Last Saturday I was at the swearing in for Mike Bonin when I first saw the news about the verdict in Zimmerman trial on Twitter. Winston Churchill famously said that democracy was the worst form of government, but that best that we know. During the years I worked in politics I watched the endless chase for campaign contributions. I filled out questionnaires for organized interests and saw those organized interests influence the positions of people running for office. Mudslinging occurred. I even caused some of it. I started out a wide-eyed idealist going to door for Howard Dean in Iowa and about four years later I came, more or less, to the same conclusion as Churchill.
And so it was this week with our jury system and our criminal justice system. There’s no doubt in my mind that if he had been a white teen then Trayvon Martin would still be with us today. Our system cannot condone that injustice. Gawker published a picture of Martin’s dead body, which I recommend that you view. Even if he was imperfect, only someone deranged with an irrational, racist hatred would have chased him down and actually felt that his life was threatened by some lanky, unarmed teenage kid. I’m torn about the publication of the photos. I don’t recommend that we take actions that inflame violence and after seeing it, I wanted to go out, find Zimmerman and personally find justice for Martin. At the same time, I wonder if the sanitized news we view keeps us from feeling the real injustice that occurs.
For years and years we have known that our criminal justice system does not mete out its punishment equally. No careful observer was surprised by the verdict in the Zimmerman case. But if the matter has echoes of Churchill’s quote above, it’s also a reminder of one from Stalin. A million deaths is a statistic, but one is a tragedy. After years of statistics about the criminal justice system, the injustice now has a tragedy in the life of Trayvon Martin.
For those of us who believe that the Shining City on the Hill should look a lot like Dr. King’s Dream, the verdict leaves us in a morass of questions about how society should proceed. Our criminal justice system is so terrible, but the best that we know. Can a change in laws bring about an end to hatred and fear? How do we reach the understanding and the love of our fellow man that is required so that we can live in harmony?
We have to find answers, but until then I feel a little like a Midwestern neighbor of someone diagnosed with cancer. A long time ago I would have been cynical of them making baked goods as if somehow that would make things better, but I think with age I have understanding. In the face of feeling powerless and overwhelmed by larger forces, our best response is to respond with love. I will insist we find a cure for the cancer that ails our criminal justice system; but until I see reform I can support, I will respond with love, a more deliberate outreach to people who on the surface are not like me and a renewed empathy for all who cross my path.
On Tuesday that path led me to Pen Center USA’s Final Reading by its 2013 Emerging Voices Fellows. It was at the Hammer Museum and featured six readings, one from each of member of the Fellows program. I laughed out loud during the reading from Terrance Flynn. He has a fresh voice with some of the sarcasm of David Sedaris, but without Sedaris’ affinity for the bizarre. I also particularly enjoyed Krisserin Canary who read from her work which was about a recent divorcée struggling through the issues of loss. It was poignant and if Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love is any indication, I think there’s a huge market for literature that explores those issues . . .
Only rarely will I complain about traffic in Los Angeles, but on Wednesday morning I allotted an hour to drive to Santa Monica for a coffee at 9am with Len Lanzi, the executive director of the Los Angeles Venture Association. There were no accidents on the 10 freeway or any incidents to report, but somehow I ended up five minutes late. Is it getting to the point where I need to schedule 75 minutes to get out of downtown, drive 16 miles and the find parking in Santa Monica for a 9am meeting? Sheesh. For the non-Angeleno readers, understand this is why we always speak of distance with a reference to time instead of miles.
Len had a lot of great suggestions for my company Owlaxy and offered to help us identify partners and advisors. He’s the former Treasurer of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County and he’s part of the chorus predicting Antonio Villaraigosa will run against Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary for Governor. I loved the conversation, but I hope his thoughts represent a Republican fantasy. There’s never a sure thing in politics, but Brown in the Democratic primary is as close as it gets.
Sorry for being a day late on the post. I am in San Diego for the wedding of my friends Karmen Parhar and Matt Inchinose. I used to work with Karmen at Baker & McKenzie and I echo the sentiments of her father during his toast . . . it’s just so great to see her in love and so happy.
Solana Beach, California