The name in the headlines this month is George Zimmerman, shooter of Trayvon Martin. But another Zimmerman named the phenomenon we're witnessing almost fifty years ago, when he described the unnamed gunman who shot civil rights leader Medgar Evers:
"The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool
He's taught in his school ...
That the laws are with him, to protect his white skin
To keep up his hate, so he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in, but it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game."
We can engage in quasi-theological debates about whether the half-Caucasian, half-Hispanic George Zimmerman is "white" -- but he's certainly been taught to fear and hate the Other, the dark-skinned and hooded menace to his well-watched neighborhood. Bob Dylan (original name: Bobby Zimmerman) found the right phrase to describe shooters like George Zimmerman: "only a pawn in their game."
Whose game? As it turns out, the "Stand Your Ground" laws used to protect shooters like Zimmerman were written and promoted by ALEC -- the American Legislative Exchange Council. As the Center for Media and Democracy notes, the corporate-funded right-wing group behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attack on worker rights is the same group that has promoted "Stand Your Ground" laws all around the country.
You could put a thousand people on Neighborhood Watch and they'd never see the real threats to Zimmerman's community. Those threats can't be seen with the eye. The real threats are things like joblessness, financial insecurity, hunger, lack of medical care. They're threats you can't protect yourself from with a gun.
Shooters like George Zimmerman are the product of an economic system that benefits from misdirected fear and anger - emotions that are too often channeled into violence instead of peaceful change.
This weekend on The Breakdown we spoke with Rashad Robinson, the Executive Director at Color of Change, about his organization's petition drive to bring Trayvon's shooter to justice. It was encouraging to hear him say that Color of Change and the other groups involved in the Justice for Trayvon movement plan to use this as a teaching moment and will target ALEC's role in promoting "Stand Your Ground" laws.
The Center for Media and Democracy has helpfully provided names and contact information for the corporations and corporate executives on ALEC's board. They're here. And they've also shown us the faces of other innocent victims who were shot to death because of "Stand Your Ground" laws.
Why would an organization like ALEC, which exists to promote the political domination of corporations over democracy for their own financial ends, promote laws like "Stand Your Ground"? There are immediate benefits -- for gun manufacturers, the "National Bail Coalition" (an ALEC member), and other financial interests. And fear elects politicians who will act as faithful servants to their (and our) corporate overlords.
But there's more to it than that. The motive for inciting fear of the Other is the same it's always been. It distracts the vast majority of people -- members of the 99 Percent like George Zimmerman -- from the real threat to their safety and well-being: corporate control. Corporate control has robbed them of their jobs, their livelihoods, their savings. Corporate control has made life more dangerous in their cars, their homes, and their workplaces. It's stripped them of medical care and retirement security.
The real threat to George Zimmerman's neighborhood doesn't wear a hoodie. It flies a corporate jet.
That's not to minimize the pain and grief that crime causes all communities -- including communities of color. That crime is real, and it's devastating. But street crime is also connected to the growth of unemployment and poverty. But who will tell George Zimmerman that?
There's always been a relationship between corporate greed and personal hate. It's the same as it ever was.
It's the same as it was when the Ku Klux Klan terrorized the South at the turn of the 20th Century.
It's the same as it was when lynch mobs hung black people from trees.
It's the same as it was when Medgar Evers was shot down in front of his family.
It's the same as it was when Boston exploded in rage over school busing.