The George Zimmerman Trial: A Case of Bizarre Dream (or Nightmare) Logic?

Ever notice how bizarre dream logic is? In dreams, the strangest occurrences are accepted as fact and are left unquestioned. Take one I had a few nights ago. I was sitting with a group of writers reading one another’s poetry. When the meeting ended, I decided to lock my poetry journal in a rectangular silver safe. This particular safe, despite being somewhat small, had several compartments. I chose one, deposited my notebook, and locked the door. Then I accidentally pushed a button and out a hole in the side came, of all things, bread dough (multi-grain with sesame seeds, not sure if organic or not). I realized the dough was my journal with all the poems in it, transformed. Upset that I’d lost my poems and also embarrassed at what had happened, I didn’t want my fellow poets to know, but ended up making a joke out of it, saying, “What just happened would make a pretty funny poem, huh?” At no time did I question how a notebook full of poems could be transformed into bread dough. It seemed perfectly reasonable in the dream. That’s dream logic for you.

While contemplating this dream upon awakening, it occurred to me that this strange frame of reference, this dream logic, when something outlandish is accepted as normal, is precisely what we have in the George Zimmerman case. How else to explain how a 17-year-old unarmed black youth carrying a fruit drink and a bag of Skittles could be stalked by a 28-year-old white Hispanic man with a gun who then shoots the unarmed boy, doesn’t get arrested for 44 days, then gets acquitted of all charges? What kind of universe are we living in? Precisely one like one you might encounter in dreams (or more appropriately in this case, in nightmares). In this strange universe, George Zimmerman’s right to defend himself against an unarmed boy is sacrosanct. What about Trayvon Martin’s right to defend himself against a man following him with a gun? No mention of that during the trial.

And strange indeed is the avoidance of any reference to race during the trial. Judge Debra Nelson decided at the beginning of the trial that the word “profiling” — but not the phrase “racial profiling” — could be used in opening statements. Prosecutor John Guy insisted that the case was not about race, despite the fact that in his closing statement, he made an obvious reference to race when he asked the jury to consider a role reversal: would Trayvon Martin be convicted if he had followed and then shot George Zimmerman? Yet Mr. Guy then went on to finish his statement by reminding the jury that the case was not about race. Well, if not because of his race, then why was Trayvon Martin profiled and followed? Because he was a teenager wearing a hoodie? No, because he was a black teenager wearing a hoodie. If Trayvon Martin had been white, it’s highly unlikely George Zimmerman would have called 911. Just consider this fact: all of Zimmerman’s calls to police about suspicious persons involved African-Americans.

Another curious figure in this strange universe is Juror B-37, recently interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN (her face blacked out), who claimed that “George” (as she repeatedly called him) had been “frustrated” by all the break-ins that had been occurring in his gated community. Because he was frustrated, and (get this!) because it was raining (!) and a strange teenager was walking and looking into people’s windows, George Zimmerman then decided to take action. Well, we only have George Zimmerman’s word that Martin was looking into windows. Even if he was, so what? It was dark, and the insides of houses would have been lit up. I often go for walks at dusk in my neighborhood, and I sometimes look in windows (from the street, mind you), my eye caught by a particular wall color, or an interesting lamp or painting. I’ve never been followed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, and certainly not one with a gun (by the way, who ever heard of armed neighborhood watch volunteers?) But I, of course, am a older white woman with grey hair. If I were a boy of Trayvon’s age and race, maybe someone would have called 911 . . . or worse.

The defense claimed that George Zimmerman was walking back toward his car (note: in order to walk back to his car, he had to have gotten out of it to follow Trayvon Martin in the first place)when Martin came up to him, pinned Zimmerman on his back, and assaulted him. We’ll never know what really happened, but even if this account of events were to be true, there needs to be some penalty for someone with a gun going after an unarmed black teen who had been walking in a community minding his own business. Bottom line is, George Zimmerman should have never followed Trayvon Martin, and he certainly should never have followed him with a gun. Once he did that, Trayvon Martin had every right to defend himself. The fact that George Zimmerman was declared not guilty is a travesty of justice. The fact that the prosecution shied away from talking about race and the obvious racial profiling that led to Trayvon’s death is also a travesty. The not guilty verdict also sets a very bad precedent. How many other George Zimmermans are out there (so-called neighborhood watch volunteers or not), secure in the knowledge that if they stalk and then shoot an unarmed black teenager, they’ll get away with it? Strange universe, indeed, and I wish I could wake up and find it all to be just a . . . nightmare.

