Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schw...

Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was an especially tough weekend. The Trayvon Martin killing took me back to June 21, 1964 when three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were found lynched and mutilated near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

It also prompted recall of what happened to James Byrd, Jr., a Texan who, in 1998, was dragged by white supremacists behind a swerving truck for three miles until he finally died when his broken, battered and tortured body mercifully struck a roadside curb.

That isn’t to say that Trayvon Martin’s murder rises to the same level of horror as these cases…Trayvon got off easy with a bullet to the chest…but who can deny that his murderer, George Zimmerman, saw Trayvon as anything other than an outsider, an “other,” who didn’t belong were he, Zimmerman, found him. For that transgression Trayvon Martin lost his life.

But the bigger issue in this tragedy is the underlying narrative that turns a man like Zimmerman into an instrument of evil. It’s the same “not-one-of-us” narrative that killed the three civil rights activists and James Byrd Jr. and makes it okay for Rush Limbaugh to say that Michelle Obama is “guilty of uppity-ism”; that obsessively questions Barack Obama’s right to be president based upon imagined birth places; and, that allows Newt Gingrich to claim that President Obama “engages in Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior”, and makes Rick Santorum comfortable when he accuses President Obama of following a “non-bible theology” and that his agenda is “about some phony ideal, some phony theology.”

But, most dangerously, it’s a narrative that labels President Obama as the Antichrist, a belief held by nearly a quarter of all Republicans. In this hateful and toxic environment, is it any wonder that, according to a 2009 article in The Telegraph, “the rate of [death] threats against the president has increased 400 per cent from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush…”

One month ago, if President Obama, wearing a hoodie, had followed Trayvon Martin’s path, he might well have taken a bullet in the chest from George Zimmerman’s gun. He, too, would have been an outsider in Zimmerman’s sick and distorted mind…an “uppity Negro” who was where he should not have been.

In time, maybe George Zimmerman and the “stand your ground” law that protects him will be put on trial. Maybe something will change as a result. But I doubt it, because the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) likes things the way they are. After all, fear is good for business. It sells guns and rallies Republicans behind their movement to unseat a black president.

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