Presidents Day weekend is supposed to be nothing much, a halfhearted hybrid. Perhaps the business community decided that a national holiday to celebrate Washington’s Birthday each February, and then Lincoln’s – each falling on separate days that might or might not be a workday each year – was too disruptive, or perhaps too random. You can’t run a business that way, and as they say, the business of America is business. And really, this isn’t France, where there’s a work-holiday for every minor long-forgotten saint on the calendar, with six weeks of paid vacation for everyone each summer. Americans work – they don’t kick back and enjoy life, damn it. That’s what made America great, or at least not French – so we came up with a uniform pro-business solution. Give both Lincoln and Washington, together, a fixed and entirely predictable Monday holiday. They won’t mind – they’re dead – and most people confuse the two anyway, if they think about them at all, and it’s good business practice. America gains a full day of productivity – and half the opposition to Martin Luther King Day, as some of us remember, had nothing to do with racial matters. More than a few Republican politicians argued that sure, we should honor the man – Newt Gingrich proposed a nice statue – but that’s no reason to punish American businesses by telling American workers they can stay home, when they should be working hard, every possible day, like Real Americans. That might not have been cleverly disguised racism. Those guys have always been the pro-business party. It might have been both things, of course.
It doesn’t matter. We settled on a vague Presidents Day each February, not exactly a patriotic holiday like the Fourth of July. There are no parades and no flag waving – just mattress sales and no mail and the markets closed, and more than half of America working anyway. It solved a business problem. Lincoln and Washington are not discussed. No one really knows what the holiday is all about, if it really is a holiday, and no one much cares. It’s a long weekend, if you’re lucky. Otherwise, life goes on.
The news doesn’t stop either, not for this sort-of holiday that might not be a holiday at all. Surprising things happen. Is religious liberty a matter of being exempt from the laws that protect everyone from busybodies and bigots? A few days before the weekend, in the name of protecting the religious sensibilities of private employers, stores, hotels, movie theaters, parks, pools and so on, the folks in Kansas were about to pass a law that allowed those with such sensibilities to turn away gay couples and gay individuals. What seem to be public accommodations could be closed to them, on religious grounds, and this also applied to government functions – state hospitals could refuse to even hand an aspirin to a dying evil gay person, firemen could refuse to respond when certain buildings were burning down, the police could refuse to intervene when Dwayne and Dwayne and Dwayne were beating the crap out of some gay teenager on the street corner. The last thing the state should do is to tell someone their deep religious beliefs, about what is a sin against God, don’t matter – so the state would now no longer discriminate against good Christians.
Everyone knew this was going to pass easily, and the Republican governor would sign this into state law out there, and then they changed their minds, as Slate’s Emily Bazelon explains:
Senate President Susan Wagle said on Thursday that a majority of the state senators in her party would not vote for the bill. They support “traditional marriage,” Wagle noted, “however, my members also don’t condone discrimination.” Thank you for that line in the sand. It should be obvious, but somehow that was lost on the Kansas House.
Instead of passing, as everyone predicted, the Kansas anti-gay bill will now, in all likelihood, quietly die without hearings or a vote. … Even in the remaining pockets of backlash, conservatives can see that there are lengths to which they can no longer safely go. I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Adam Liptak’s New York Times piece on the series of federal court decisions striking down state gay marriage bans: “It is becoming increasingly clear to judges that if they rule against same-sex marriage their grandchildren will regard them as bigots,” Andrew M. Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern, told Liptak. The legislators in Kansas who stopped short of passing this bill still think it’s okay to oppose same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, though their definition of prejudice differs, the point stands: They don’t want to be seen as bigots, either.
Lincoln and Washington might be smiling about that. Even if they got shafted on their own holidays, that’s a nice gift for their now ambiguous half-holiday. Even the angriest of Americans really don’t want to be seen as bigots. Cool. There may be hope, or the structures set up in the Constitution are working. It’s not just public opinion or the judgment of history – there are lengths to which these angry folks in Kansas can never go. The courts would have stopped all this – maybe not the conservative Roberts court we have now, but some Supreme Court, eventually.
