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America, home of the brutal

The killing of Trayvon Martin has shaken U.S. citizens enough to catalyze a national movement against hate.

The death of Skittles-eating teen Trayvon Martin, shot by a neighborhood watchdog in an upscale community, has shaken U.S. citizens enough to catalyze a national movement against hate.

A good thing, since children are watching.  And people everywhere, of every age, seem ever more numb to violence. 

Seasoned police chaplains aren’t easily shaken, either. But about a year before the Florida shooting, one group from Minnesota was shocked into silence by disturbing photos depicting a full-sized image of Hillary Clinton decimated by bullet holes. 

Posed by the secretary of state’s gutted likeness was a 40-something white man. His arms were around two youth drawing them into the scene. They could have been anyone’s children. Another child and a female adult in some photos appeared, like the man, to be laughing.

The chaplain group includes full-time pastors and police who volunteer their spare time and ministerial touch to officers and others after unthinkable experiences — deadly accidents, domestic assault, drug abuse. Though comforters and caregivers by temperament and training, they struggled to articulate their reactions to the pictures.  One former pro-football playing captain, one rector of a large local parish called Grace, one state senator whose church community supported his knock-down political campaign, one practicing therapist, two energetic young officers — all speechless.

The photos illustrated a culture coming undone by vitriolic norms. 

Children inserted into depravity

Which seems illogical and incomprehensible, until witnessed up-close — as it was by children posed in the ugly tableau. Children unwittingly, if not unwillingly, inserted into depravity, immersed in hate we’ve all witnessed, coming from multiple corners of the partisan continuum. Leaving us half paralyzed, half paranoid while it soils our national esteem and degrades into a national pastime.

It’s easy to see how, with nonstop pathogens of rage-rhetoric emitted round-the-clock to all in range of a computer screen, cell tower or radio antennae — perpetrated by professional personalities, politicians and real people. Many carry the corrosive themes into online incivility campaigns.  Others perform them for pay.  Some spread them in social settings gone seriously anti-social, including events intended to uplift our national ideals, like this one family’s Fourth of July celebration. Where grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends gathered for a picnic and fireworks.  And,   apparently, to obliterate Clinton’s image. While children watched. 

Apparently some at the reunion thought it was funny. Most adults there were professionals not generally perceived as fringe-types. Past family gatherings might have included nothing more dangerous than teaching kids how to shoot clay pigeons. But the man in the photos, a Rush Limbaugh fan, has been known to deride Clinton and other women with Limbaugh’s trademark slur “femi-Nazis.”  

Police chaplains aren’t quaint idealists.  They’ve seen too much.  Still, those who saw evidence of the effigy were head-shakingly stunned. When they finally spoke, sobering words: “sad,” “sick” and “Why?” were uttered.

They worried for the children and despaired about today’s polarizing tones that find seemingly respectable people at historically friendly events blatantly, brutally caricaturizing our country. Though our Constitution (and common sense) calls all to identify as proudly diverse, and yet all the “same” people, called to see and synthesize our abilities with and for our common “Oneness.” Co-caring for our place, country, people, children, not destroying our undergirding by un-righting our shared rights —  rights meant to ensure that all have a say and all succeed.

To ignore is to condone

The chaplains spoke of consuming lives and work that offer little opportunity to change a country that’s slipped over the edge into craziness. It’s a reaction too many of us harbor.  But, if we ignore destructive behaviors, we imply we condone them.  Say nothing to indecent, imbalanced behaviors and we legitimize them.  Don’t do all we can to end uncivil, undignified behaviors, and we betray cowardice unbecoming a “country of the brave.”

If we let hate thrive in our own backyards unaddressed, we are complicit in the spread of more.

In fact the chaplains are known to make uncommon efforts of support.  So, though struggling with their emotions, they offered reassurance.  That people like the man in the photos are unfortunate anomalies.  

But they know more.  They know that guns are the weapons most likely to succeed in U.S. malevolence.  That anti-government hate groups have grown eightfold in three years.

The photo was taken on  July 4, 2010. Six months later an Arizona congresswoman was gunned down and a grandmother, little girl, judge and others were killed.

Ominous trends presaged their deaths.  

