Posts Tagged ‘Trayvon Martin’

‘I Am Trayvon’ After Run-in With Cop

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

Bennett Weiss wore an “I Am Trayvon” button when he joined fellow Newburgh residents and others at a rally in that city July 17 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Others in the crowd wore similar buttons, including young African American men around the same age as the unarmed 17-year-old shot and killed by Zimmerman in February 2012. For Weiss the button was a gesture of solidarity, one he says “had a little extra meaning” after an incident that occurred earlier that day.

He had driven his minivan to a remote parking lot of the heavily wooded Cronomer Hill Park, where he was about to walk his dog. “I had one shoe on,” he recalls, and he was bending down to put on the other one.  At that moment a “very angry” Town of Newburgh police officer ordered him to get out of the car. “Put your hands on the side of the car. NOW!” yelled the cop. “What are you doing here?”

Weiss says he responded as calmly as he could despite the “infuriating” circumstances: “Why are you acting like this? I did nothing wrong.”

“What are you doing here?” repeated the cop in a tone Weiss remembers as “even harsher.” Although his brain screamed, “NONE OF YOUR @$$%^! BUSINESS,” Weiss explained that he was about to take his dog for a morning walk.

“He asked for my name and address and if I am the registered owner of the vehicle.” Then, Weiss says, the cop thundered, “What are you hiding in the car?”

“Nothing, officer, and I don’t appreciate being treated like this. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

“Get over there, lean against my car and don’t move.”

“He searched my car,” says Weiss. “He found nothing in it…. except my hard-to-miss 100- lb Newfoundland.”

“Why were you reaching under your seat as I pulled up?”

Weiss pointed to his one bare foot. “Uh, to get my shoes on. Did you happen to find a blue, size 13 sneaker?”

According to Weiss the officer gradually calmed down and explained that he was acting on orders from “the Chief” to crack down on suspicious characters in the park. He said several incidents of “public homosexual lewdness” were reported to have taken place on the grounds.

“After a while the officer explained that he had felt endangered by my bending over out of his sight. He said that for all he knew I had just robbed a bank and would as soon shoot him as go to jail.  Aside from the fact that no reported bank heists had occurred that morning, even the dumbest bank robber wouldn’t make a minivan plastered with easily identifiable homemade bumper stickers his getaway car.” But Weiss says they parted amicably and he was able to clear his head “on a long hike with my best friend scampering about exploring the wonders of his far simpler world.” And then, Weiss says, it hit him:

“What if instead of my being a 64-year-old, grey bearded white guy with a big black dog, I had been an 18-year-old effeminate Black guy with a French poodle? Or a 27-year-old tattooed Latino with a pit bull? Or simply a person of color of any age? How much more threatened would this veteran officer of the law have felt?

“And what if instead of being a uniformed cop, he had been a ‘neighborhood watch’ wannabe? I surely would not have stood idly by and let him abuse me like that. I would not have been able to hold my tongue. Running at my age is not an option. I would have had no choice but to ‘stand my ground.’ And had I been shot dead, the ground stood would have been his.

“So, am I Trayvon? Do I have a right to wear that button? Yes. We all do. And the ground we must stand upon has not yet been reached, so we must keep marching till we reach the higher ground.”

Judging from some of the comments I’ve heard lately and recent letters to the editor I’ve read, we’ll be marching for a long while.

Michael can be reached at




ALEC and the 2nd Amendment

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

The National Rifle Association has long relied on a catchy bumper-sticker slogan to justify its campaign to defeat gun control and thereby help corporate giants like Walmart sell more guns: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

In Florida, unfortunately, the two opposing premises don’t cancel each other out. The state’s “Stand Your Ground” law makes it possible for people to kill people, using guns, and theoretically “get away with murder” (or manslaughter, or the “justifiable homicide” designations that tripled between 2006, the year the law went into effect, and 2010. As long as they claim they felt “threatened” in some indeterminate way and that they acted in self-defense, shooters are immune from civil suits and criminal prosecution.

It’s been one month since Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager walking alone through an unfamiliar gated community, was shot to death in Sanford, Fla. by self-designated “neighborhood watch captain” George Zimmerman, who maintained, in the absence of eyewitnesses, that he acted in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him. Since that tragic night, a maelstrom of strident and conflicting opinions about whether the shooting was racially motivated and which man was the real “victim” have turned the case into a media circus.

