April 11, 2012 was an interesting day in American justice. A single issue in American culture was very publicly spotlighted by bookend type cases.
Charles Manson was denied parole for the 12th time. Like many 20 somethings of the 1990s, I had a keen interest in the failed policies of the 1960s and Charles Manson was the poster child. A buddy of mine even had Manson’s album (“Garbage dump, my garbage dump…”). Existing as a cult of personality masquerading as an agent of populist cultural change. In interviews archived from the times of the Tate murders and in jail house interviews from intervening years, Manson seemed slightly disinterested in the whole idea of a race war which was purportedly his reason for orchestrating the murders. He always seemed less interested in the content of what he was saying than the circus that would surround him saying it. Today he would be the ultimate media whore. Those young women in his “family” seemed far more committed to him and his cause than he ever was to them or it. Whether Manson’s parole was denied because of the ongoing misguided “followers” and threat to America or because he has been a really lousy inmate, is a moot point. What matters is that one man’s dream of inciting a race war in America failed.
As a bookend to the news of Manson’s denied parole is the arrest of George Zimmerman. Accused of 2nd degree murder in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman avoided indictment and arrest for weeks while protests grew and race based shooting occurred in Tulsa, OK. In an ideal world, Zimmerman would have turned himself in immediately, expressed sincere and public remorse and Martin’s family would have eventually moved on to forgiveness, thereby healing the community and establishing a dialogue for the nation. Instead, the death of Trayvon Martin has nearly ignited the kind of race war that Manson could never have hoped for. Now that Zimmerman has been arrested, can there be sensible dialogue? This is where it gets sticky. The shooting in Tulsa certainly must cause concern among blacks about racial based violence. On the other hand, the appearance of the irrelevant old war horses of civil rights, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, certainly do not calm the fears of whites that this matter will result in a new era of understanding and friendship between the races. The doomsday preppers and the new Black Panthers are not helping either.
What is needed is open frank dialogue. Trayvon was a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. May his soul reset in peace in the arms of the Lord. But what we need on earth is to not let his death lead to further violence or a return to the status quo. Profiling is wrong. But. Why are so many whites or even non-whites, afraid of young black males? Why are there so many communities (like mine in central IL) where blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics work and go to school together, then return home to segregated neighborhoods? Manson is probably laughing his ass off in his cell. All these years later, race is still a ticking bomb waiting to explode.
As a child of the 1980s, I was promised many things for my future. Flying cars. Colonies on the moon. A computer in every home. But mostly, I was promised a color blind society, where every child had a chance to grow up. Where is it?