A rise in hate crimes

Arizona hate crimes rose dramatically between 2008-2010.  A 2009 warning by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cited the “charged economic and political climate” as “fueling a resurgence of Rightwing radicalization and recruitment.”  It outlined how groups were “broaden(ing) their scope and appeal through propaganda (…) across the country. The overall number of hate groups in the U.S. grew again in 2010.

The gunman was a “lone wolf,” an anomaly. The county sheriff acknowledged the killer’s “mental instability,”  adding an often-overlooked detail: “People who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol (…) we hear day in and day out.”

The FBI agreed. “(H)ate speech and other inciteful speech,” said its director, Robert S. Mueller III, “absolutely presents a challenge to us.”

Just weeks before the shootings, an unavoidably vitriol-inciting message was erected just five miles away.  The billboard featured pictures of stray bullets holes, with the words: “Rush Limbaugh Straight Shooter.”

“[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials,” said the sheriff, adding such rhetoric “is not without consequences.”

How many lone wolves drove by the billboard?  For that matter, how many children were driven by it?

‘A mecca for prejudice and bigotry’

“I think of how our youngsters are being raised,” said Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.  Arizona has “become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”  

As, it seems, has the rest of the country. 

Whether young Trayvon Martin’s death was a hate crime has yet to be determined.  But the possibility must be considered in a country where non-reflective “shoot first” reactivity is now justified by powerful voices that whip up fears so fierce once-reasonable people are all but coerced to play along.  

Meanwhile one Arizona sheriff is playing a different tune, in his words: “It’s time that we all do some soul-searching.” 

Andrea Morisette Grazzini is a writer, consultant and participatory researcher. Her work has influenced numerous global and national conversations on co-productive change. She founded the cross-partisan initiative DynamicShift in 2009.  Some of her essays can be found at the DynamicShift Blog.


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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 04/11/2012 - 06:30 am.

    Why we are brutal

    Despite a brief admission that she doesn’t know the facts about Trayvon Martin’s death, the tone of Andrea Grazzini’s article suggests it was a “shoot first” hate crime. That is possible; it is also possible that the shooter was a man whose head was being bashed against the ground, and who didn’t care about the skin color of the basher.
    There is a lot of crime in the U.S., as evidenced by our record prison populations. I suggest that most of those in jail are there for committing crimes for other brutal reasons than hatred against a particular group.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/11/2012 - 07:29 am.

    ‘Give me your bike … give me your bike …’ Pop! Pop!”

    Strib 4/11/12 – “A food delivery to a neighbor three blocks away turned deadly for Jody Lynmarvin Patzner Jr., 22, on Monday night when three boys confronted him as he biked on Fremont Avenue in north Minneapolis, according to family members and a witness. The boys yelled at him that they wanted his bike, then shot at him twice”

    The comments section for this story has been turned off by the Strib.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/11/2012 - 10:40 am.

    The Florida law works like this:

    I walk up to a person, say Dennis Tester, push him and say, “What the heck are you doing here?”

    We then push back and forth, and I realize Dennis is much tougher than I thought.

    I then have a reasonable fear for serious injury or even death. He’s talking trash. He might really whup on me.

    I then pull out my weapon and shoot him, and he dies.

    It doesn’t matter that I initiated the confrontation, it doesn’t matter that his response was pretty foreseeable, all that matters is in the last few seconds of his life I was afraid of serious injury or death. Or that I could just say I was in fear, even though it was my anger with Dennis and adrenaline rush that made me pull out the gun and shoot him.

    The law then presumes that the killing was justified. The survivor provides the only testimony. How can the state prove what was in, or not in my mind at the time? That is the difficulty of the situation in Florida.

    It’s the victory of the aggressor, the victory of the bully who plans ahead, the victory of the sly, the institutionalization of fear as a justifiable cause for death.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 04/11/2012 - 02:55 pm.


      I don’t care if racism was involved, the whole scenario was a crime against humanity of all colors.

  4. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 04/11/2012 - 11:30 am.

    Mr. Rovick, thank you for your clear explanation of what the

    Florida law means in practice.

    As far as the Strib turning off comments is concerned, I’ve noticed that when the Strib does allow comments on anything having to do with African-Americans or Somalis, it brings out the region’s most vicious and irrational racists. I’m sure that the people who screen the readers’ comments got tired of having to take a shower at the end of their shift.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/11/2012 - 12:35 pm.