Until then, the court of public opinion will do, which works just fine, given the human ego. No one wants to be seen as a bigot, or as an asshole, and you certainly don’t want to combine the two, even in Kansas. That also applies to George Zimmerman, who decided that Presidents Day weekend was the right time to grant an interview to CNN’s Chris Cuomo – and Zimmerman decided to tell America that the trial that ended with a jury acquitting him of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin was a shameful miscarriage of justice, because there never should have been any trial in the first place. Zimmerman continues to insist he acted in self-defense, and more than that, he now says he was a scapegoat for “the government, the president, the attorney general.” Cuomo asked why they would even bother to be scapegoating him, and Zimmerman said that “I don’t know what they’re thinking or why they’re thinking it, all I know is that is that they’re doing it.”
Zimmerman also pushed back when Cuomo said Martin was the victim in the case – “I certainly was a victim when I was having my head bashed into the concrete and my nose broken and beaten. I wouldn’t say I was not a victim.” Yeah, but you followed him, after the police dispatcher told you not to, and pulled your gun on him, as a private citizen, as a vigilante, really. The kid might have been defending himself. Now Zimmerman says he wished he would have stayed home that day. He won’t say whether he now regrets shooting the kid dead – it’s complicated – but he says he wants to go back to school and become a lawyer “to stop the miscarriage of justice that happened to me from happening to somebody else.”
Yep, he belongs in Kansas, but even they wised up. And there’s more. The interview with CNN aired a day after one with the Spanish-language network Univision – there Zimmerman said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and also said that Obama’s comment that Martin “could have been my son” was a way for the president to win votes – “He saw it as an opportunity.”
That bastard! Zimmerman also said he is unemployed and is “millions of dollars” in debt – he’s broke and homeless now, because he did the right thing. Someone’s got to shoot these young black kids. They’re out of control. They’re thugs, and he’s an American martyr to the cause of dealing with these young black thugs.
No, he didn’t say that, exactly, but he might as well have put it that way. Perhaps Sean Hannity, who has been presenting Zimmerman as just such a martyr for almost a year now on Fox News, will send him money – or be an upright guy and give Zimmerman his palatial Long Island house now that Hannity refuses to live in the “United Socialist State of New York” any longer. Hannity is thinking of Florida or Texas, not Kansas, by the way.
Lincoln and Washington can stop smiling now. Hannity is considering a run for president himself one day, after he’s a congressman or senator or something. He may not get a holiday.
That was quite a Presidents Day weekend, but that wasn’t the big story of the weekend:
A jury convicted Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old software developer, on Saturday of attempted murder for shooting into a carful of teenagers after the argument, but jurors couldn’t agree on the most serious charge of first-degree murder. A mistrial was declared on that charge. State Attorney Angela Corey said her office would consider seeking a retrial.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Cory Strolla said he plans to appeal based on several issues, including how the jury could reach guilty verdicts on four counts and deadlock on another.
Dunn was charged with fatally shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis, of Marietta, Ga., in 2012 after the argument over loud music coming from the SUV occupied by Davis and three friends outside a Jacksonville convenience store. Dunn, who is white, had described the music to his fiancée as “thug music.” He claimed he acted in self-defense.
The trial was Florida’s latest to raise questions about self-defense and race, coming six months after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, about 125 miles south of Jacksonville. The Dunn trial was prosecuted by the same State Attorney’s Office that handled the Zimmerman case.
Here we go again. No one wants to been seen as a bigot, and this guy sort of pulled it off:
Jurors heard testimony that Dunn, who has a concealed weapons permit, fired 10 shots, hitting the vehicle nine times. Davis was the only person hit. Dunn, in claiming self-defense, testified that he thought he saw a firearm pointed at him from the SUV as the argument escalated. No weapon was found in the SUV. Dunn also told jurors he feared for his life, perceiving “this was a clear and present danger.”