The NSA Has Nothin’ on This Baby!

With the recent revelations about all the spying the NSA is doing on us American citizens (trolling through phone calls, e-mails, and whatnot), some of us may find ourselves nervously reviewing and thinking back over our phone calls and electronic communications over the past several years. Most of us don’t have any links to terrorists or any involvement in terrorist plots to worry about (unless you count sharing dark wishes concerning the fates of Bush and Cheney from time to time with friends similarly appalled at the invasion of Iraq on false pretenses and so on), but what about other indiscretions we may have shared? What about calls to accountants near tax time about clever schemes to lower what is owed the IRS? What about calls or e-mails to friends about getting together to party with illicit substances, or calls to obtain such substances? At the time, you’d have thought, Nothing to worry about! This is America, land of the free!

Well, even if we’re not as free as we thought we were, I certainly don’t have anything to worry about. My phone and electronic communication of all kinds has always been circumspect. It’s a habit I developed long ago, during my years with Ananda Marga in Australia.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the Australian government considered Ananda Marga a terrorist group, largely because it had been suspected of carrying out the only terrorist attack in that country’s history– a 1978 bombing at the Sydney Hilton during a meeting of Commonwealth leaders. At that time, Ananda Marga’s spiritual leader, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, was imprisoned in India, and the Indian prime minister Morarji Desai claimed that Ananda Marga had attempted to kill him because of it. Although the case has never been solved, Ananda Marga was the prime suspect for years.

Consequently, the Australian government kept close tabs on Ananda Marga. Phones were known to be tapped, so whenever we spoke on the phone to one another, we were always conscious that someone may have been listening in, and we were careful not to divulge any sensitive information about our movements or plans. In particular, we were careful not to say anything to tip off listeners about two particularly sensitive topics: our smuggling business and what we called our “BMs” (bogus marriages).

For many years, when Ananda Marga members went to India, they would carry with them video equipment, either smuggling it into the country (by not declaring it upon entry) or by declaring it, having the information written in their passports, and then getting rid of the incriminating evidence. (The way such evidence could be gotten rid of was by having one’s passport sprayed before the trip, and then, once safely in the country, removing what was written by the custom official with some liquid brought along for the purpose.) Then the contraband would be sold to one of our contacts for a tidy profit, since in those days, India had very high import duties for such equipment. So, whenever we needed to talk about procuring equipment, we’d talk about going shopping. Those listening to such conversations must have been puzzled that nuns and monks, renunciates dedicated to social service, would have had such an avid interest in something so mundane!

“BMs” were done so that Ananda Marga didis and dadas could get citizenship and stay in the country. Obviously, any monk or nun discussing marriage would have caused a few raised eyebrows among our phone tappers, so here we were also models of discretion. Most of these bogus marriages worked out well, and the lucky didi or dada obtained citizenship and could travel back and forth to India without worrying about getting back into Australia. I had one, but mine did not turn out so well. A year or so after my BM, my “husband” disappeared. This was before all of the paperwork was complete, so I was left in limbo, with no legal status, for the rest of my time in the country.

Anyway, all this surveillance, which also included visits (we called them raids) to our centers by Special Branch, the Australian counterpart of the FBI, inculcated in me a lifelong sense of discretion when it came to phone and electronic communication. Back here in the U.S., I might have felt like knocking off Dick Cheney, but I would never have said so over the phone or through an e-mail. The few times I experimented with marijuana after years of abstaining (something I never do now, as marijuana leaves me shivering uncontrollably even in the hottest of weather), I would never have discussed such things over the phone. Code for smoking with one friend included saying, “How about we get together and watch Magical Mystery Tour?”

So I’ve nothing to fear from the NSA. My memoir, The Orange Robe, has lots juicy details about illegal activities, but they are beyond the reach of law enforcement as the statue of limitations has expired on all of them. Likewise the accounts of them in this blog. But, wait! Is the NSA limited by statues of limitations? Uh-oh . . .!