ON THE 3RD ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF TRAYVON MARTIN

In honor of the 3rd anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, I am posting here an essay from Resetting Respect that I wrote shortly after George Zimmerman’s trial.

Trayvon and George

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”
Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003), creator and host of the television program, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, from The World According to Mister Rogers (Hyperion Books, 2003).

 

The jury in the 2013 Florida trial of George Zimmerman acquitted him of the second-degree murder and manslaughter of Trayvon Martin. After the verdict I heard talk show after talk show, talking head after talking head, and the President of the United States comment on the case, comment on the laws surrounding the case, on the context of the case, and on racial profiling. A lot of what I heard was very thoughtful and elucidating, some of what I heard was myopic and bigoted, a little of what I heard was just plain nonsense.

Trayvon Martin was an unarmed 17-year-old African American walking home at night in his dark-colored hoodie from a nearby convenience store where he had purchased Skittles and an iced tea. He was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, an armed 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic who was an off-duty neighborhood watch volunteer. We’ll never know exactly what happened that night, but clearly something went terribly amiss.

There was no evidence to suggest that Trayvon Martin was out for a stroll with the intent to do someone or something harm, or to be killed himself. There was also nothing to suggest that George Zimmerman was out that evening looking to kill someone. There was, however, a dead young man, a tragedy for both families.

President Obama explained several possible avenues of action he might direct from the Oval Office that might move the country in a direction away from similar tragedies. I heard many interviews that suggested we need to begin or continue conversations on race and racial profiling. I did and do fully support any efforts that will help us move forward from what is unquestionably a terrible and complex problem. But I think many of us, as is so often the case, wondered what we as individuals could do.

I suggest that every day we each reset our respect habit, so that we value each and every person, thing and idea until they prove unworthy of that respect, with the expectation and belief that respect is contagious and the habit will spread. Think about it. If Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had encountered each other that night, each assuming the other to be of value as a human being, and consequently had treated each other with the respect that that value requires, I believe to the depths of my soul that the outcome would have been entirely different.

 

 

WRESTLING WITH RESPECT, HUMOR, AND FREE SPEECH

I haven’t posted recently because, ever since the carnage at Charlie Hebdo, I’ve been wrestling with how respect, humor, and free speech can all coexist.

As I think I’ve made pretty clear in my book and on this website, I sincerely believe in according respect to all people and all things because of their inherent value.

I also believe in the value of humor, its healing capacity, its ability to speak truth to power, the way it can ease tension and bring people together.

And I believe in free speech and the right, even the necessity, of individuals and the press to report the truth and express their opinions.

Where I’m having the problem is that so much humor is disrespectful — the blond jokes; the “roasts;” the self-deprecating, “I’m so fat…,” jokes; the bomb in Mohammad’s turban cartoons.  So does that mean that humor that is disrespectful is wrong?  Or does it question the validity of the idea that all people and things deserve respect?  Or is the disrespectful humor aimed at actions that do not deserve respect while the perpetrators maintain their value?  Does it mean we need to self-censor?  Does it mean there needs to be some kind of public censorship of humor?

I don’t know.  As I said, I’m wrestling with it all.  But I’d love to learn your thoughts on the matter to help me think about the issues.  I welcome your ideas here!