    Mr. Westgard

    You apparently are not aware the Zimmerman chased his victim, gun in hand. His story that his head was banged on the ground (sidewalk?) doesn’t stand up because there was no blood on his face or clothing to prove his claim that the victim broke his nose.

    A friend of mine saw the video showing Zimmerman arriving at the police station — spry, healthy looking, not bleeding.

    Mr. Zimmerman called the police to report a “suspicious” person wearing a hoody; the officer who took the call told him not to continue following the boy he eventually shot.

    • Submitted by rolf westgard on 04/11/2012 - 02:48 pm.

      Zimmerman injuries

      There are mixed reports on Zimmerman including that he was cleaned up of blood before that video. None of us, including you, know the facts about who chased whom. Unfortunately, Trayvon can not testify.
      If there is a trial his character will come into play for an indication of his possible behavior – his three suspensions; his graffiti spraying at the school; his backpack with several items of women’s jewelry and a burglar tool. Of course, none of that suggests that he should be shot, but the original image of the innocent choir boy has been tarnished.

      • Submitted by Lance Groth on 04/11/2012 - 07:45 pm.

        What’s clear is that we don’t need vigilantes

        What we know for fact is that Zimmerman, armed with a gun, pursued an unarmed man after being told by the 911 operator to break off pursuit and let the police handle the situation. I don’t think it’s surprising that Trayvon may have gotten agitated and challenged Zimmerman. I would too if I were being pursued and harassed while simply walking through a neighborhood where I had been invited.

        We don’t need self-appointed vigilantes, with no relevant security training whatsoever and no qualifications other than packing heat, to patrol our neighborhoods. That’s why we have cops. If Zimmerman hadn’t pressed the issue, contrary to official instructions, both men would now be alive. That is undeniable.

        I for one am grateful that Dayton vetoed the “Castle Doctrine” (shoot anywhere anytime) law. I do not desire a return to the days of the Wild West. The events playing out in Florida could not make that more clear.

  6. Submitted by rolf westgard on 04/11/2012 - 04:30 pm.

    Neal and Florida’s stand your ground law.

    If Neal’s analysis is correct, Zimmerman would appear to be in the clear in Florida, however unjust that would be.
    And that big photo in this article of hands holding Skittles. What if we substituted hands holding a burglar tool with a woman’s necklace trailing down; or perhaps a spray can for graffiti. I’m just anticipating the trial defense.

  7. Submitted by Lance Groth on 04/11/2012 - 08:11 pm.

    Such a fearful people

    Strange, isn’t it, that the citizens of the most powerful, prosperous, and “advanced” nation on earth, protected by the most powerful military the world has ever seen, as well as the most professional and effective police and investigative forces, are so knee-knocking afraid, so shaking-in-their-boots downright scared, that a good many of them feel the need to go armed. Armed, it must be noted, not for use against external enemies, but against each other.

    Perhaps it’s not so surprising when the message relentlessly drilled home every day over radio and t.v. is that Americans who don’t think just like “us” are not really Americans, not fellow citizens who happen to have different opinions, but the enemy within, who engage in nefarious plots and conspiracies to destroy their own country, who even falsify whole disciplines of science for dark and mysterious reasons, who need to be run off (or better yet killed, this part expressed mostly in whispers, so far), so that the country can be saved for the real patriots. You know, the way the “founders intended”. Real Americans, “Christians” only (although in fact these people are ChINOs, as evidenced by their words and deeds), and according to some who post on this site, with voting reserved only for men. Maybe just for “alpha” males, hmm?

    Limbaugh and his ilk bear much responsibility for the decay of American society in recent decades. What else could result from the pumping of psychic poison into the minds of listeners day after day without end? Not that he’d care. It’s how he makes his money.

    As for the bullet-riddled photo of Hillary Clinton, that should be interpreted as a death threat against a federal official, and the perpetrators should be so charged and prosecuted. It won’t stop as long as it’s tolerated.

  8. Submitted by rolf westgard on 04/12/2012 - 05:18 am.

    Only the color has changed

    For a change we have a black lynch mob, ready to hang Zimmerman. For a target I suggest those who allow untrained would be policemen to carry guns.

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