Posted tagged ‘Florida’

What Could Possibly Go Wrong

January 21, 2015

When self selected vigilantes assaulting armed strangers in public spaces?

Consider this incident:

According to the Hillsborough  Sheriff’s Office, [African-American] 62-year-old Clarence Daniels was entering Walmart with his legally concealed firearm to buy coffee creamer on Tuesday when he was spotted by 43-year-old vigilante Michael Foster.

Foster, who is white, had observed Daniels conceal the weapon under his coat before he came into the store. When Daniels crossed the threshold, Foster tackled him and placed him in a chokehold…

Florida, Jake…but at least the worst outcomes were avoided:

He’s got a gun!” Foster reportedly exclaimed.

“I have a permit!” Daniels repeatedly shouted back.

After a struggle, the men were separated. Deputies later arrived and Foster was charged with battery.

V0017125 Head of a man, composed of nude figures. Oil painting.

So:  no one died.  Good.

A couple of thoughts, though:  (a) what kind of asshole do you have to be to decide that you want to walk around looking for folks to bash based on whether they look hinky to you?  B)  if it’s really all about guns, then what’s going to keep you from going all George Zimmerman at any point in the drama?  That this ended with neither the victim nor the self-appointed asshole on a gurney is just a signal that FSM was dangling its noodly appendage down Hillsborough way that day, nothing more.

The most obvious take away is, of course, that this couldn’t possibly be about race because (nods to Charlie Pierce) it’s never about race.  Except…

Again, I see it as a near miracle that the legal gun owner who happened to be black is still alive right now.  The white vigilante is lucky too, certainly — jumping a guy with a gun is not a long-term health strategy — but we’ve seen too much lately of what even the merest hint that an African American man or kid! might be armed does to their odds.

But I want to point out the essential current here, the unifying thread that runs through all of these incidents, the tragedies and the bathetic ones alike.  That’s fear, brought on by the worship of the gun.  How on earth is vigilante-ism even a thing in 2015 America?  It’s because the toxic combination of racial and class politics and unlimited arsenals produce terror and rage in equal and toxic admixture.

Worst of all is then how normal this all seems to those in the midst of it.  Consider this advice:

“The Sheriff’s Office recommends that vigilante-inclined citizens refrain from taking matters into their own hands, especially when an incident is gun-related,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

McKinnon said that vigilantes should “make sure there’s a good reason” before tackling gun owners.

Ya think?

In the end the fact that actual bad guys do not in fact carry neon signs to identify them  (no Poor Impulse Control tattoos yet) means that, well, it’s a target rich environment.

“Unfortunately he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen,” McKinnon noted. “We understand it’s alarming for people to see other people with guns, but Florida has a large population of concealed weapons permit holders.”

In other words:  be careful out there.  Someone, soon, is going to get killed in one of these stunts.  And once again the tree of liberty will be watered with the blood of someone just going about their business, or a kid who happens to be in the next aisle when the stray shot comes home or…

Not to mention, except I will, again:  the racial element here.  White guys chasing black guys they fear is an old trope in American life.  It’s with us still.  Video at eleven.

PS:  I’m totally with Bryant Gumbel here.

Image: F. Balbi, The head of a man composed of writhing nude figuresposs. 1868.

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You Know It’s Tough All Over…

August 26, 2011

…When even the usually reliable Carl Hiaasen can’t crack a joke.

I’m a devoted reader of Hiaasen’s fiction — I’ve even tracked down one of his early co-authored novels.  And while rage at what the greedheads and buffoons have done to his beloved Florida animates everything he writes, he’s managed to retain both a capacity for awe and fun in the face of the absurdity that is that hallucination of a state.

So I had high hopes of some get-away-from-it all when I picked up his latest,  Star Island.  Some old favorites are back, notably Clinton Tyree, (aka Captain, aka Governor, aka Skink), and Chemo (don’t ask).  It has a promising premise, involving a drug-and-fame-addled tone-deaf pop star, a plucky and lovely lookalike, an utterly unlovely papparazo, with a bit of real estate fraud, GBH by sea urchin, and more thrown in for spice.  It looked good in the airport bookshop…

But nothing’s funny.  I finished it over lunch today, and it turns out that no one has any righteous joy at even a temporary triumph over the forces of huckster-evil.  No innocents wise up and save themselves amidst hilarity.  There isn’t really even any righteous revenge:  even when the sea-urchin attackee gets killed, it’s only for being a common or garden variety fraudster; his demise comes off stage; and he leaves us with only minimal Hiassen/Florida flamboyance.

For the rest?  The book reads OK.  There are a few fine set pieces — the best of which was Skink’s assault on the condo-deal tour bus.  Hiaasen’s a pro, and his basic craft hasn’t deserted him.  It’s only his astonished joy at the pure ridiculousness of his chosen home that’s MIA.

My diagnosis?

Hiaasen doesn’t write politics explicitly into his books — politicians, yes, but he mostly focuses on more generally human folly (to which are heir even Florida pols, only nominally accorded co-species status).

But the reality that he and we confront right now seems to have outstripped his capacity to mock.  Florida, as so often, is once again a test tube environment in which national pathologies grow in virulence — and monotonously self-destructive people just aren’t funny.    Just to take one of its most prominent current f**k-ups, Rick Scott is not to be cloaked with grandeur of any of these guys, but irony is a thin shield against the kind of implacable malice and/or stupidity that can find Hiaasen with every morning’s newspaper.

Nothing funny doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless; best not to laugh when there’s so much work to be done between now and November, 2012.  And certainly, Rick Scott — whom I take here as a stand in both for Florida’s woes and the current disastrous state of the GOP nationally — is inducing some serious buyer’s remorse.   But, while I know it is probably just me, reacting to one of my favorite summer authors having a down book, I have to say I was struck by how hard it is even for someone who has made a fine career out of laughing at life’s rich pageant just ain’t finding it easy to smile anymore.

Image:  John Singer Sargent (sic! — color me surprised too), Muddy Alligators, 1917.

Program Notes: New York Times on the Hardest Job in Science…

August 24, 2008

Or at least in the top ten: Check out this story on someone who sounds like a fantastic teacher of high school biology in Florida, doing his best to put evolution all the way back into the curriculum.

I’ve no doubt that the science blogosphere will pick up on this piece, and it should. But as someone who has taken a fair share of potshots at the Times and some of its writers lately, I thought it was dead down the middle of the “credit where credit is due” imperative to note that the paper and reporter Amy Harmon did a fine job here.

Image: Henri Rousseau, “Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo” 1908. Source: Wikimedia Commons.