Uncivil Rights

The George Zimmerman verdict continues to get attention.  With luck the news cycle will soon move on to something else, but in the meantime people will continue to make a bigger deal of it than it deserves.

It’s the latest issue that’s supposed to start a “national conversation about race,” but frankly we’ve been having that conversation for over two hundred years.  I really don’t want to go there.  Trayvon Marin is not a martyr for the cause of civil rights.  He was not a victim of racial profiling.  He was not the fresh-faced little boy the media worked so hard to make him.  He was a violent thug who responded to a man following him too closely by throwing the man to the ground and smashing his head against the concrete.  He does not deserve our tears.

Was Zimmerman wrong to go after Martin?  Probably so.  But that does not justify a violent response.  Martin only needed to identify himself, to walk away, to phone 911 and report a stalker.  Anything.  But he chose physical violence.  And Zimmerman was left with no choice but to defend his life.  To say Zimmerman was wrong to shoot at that point is like blaming a rape victim because she was provocatively dressed.  True, she might have exercised poor judgment, but she did not deserve to be assaulted.  Neither did Zimmerman.

See how I am making this point without bring race into it at all?  Because it’s not about race.  It’s about a society that glorifies violence as a valid response when someone gets “in your face.”  It’s about a society that wrings its hands over people who deserve neither sympathy nor mercy.

Consider: at this time there is an ongoing hunger strike that began in one of California’s most notorious maximum-security prisons, Pelican Bay.  Prisoners, convicted violent criminals, are protesting their treatment, solitary confinement for years.  Others outside have taken up their cause, crying about the prisoners’ civil rights being violated.  Well, in the words of Dirty Harry, “I’m all broken up about that man’s rights.”

These are violent felons: killers, rapists, the worst of the worst.  They are not victims of an oppressive prison system.  They are people who have proven that they are incapable of being part of civil society, and so they have been removed from it.  That’s better than they deserve.

Seriously, to anyone concerned about the horrible conditions in prison, here’s a simple solution: Don’t commit crime.  That’s really all there is to it.  Don’t break the law.

Now, you could argue that we have some bad laws in this country, and you would get no disagreement from me, though we might debate which laws need to be changed and in what ways.  But that’s the key: if the law is bad, work to change the law.  But don’t break it merely because doing so suits your purposes.

Granted, sometimes strong action is called for.  That means things like Martin Luther King’s non-violent protest.  King went to jail to fight bad law.  But, again, note the term “non-violent.”  And this was in opposition to laws that were patently unjust.  That is not the case for the felons protesting their bad treatment.  I don’t think anyone would argue that laws against rape and murder and assault are “unjust.”

They are not martyrs any more than Martin was.  They are not “political prisoners.”  We don’t have those in the US; you need to look at places like China, Russia, Iran, to find real political prisoners, real victims of injustice.  Here the only victims are the people trying the put their shattered lives back together after being assaulted.  Or they are dead.  Who worries about their rights?

When a criminal harms another innocent person (eg one who is not smashing your head on the ground), that criminal gives up his rights.  He deserves no rights.  He deserves no sympathy.  He deserves no tears.  He deserves only the fullest penalty of the law.

And if that penalty is unpleasant, too bad.  He should have considered that before he chose to break the law.  That’s really all it takes.

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