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A Tale of Two Slums

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The aftershocks of Trayvon Martin’s shooting at the hands of self-styled neighborhood watch patroller George Zimmerman keep on coming. Now, it would seem that the tragic event is bringing race relations back the national forefront.

Many pundits have written about how unsafe it is to be a black person in America on any grounds. Others are delving into the finer aspects of what they call white privilege. Yet more believe that the City of Sanford’s legal system is a microcosm of the entire country’s, and stands as proof regarding why black people are kept down. I say that all of this is mostly reactionary, emotionalist rhetoric designed to either elicit a highly charged response or propagate professional victimhood. 

In any case, it certainly does fail to aptly explain the situation. I have my own thoughts on the matter, and these are derived from personal experience. As a central Floridian who has made a full fledged hobby out of studying regional history, I understand the area’s cultural dynamics pretty well. That being said, do allow me to tell a story.

A few months ago, I was driving through a high crime part of town in order to reach a lunch appointment in the suburbs. Despite staying on the main thoroughfare, I nonetheless managed to see droves of young black males sitting on stoops, congregating at corners, and aimlessly walking the streets. In front of ages old shanties sat rusted cars and broken furniture. Storefronts had bars on their windows. To top it all off, groups of roving hoods strolled past the neighborhood police precinct without so much as a moment’s hesitation. In short, the place fit every stereotype imaginable about life in the black inner city.

Several weeks later, I was off to a historical museum over an hour away. It was a very pleasant drive for the most part, but with a major caveat. I had to pass through an unfortunate stretch of forest which immediately reminded me of the aforementioned ghetto. Why? Because I saw the exact same things; shanties fronted by scraps of metal passing for automobiles, males congregating on the junctions of dirt roads, and battered storefronts. The only difference was that the people around me were lily white.

Most outside observers would never put both of these places under the same category. After all, one is urban and the other rural. Neither have any ethnic or racial demographic similarities to speak of. Where it really counts, though, they could not be more alike. In terms of culture, abysmal mores are shared, which is likely the result of longstanding detrimental economic conditions. Indeed, this is the beating heart of social inequality.

Trayvon Martin’s death could have just as easily taken place out in the sticks as it did in the city. His race was probably not as much of motivating factor as the fear of crime was. As all social writers and scientists very well know, fiscal malaise is the root of most criminal activity. Should the American public really want to ensure that Martin’s unfortunate demise does not become the stuff of normalcy, then it would be prudent to request that private and public sector agencies attempt to teach marketable skills to the downtrodden. Receiving a worthwhile college or trade school education is akin to being taught how to fish rather than asking for the left overs from another’s catch.

Economic advancement is the key to a brighter tomorrow for untold millions. Redistributing wealth on a chronic basis has already been tried via the late President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs. It goes without saying that these were a monumental failure. Those protesting Martin’s shooting should be honoring his memory by lobbying major charities and their public officeholders for viable community outreach measures. Demanding that police arrest Zimmerman when he, sad as it is to say, might not be guilty under state law is ridiculous. It is through proactive, as opposed to reactive, activity that the cornerstones for a safer and more socioeconomically sustainable future may be laid.

Race, in the grander scheme of things, should be considered but a mere footnote in achieving this.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Ah. Racism has nothing to do with it, it’s all just “reactionary, emotionalist rhetoric designed to either elicit a highly charged response or propagate professional victimhood.”

    I think George Zimmerman had something to say about that: “Fucking coon!”

    Joseph, you’re propagating the false equivalency, trying to make it seem as if the whites have it just as bad as the blacks…and you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a logical fallacy to look at one group in a city and look at another group in a rural setting and then tell yourself that “it must be this way all over the nation”.

    Many whites – and particularly those Down South – want to believe that they’ve got it just as bad as the blacks do, that racism isn’t nearly the problem that blacks say it is. But the numbers clearly say different. The overall numbers clearly show that by any measure blacks face a lot tougher time in America than whites…and wishing otherwise won’t make it so.

    Joseph, there was a time that I thought that all the brouhaha about racism was just moonshine, too. But my eyes are open now. Perhaps part of the reason why you don’t see how deep the racism runs is that you’re in Florida – which, despite its geographical location – has never really been accepted by the Deep South as really being Southern. They see Florida more as The Great Northern Retirement Home. Sorry, but that’s how it is. I’m sure you do see some racism (see Zimmerman’s quote above), but it’s a mistake to think that the level of racism you see (or think you don’t see) is about the same all over. It’s not. I promise you that Florida doesn’t hold a candle to the Deep South when it comes to racism.

  • John Lake

    The difference being that the blacks, like their parents and grandparents have been targeted for discrimination and have in many cases shown extreme tolerance. Consider M.L. Kings inspirational drive for passive resistance.
    In some areas the situation is incredibly unbelievably improved. But there are still areas. Florida has a reputation as a place I wouldn’t like to visit. Not because of racial situations, just government corruption.
    Speaking of government, if the Republicans get their way in November, and begin cutting entitlements, all these situations will become intolerable.

  • Cannonshop

    #2 Maybe those situations need to become intolerable to break the dependency cycle? Maybe conditions have to get to a point that is SO bad, that the easy way out for one generation stops being the easy way out for the next? Government action hides poverty, it doesn’t end it.

  • jamminsue

    Cannonshop, what the black people, and everyone unemployed in Florida and elsewhere need are JOBS. That’s all. But, they need to be decent jobs, full time, none of the Wal-Mart crap of 30 hours at minimum wage. The jobs need to pay enough to cover rent and food. Minimum Wages are almost there now, but not quite.

  • Igor

    #3-Cannon: seems to recommend violent revolution:

    Maybe those situations need to become intolerable to break the dependency cycle? Maybe conditions have to get to a point that is SO bad, that the easy way out for one generation stops being the easy way out for the next?

  • Cannonshop

    #5 Igor, the entitlement culture is a cage, and not all reactions to intolerable situations need be violent-but the situation DOES need a different approach-one that works, which the current one does not-the current situation perpetuates the problem and hides it from scrutiny, kind of like pain meds and a bandage hiding an infected wound when what it needs is actual treatment to kill the infection and encourage healthy tissue growth.

    Entitlements (briefly) deal with the symptoms of poverty, but they leave the problems that caused it in place generation after generation. Transfer payments don’t cure unemployment, don’t address ignorance, don’t build dignity, and don’t provide growth and a worthwhile future.

    Instead, they keep people at a level where they’re not QUITE uncomfortable enough to do something about the situation, while keeping them weak and dependent on transfer payments and entitlements and those that grant them. Basically “Kept just poor enough that they have to support their owners”.

    Now, I don’t know about you, but I consider the idea of my income being taxed to keep other people down to be a bad thing. Maybe you think it’s a great idea, maybe not.

  • Cannonshop

    #1 There’s a couple things to consider in the Martin case:

    Zimmerman pursued Martin, and initiated a confrontation. That part’s consistent with nearly ALL versions of the event.

    Martin may have reacted to this by punching Zimmerman-that part is mostly held by Zimmerman “fans”.

    Okay, now, (follow along here…)

    What if Trayvon Martin weren’t a boy…hell, what if he wasn’t black, either?

    insert ALL the other evidence, but let’s pretend for a moment Martin was a seventeen year old girl named..oh…melissa or something.

    Would this discussion even be happening? would Zimmerman be ANYWHERE OTHER than a cell, waiting to be arraigned on charges?

    Seriously, would he?

    No. Of course not. EVERYONE knows the pervasiveness of violence directed at women, and is disgusted by it.

    What Zimmerman did, was not self defense, it doesn’t QUALIFY as self-defense even with Black, male, 17 year old Trayvon bashing him into the sidewalk, and here’s why:

    It’s not self-defense when you initiate hostilities, when you chase down and confront someone, you are not playing defense, you’re playing offense. Zimmerman was armed, Martin was not. Flordia has a “Stand your ground” law-Martin, not Zimmerman, was in the right here-a gun is a LETHAL WEAPON, Zimmerman had one, Martin didn’t. IF Martin attacked, it might not have been the WISEST move, but it was, and would be rightly considered, an act of self-defense against a hostile attacker armed with a gun.

    It’s just that, in this case, the defense lost, and the attacker’s had time to muddy the issue real good.

  • Igor

    #6-Cannon: sorry, don’t have time right now, “Great Expectations” is on PBS. The Good Old days when servants and workers weren’t coddled and Capitalists could operate free of such effete rules as child labor laws, workplace hazards, poisoned wells, etc. Rampant diseases like TB, cholera, polio, etc., were allowed to carry out their judgements.

    Yeah, it’s all this coddling and “safety Nets” that’s ruining workers. Just ask Mitt.

  • Cannonshop

    #8 Igor, try reading for content sometime, instead of reciting the slogans as they were when you were a teenager and the SDS was cool.

    The present system HIDES THE PROBLEM, it doesn’t solve it, it merely makes the ‘beneficiaries’ dependent and promotes the continuation of the problem.

    A hand-out is not a hand-up, giving someone a cheque every week doesn’t educate them, food stamps don’t feed them adequately, Section 8 Housing is, frankly, a horrible place to live, and the problems that put people ON those programmes get to continue going on, and on, and on, and people such as yourself pat themselves on the back for being “good” while doing NOTHING to actually address the causes you so proudly wrap around yourselves.

    Addressing the problems of poverty requires INDIVIDUAL action-Collective solutions have failed us-like anything diluted over large areas, they never provide enough to actually change things, they only provide folk like you a sense of moral superiority for supporting a policy you would not pursue with your own funds, your own life energy, or your own time were you not being forced to by the government gun.

    Slums and trailer parks are still full of unemployed people, whose education or lack thereof KEEPS them unemployed, who are hungry in SPITE of food, rent, and other public assistance, in part because of the same shoddy education and resulting ignorance, and in part because no matter HOW much ‘assistance’ you pour in, it’s never going to be enough.

    There HAS to be a different way, a way to get the people who WANT out of that, and are willing to work to GET out, out of it.

    you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. You MIGHT be able to help their kids, or their family, but you’re NOT helping them if you just blindly dump money to salve your aching conscience from a safe distance.

    That’s what we’ve got now-Dump it at a safe distance, and wring your hands over how miserable these people you wouldn’t condescend to talk to are.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop, I think Igor’s point is that if you want those unemployed filling the slums and the trailer parks to have any hope of “movin’ on up”, they first need to be alive to do so. You can make all the educational opportunities for them you want, but those opportunities won’t help unless they’re alive and in good health to take those opportunities.

    And let’s not forget that no matter what path you choose, it’s going to cost a bucketful of taxpayer dollars – and the biggest bucketful will be the choice of doing nothing at all for them, for then comes crime and unpaid emergency-room visits.

  • Igor

    Maybe Cannonshop just likes to see people suffer and die so that he feels successful by comparison.

    Maybe he’s taken GWBush’s dictum to heart “poor people are poor because they’re lazy”. So, as any good christian knows, death and poverty are gods judgement on the lazy.

  • Cannonshop

    #10 Glenn, what you and Igor are missing the perfectly obvious if you ever came out of your comfortable upper-middle class gated communities and LOOKED.

    Or, y’know, TALKED to these people.

    Public Assistance programmes aren’t feeding them-at least, not food that is healthy, Housing assistance lets them live in areas that are effectively toxic, and public schools aren’t teaching their kids.

    Full Stop. It’s a multipart problem, keeping them barely alive enough to vote the machine pols isn’t helping them. Your Collective Solutions only succeed in making YOU feel Better about YOURSELF.

    Igor (11):
    It’s really simple: If you really care, you need to do something about it-not compel someone ELSE to do something, you need to do it, and if it’s about your ‘community’ your friends, need to do something about it. Because if your solution is, put bluntly, “Make someone else do it” then you ARE the problem.

  • roger nowosielski

    But that’s the liberal way, Cannon, my man. That’s what the government is for.

  • Igor

    Cannon should get an Olympic Gold medal for Leaping To Conclusions.