This week, the news broke that lead investigator Chris Serino didn’t believe Zimmerman’s story from the outset and wanted to charge him with homicide or negligent manslaughter. The Seminole County State Attorney’s office informed Serino, however, that the “Stand Your Ground” law required more evidence than the investigator had yet gathered in order for him to make an arrest. The measure was signed into law by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2005. And that’s where the NRA – and a little-known legislative lobbying organization that spends as much as $7 million a year to spin conservative ideology into law – come into the picture.

If the NRA hadn’t collaborated for years with the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to lobby for passage by state legislatures of the “Stand Your Ground” law’s almost identically worded precursor, the “Castle Doctrine,” Zimmerman may not have even considered using deadly force against another human being whom he encountered in a public place. Last summer, the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit investigative reporting group, put up its latest website,, to shed light on the shadowy group. ALEC officially masquerades as America’s largest group of state legislators, yet 98 percent of its budget comes from corporate donors like Walmart (the top seller of guns and ammunition in the country), Altria (the parent company of Philip Morris), Coors, Bell South, Verizon, and Koch Industries. ALEC’s activities are also underwritten by the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. ALEC pushes its far-right agenda by drafting “model” bills, many of which are later adopted by state legislatures virtually as written – in one case, so hastily that the lawmaker who proposed the bill reportedly forgot to remove ALEC’s mission statement from the copy she submitted for a vote.

After New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made the connection between Trayvon Martin’s death and ALEC’s  “Stand Your Ground” model, I listened intently to that night’s cable TV commentary. My knee-jerk reaction was as follows: You could have heard the grubs foraging in the lawns around the headquarters of television broadcasting outlets. I didn’t hear a single left-leaning cable TV pundit bring up ALEC on that evening’s prime-time programming – not even Rachel Maddow, whose silence on the subject initially stunned me. Later, I typed “Any reaction to Paul Krugman’s column about ALEC?” into Google’s search engine. What surfaced first were a few comments by fellow economists and progressive bloggers, along with a handful of tweets from the Netroots faithful. Digging deeper, I discovered that John Nichols of “The Nation,” who had written extensively last summer about ALEC’s entanglement in other state laws, discussed his findings on Current TV’s “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann. In addition, Lawrence O’Donnell did a segment about ALEC’s model bills on his MSNBC show last May.

Nicole Belle of the progressive blog “Crooks and Liars” showered praise on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who delved into ALEC’s sponsorship of the “Stand Your Ground” law a day before Krugman’s column appeared. “While other Sunday morning bobbleheads contented themselves to debate whether President Obama was politicizing the Trayvon Martin death by speaking on it, Hayes opted to talk about something no other news outlet thus far has been brave enough to raise,” Belle wrote.

It’s true that programs like “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation,” and Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” don’t often venture into the netherworld of controversial organizations like ALEC – which, of course, denies that it has a partisan agenda. After all, the mainstream media have been accused of “liberal media bias” for so long by Fox News and right-wing radio hosts that they’ve overreacted by kowtowing to their critics and failing to challenge guests who answer direct questions by spouting evasive Republican talking points. The braver pundits cited above, however, dared to expose the underbelly of an organization that feeds on class and racial anxiety in order to scare more affluent citizens into arming themselves to the teeth.

The mainstream media have long maintained an uncomfortable truce with popular corporate mainstays like Coca-Cola, UPS, and AT&T, by declining to bring up their financial backing of right-wing political activities. (It’s not surprising that the same corporations support large media conglomerates by running advertisements, both in print and on the air.) “Big Think” blogger Kris Broughton recently applauded a local Omaha TV reporter for asking a Nebraska state senator why a bill he had sponsored sounded exactly like a model bill from the “ALEC Exposed” website. Broughton then speculated about “why NBC wastes good money on David Gregory and his lap dog routine” when feistier journalists are out on their beats demanding real answers.

On the right-wing blogs I visited, ugly invective against Paul Krugman surged like larvae from beneath a jagged rock. Like ALEC itself, the “creepy cronyism” Krugman described tends to shun the disinfecting power of sunlight. Meanwhile, at the “Rally for Trayvon Martin” being held tomorrow at high noon in front of ALEC’s D.C. headquarters, a coalition of gun-control advocates will wage yet another battle against what organizers are calling “Kill at Will” bills. The protesters stand to score a minor victory even if all they do is expose ALEC’s machinations to the flesh-and-blood world beyond the blogosphere – a world where, when lobbyists’ hypothetical guns are fired, real people die.

Note: Tomorrow’s rally is being sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy, the National Urban League, the NAACP,, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Common Cause, People for the American Way, and the National Council of Churches, among other organizations.