Every now and then, there comes a moment in the national dialogue when Americans tilt their gaze toward Florida and say, “Dude, what is wrong with you?”
Florida held the free world hostage in 2000 while it inspected hanging chads. This is the state where Casey Anthony became a parent, where Terry Jones became a pastor, and where Appalachian addicts could come to be showered with oxycodone pills.
And now Florida’s the state where a neighborhood watchman like George Zimmerman gunned down a black 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin for being “a real suspicious guy.” The part that’s ignited the nation’s “Dude, what’s wrong with you” impulse this time is that Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested.
Among national media sources, Gawker at least has the courtesy of being candid with its disgust:
Like so many other parts of Florida, Sanford is a little place with a little character ringed with the overwhelmingly white suburban crudscape of gated developments named after the beautiful things that were bulldozed to make them—places where local police and Golf Cops automatically view any black person not behind the wheel of a Honda Odyssey as criminally suspicious. Trayvon could have been shot dead in Hillsborough, Duval, Escambia, or Broward County, too.
Just a tad shrill, isn’t it? If I can focus my coconut rum-bleary Fort Lauderdale mind for a moment, I believe it’s suggesting that all Floridians, especially those who reside in the named counties, should feel shame about the shooting in Sanford, because our culture is uniquely qualified to produce a similar incident.
Oh, fuck that.
By that logic, Florida must be the only state that has suburbs where hideous subdivisions have bucolic names. This is the only state where cops engage in racial profiling.
News flash: Gated communities and racist cops are in every state. In fact, Florida might be the most American state in the union. The state’s got islands of metropolitan blue surrounded by an ocean of red. We’re chained to our cars. We spend more time with our flat screen than with our neighbors. We don’t give a shit about local or state politics. We have an instinctual distrust of other races and cultures, causing us to congregate with our own kind. And we feel a little bit safer with a .44 strapped to our side. This isn’t Florida. This is America!
So the question isn’t what’s wrong with Florida. To the people who are shocked and appalled that an incident like Trayvon Martin could happen, the question is what America are you living in?
Not that shaming Floridians is completely counterproductive; let’s just be a little more targeted. In particular, let’s hurl a larger portion of that invective in the direction of Florida’s Republican legislature. As Jeffrey Toobin points out, the NRA lobbied for and GOP legislators passed the absurd “stand your ground” law. It’s because of that law that Zimmerman, who clearly provoked an altercation with Martin, is unlikely to be charged. From a justice standpoint, this is outrageous.
But the incident itself — a racially paranoid, self-styled vigilante going too far in protecting his turf — is not extraordinary or outrageous. It’s American. If Floridians have to feel shame about it, so do the rest of y’all.