The media is consumed 24/7 with the Trayvon Martin killing both on the left and the right. Appropriately so. There have been other killings like this, but unlike those, Trayvon's killing has penetrated and captured the public consciousness. The audio of the killing with a voice calling desperately for help has gone viral. People can relate. The victim was a 17 yr old boy and the shooter was an adult male. The boy was black and the shooter was a white man -- George Zimmerman. When the police arrived on the scene, Mr. Zimmerman, who carried a concealed weapon, admitted to shooting Trayvon. This happened on February 26, 2012. Trayvon Martin is dead. Zimmerman has not been arrested or charged as of today.
On November 19, 2011, there was a killing in White Plains, New York which did not capture the media's attention. The headlines in the local press read: Officer Fatally Shoots Hatchet Wielding Man; Police Shoot Disturbed Man Carrying Knife. (was this reporting based on information provided by the police?) Those press reports are now invalidated by police video documentation and medical alert company audio, obtained by the victim's son.
The man the police shot was 68 year old Kenneth Chamberlain. He was sleeping in his apartment in White Plains when his medical alert pendant was triggered. He wore it for a heart condition. The Alert Service did not get an immediate response when they tried to contact him, via their speaker/recorder installed in his home. Their protocol is to call the police to investigate the medical emergency. This they did. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Chamberlain awoke and told the medical alert company that he was alright. They canceled the police alert. Despite this the police proceeded to his apartment. They demanded entrance even though he told them he was OK and was afraid of letting them in. (per the audio) The police ignored his pleas and broke down the door, took it off its hinges. They went in, tasered him, then shot him dead in his home. The police video shows a man, standing naked except for a pair of boxer shorts, with his empty hands at his side. A poignant irony of Kenneth's shooting, among many others, is that he was buried with full military honors. He was a Unites States Marine who served his country in Viet Nam.
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now covers Mr Chamberlain's shooting in detail and interviews his son. Like Trayvon, Kenneth Chamberlain was black.
Some very brief thoughts on societal factors contributing to these shootings:
* The militarization of the police since 9/11
* The growing insecurity in a society, where personal responsibility is emphasized to the society at large, while income is redistributed upward to the 1%. This trend, starting in the 1970's, increased exponentially since the 2008 crisis. Additionally, the push for privatization while cutting the government safety net, has ratcheted up our economic insecurity. All of society is feeling the anxiety created by this insecurity, including the police.
* The fear promoted and fed by some politicians and media
* The growing conservative/religious movement fostering fear of "The Other" evidenced by stricter immigration laws, increased government surveillance, legislative attacks on women's rights, increased covert racism (eg. many states limiting voting rights, which disproportionally affects the poor and minorities)
* The success of the NRA in promoting the weaponization of our society in which the individual is urged to purchase guns to defend against all threats.
* The US is the arms dealer here and to the world (people the world over, may not be able to feed their children, but they have guns. security world expo, Weapons Trade Shows
* Despite or maybe because of the crash of 2008, which gave us the "Great Recession", security firms and defense contractors are thriving and have done well in the Stock Market.
These two killings did not happen in a vacuum. The societal context for incidents like this is expanding as evidenced by the above list. I believe the only way to reverse these trends is to develop an alternative vision for society backed by a strong popular movement. And this will take decades and will probably include violent action. Power is not surrendered easily.
“We live in interesting times.” (a chinese saying)