Prosecutors contended that Dunn opened fire because he felt disrespected by Davis. The teen made his friend turn the music back up after they initially turned it down at Dunn’s request. Dunn was parked in the spot next to the SUV outside the convenience store.
According to authorities, Dunn became enraged about the music and ensuing argument. One person walking out of the convenience store said he heard Dunn say, “You are not going to talk to me like that.”
Dunn testified he heard someone in the SUV shouting expletives and the word “cracker,” which is a derogatory term for white people.
And we’re discussing this on Presidents Day weekend, what you’re allowed to do if you’re offended? Do you get to shoot people? In the New York Times, Lizette Alvarez covers the arguments:
The prosecution argued Mr. Dunn shot Mr. Davis because he became enraged after the teenager disregarded his request to turn down the loud rap music blasting from the vehicle and then “mouthed off,” hurling expletives at him. He fabricated a story about the shotgun to bolster his self-defense claim, they added.
But the state failed to persuade everyone on the jury – four white men, four white women, one Hispanic man, two black women and an Asian-American woman – of their version of events. As a result, the judge was forced to declare a mistrial Saturday on the charge of first-degree murder. A new trial on that count is expected to take place later this year.
“This trial is indicative of how much of a problem Stand Your Ground laws really do create,” said Mary Anne Franks, an associate law professor at the University of Miami. “By the time you have an incident like this and ask a jury to look at the facts, it’s difficult to re-create the situation and determine the reasonableness of a defendant’s fear.”
The jury did convict Mr. Dunn, 47, on three counts of second-degree attempted murder, one for each surviving teenager in the car. Jurors agreed that Mr. Dunn was trying to kill the teenagers – not to defend himself – when he got out of his car, crouched and shot several more bullets into the truck as it drove away.
Well, yeah, you don’t get to do that – but that doesn’t resolve the issue of where “disrespect” morphs into a threat on your life. Is paranoia a defense now? That’s what hung up the jurors:
The problem, Ms. Franks said, lies, in part, with the term reasonable, which is “squishy.” One person’s reasonable is another person’s overreaction. Getting 12 jurors with contrasting world views to agree on that is not a simple task – especially so in Jacksonville, which is 30 percent black, but is a conservative north Florida city. Add the racial overlay, and the case becomes more complicated. Mr. Dunn, a software developer, is white. Mr. Davis was black, as were his three companions.
Taken together, the episode was fraught with assumptions: Prosecutors said Mr. Dunn saw the loud teenagers as “gangsters.” Mr. Dunn’s fiancée said he complained about the “thug music” and Mr. Dunn described the teenagers’ expression as “menacing.” “It got ugly; I heard something-something cracker,” Mr. Dunn testified about Mr. Davis’s reaction.
It is also possible that Mr. Dunn assumed the teenagers were armed because so many Florida residents do own guns, including Mr. Dunn, who got his license in the early 1990s. “Once you have a situation that someone white and male feels threatened by a group of young black men, is it possible that he sees a gun where there was no gun?” Ms. Franks said. “That is one of the more disturbing questions.”
Then it gets really interesting:
Jurors were also asked to use their “common sense” and factor in Mr. Dunn’s behavior after the crime: He did not call 911 or the police. Instead, he returned to his hotel room with his fiancée, spent the night and then drove 2 1/2 hours to his home in Brevard County, where police tracked him down and arrested him.
His fiancée, who was in the convenience store during the shooting, testified that Mr. Dunn never told her that anyone had pointed a weapon at him. And, his testimony to the contrary, she said he did not call his neighbor, a federal agent, to say he needed to discuss a serious situation, a precursor to turning himself in.
