President would have done better to note his similarities to George Zimmerman. Rather than wringing his hands over Stand Your Ground laws, the President should have recognized the identical logic that informs his own drone murders.
Mr. Obama thinks like Zimmerman; he profiles like that vigilante; he patrols the world with Zimmerman's lethal intent. Even more to the point, the President pulls the trigger even more quickly and irresponsibly than the armed vigilante from Sanford.
President Obama is the poster child for the George Zimmerman Mentality, for Stand Your Ground and its disdain for dark skinned people.
Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Recently retired, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 36 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs at