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Not like me?

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I once took an online test, involving faces, words, and reaction times, that returned the result “You have a moderate preference for African-Americans over whites.”

Now, I don’t think that’s accurate. Except for my huge weakness for Asian or Asian American children (because they remind me of my own kids, now all grown up), I don’t think I have a preference for any race or ethnicity. (NOTE: Before you get all up in my face, I am not saying that I am not affected by racism in society.)

In the fall of 1952, I went to kindergarten in Des Moines, Iowa. As was the case in much of my early years, my father was somewhere else, finding construction work where he could, and my mother, my 11-months-younger brother, and I were living where we could find a place. It was during the Korean War, there wasn’t a lot of non-military construction going on, and affordable housing was hard to find. The place we were living this time was a basement apartment, not in the best part of town. I remember the plumbing pipes that ran near our ceiling; my mother told me years later that there were rats.

So off I went to kindergarten. It says something about the way kids lived then that at 5, in a city and not the best part of it, I walked alone several blocks to and from school each day.

In my kindergarten class I had two “best” friends and two “second-best” friends. But one of my best friends was special, because I saw her as being the most like me of any of the girls. Why? When I stood behind Karen in line, I was looking straight at the back of her head–she was as tall as I! That was the first and last time I would ever have that experience in school.

We didn’t live there long. I may never have known Karen’s last name, and I can’t remember even the first names of the other best and second-best friends. But I’ve thought of her thousands of times, I’ll bet, in the more than 60 years since then. She had been like me–a tall girl–the only female classmate I would ever have who was as tall as I.

I think it’s to the credit of my mother, a small-town Midwesterner born in 1922, that it never occurred to me that Karen wasn’t like me…although Karen was black. I may have been aware at the time that she was “Negro,” as was politely said then, but I had no awareness, none at all, that she was therefore “not like me.” Lots of girls in my class had my color skin, my color hair, my color eyes, and others had Karen’s. But among them all, only Karen and I could look each other straight in the eye when we held hands to play “London Bridges.”

That was two years before Brown v. Board of Education. So probably I had those two years before I found out (and find out I would, as I was a precocious child given to reading the newspaper) that in many places in the land of the free not only could Karen and I not have been friends, we couldn’t have gone to the same school.

What I know came from that experience is that never in my life have I looked at the color of another person’s skin and automatically thought “not like me.” It’s one of the greatest gifts life has given me.

{Parts of this appeared previously in my LiveJournal.]

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The Rule of Law

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“The rule of law” works only if it is followed by everyone involved in the process, and in far too many cases–and they do include some white defendants (check the Innocence Project if you don’t believe that)–it is not.

Police, prosecutors, AND defense attorneys can be influenced by their own personal bias, can even let it dictate their entire approach. Some police look for the “obvious” (to them) answer, and no further. Some prosecutors want wins, not truth, justice, or fair trials. All defense attorneys want wins–which is their job, after all–but some are willing to smear victims or witnesses, even unfairly or inaccurately, to get the win.

And even if everyone has good intentions, there are some people in those fields who are honest and decent, but not competent to do the job properly. Not to mention, there is the issue of money–budget cuts for police and prosecutors, lack of resources to hire a great defense attorney. Many factors conspire against the process.

But the fact is that the rule of law, even perfectly applied rule of law, CANNOT protect the most basic right, to keep one’s life. Law cannot stop someone from violating another’s right to live. Law certainly deters some potential murderers, because they fear the punishment. But if someone wants to kill another, law cannot stop them. The best law can do, the absolute best, is catch, fairly convict, and appropriately punish the killer. That may (or may not) bring some closure to the survivors. It may feel like “justice.”

But it does nothing, nothing at all, about the violation of the murdered person’s right to live. The only thing that can address that is to stop the killing before it happens. That requires not law, but human change–change in society’s values, change in culture, change in the humans themselves. If we want to stop the violation of the right to live, we must stop people from doing the killing, not punish them after.

(Also published on Facebook and LiveJournal)

Martin and Zimmerman

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There’s the truth and there’s the law. There’s justice and there’s the law. There is no guarantee in our system that they will ever be the same thing. Any honest lawyer will tell you that.

Roland Abcarian wrote in an Orlando Sentinel article: “When all is said and done, the legal evidence was simply not there. There was apparently no way for prosecutors to prove what exactly happened because the only other person who could have contradicted Zimmerman’s story was dead. Even killers get the benefit of the doubt.”

Even killers get the benefit of the doubt. Zimmerman’s rights were protected by the legal system. It was not the task of the system, after the fact, to protect Trayvon Martin’s rights; his rights had already been violated in the most egregious way possible, and nothing the legal system could do would change that.

The only thing that will change that kind of violation of rights–the kind that winds up with the violated person dead–is a change in society, in culture. The law cannot change it. Only we can.

#Signs of Love

An Alison Kirkpatrick blog

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Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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