Again and again, prosecutors said this did not jibe with the actions of a man who shot in self-defense. “But is it enough to say, ‘Well, then he really wasn’t afraid and he enacted a coldblooded killing?’ “Ms. Franks asked.
That was our country on Presidents Day weekend. There were two questions in the air. Do I really want to be seen as a bigot? Who can I quite legally shoot dead if I just don’t like them, or I feel insulted? It’s odd that we’re still struggling with these two questions. The answers are no and no one, by the way, or those used to be the answers.
Well, Dunn’s multiple attempted-murder convictions will send him to jail for sixty years or so, a life sentence really, but Tonyaa Weathersbee – yes, she’s black – sees this as a hollow victory:
It’s hollow because it means that, in 21st century America, the notion that a mouthy young black male could be a threat carries more weight with some people than the fact that an impulsive middle-aged white man could be a liar.
Think about it.
Apparently someone on the Dunn jury – a jury that took four days to deadlock on whether Dunn was justified in killing Davis – believed that Davis’ cursing at Dunn and arguing over the volume of his music equaled a serious enough threat to make Dunn reasonably fear for his life.
Someone on that jury saw Davis with a shotgun that likely never existed, but didn’t see the real bullets – 10 in all – that Dunn pumped into the SUV and into Davis’ body, bullets that left Davis bleeding and dying in his friend’s lap.
It’s hollow because it underscores what seems to be a scary trend. I guess now any random white man can confront a black teenager whose style of dress or music he doesn’t like or views as suspect. And when that teenager doesn’t submit to him, or responds to him in a confrontational manner – or in a way that any rebellious teenager is apt to respond – then it’s perfectly fine to exterminate him.
Here’s our Presidents Day:
What the verdict says is that in this nation, in the 21st century, some white men still believe they have the right to intrude into the space of young black men and make demands. And if the black man is unarmed – with no weapon except his words – those white men can still kill him. And call it self-defense. All they need is a jury to buy it.
And that was capped off by this:
An Arkansas man is facing first degree murder charges after he allegedly shot a 15-year-old girl to death over the weekend because she was participating in a prank on his 16-year-old son.
Shortly before 1:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, Little Rock Police responded to the Kum and Go gas station after a call about a shooting, according to KARK. Officers found a white Hyundai Sonata with bullet holes, broken glass, and four teens between the ages of 14 and 18.
A 15-year-old girl who was inside the car was identified as Adrian Broadway. She later died from a gunshot wound after being taken to nearby hospital. The car’s 18-year-old driver, Dshone Nelson, suffered minor injuries from broken glass.
The surviving teen victims reportedly told police that they had attempted to prank 48-year-old Willie Noble’s son by covering his car in eggs and leaves, KTHV reported.
“Apparently Mr. Noble’s teenage son had done a prank on some of the kids that were inside the vehicle on Halloween Night,” Lieutenant Sidney Allen explained. “As a result they were doing a retaliation prank and it ultimately had deadly results.”
After the shooting, the driver attempted to flee the scene to get help.
“It was a joke. We was friends, we was gonna come over there and clean it up,” 16-year-old Kortazha Williams, who was in the car, told KTHV. “It was supposed to be a prank; we were supposed to get up right now, and we were supposed to laugh.”
Oops. But all parties here are black, and the shooter was charged with first degree murder, committing a terrorist act, and five counts of aggravated assault. He can’t claim to be a martyr for the white race, under existential threat from young black kids who dress funny and play loud music and mouth off. Willie Noble won’t have Fox news on his side, although if someone on the left says that this shows that there are too many guns floating around out there, making it far too easy for any angry man to just start shooting, before he starts thinking, Fox News may come around. But they won’t. This doesn’t fit their “black thugs, starting with Obama, out to kill us all” narrative. Why won’t such “thugs” submit, as they should?
This was no day for Washington and Lincoln, obviously. They were masters at self-control and this might not be the nation they envisioned – but we took their holiday away from them years ago, and, perhaps, their nation.