“Only in America can a dead Black boy go on trial for his own murder.”
—Huffington Post blogger Syreeta McFadden
Much has been made of televised trials and their relative pros and cons in educating and informing the public about the legal system. A secondary byproduct is the chance to observe America’s beliefs and moral precepts in action. The inclusion of media coverage enables the court room (ordained to determine the merits of a specific case) to become a stage for the close scrutiny of social issues well outside the confines of the legal process. Thusly, the now month-old verdict for George Zimmerma in the case of the murder of Trayvon Martin mushroomed from a manslaughter proceeding into a forum about racial conflict and the public perception of Black males.
America has always had an infatuation with demons, either real or imagined. Often these menaceing threats are merely conceived as part of a large, separate agenda orchestrated out of economic necessity and say more about the mindset and time in which they were conceived than any actual specter looming above to wage physical harm.
This practice was in place well before the settlement of the New World. The Middle Age conflicts, now known as the Crusades, may have officially been launched out of a desire to wrestle control of religious sites in the Holy Land away from heretics, but it had a residual effect on the economic enrichment of European Catholicism and the geographic spread of the faith’s political influence.
European settlers then focused their evangelic zeal across the Atlantic to bring Christianity to the “red-skinned savages,” and used this same rationale to enlist Africans to shape these newly liberated lands into a Eurocentric ideal, while conveniently filling the coffers of their sponsoring countries as well as enhancing the fortunes of their descendants.
This is not just a grim footnote of ancient history; it has enjoyed a more or less steady existence throughout the centuries. The post-World War II 20th century was dominated by a Cold War arms race fueled by the dual menace of communist takeover and nuclear apocalypse. Once this was over, the void for America’s terror addiction was filled by scores of defense contractors sounding the alarm (and lining their war chests) for the emerging threat of Islamic militancy.
Among the more common current manifestations of this obsession is the practice of law enforcement and politicians to use the public’s fear of crime in order to justify operating budgets and elections to public office. This mindset is arguably the motivating factor behind the lion’s share of our ongoing conspiracy theories, and the continued success of horror movies at the box office.
Throughout the development of this fledgling country, immigrants have stepped ashore and gone through the long process of being ostracized, while slowly being accepted into the cauldron of the American melting pot. It takes a while, but slowly the suspicion of the unfamiliar dissipates, and the new arrivals move up the pecking order.
John F. Kennedy’s 1963 presidential election marked the final rung in the climb to respectability for the Irish, long disparaged as street fighters and public drunkards, habitual hooligans for whom the “paddy wagon” was devised. In due course, Italians, and other ethnicities have in turn climbed their way from association with criminality, a compulsory occupation for outsiders excluded from legitimate livelihood. The latest ethnic incarnation of foreign “boogey men,” the Russian mob, has been denigrated in such pop culture vehicles as the movie “Training Day” (2001), but they, too, will likely make the assent to respectability within a few decades.