Archive for April 1, 2012
Surely the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) would never fan the flames of racism… Check this out: NBC News has reportedly launched an internal investigation to find out how an edited version of a crucial 911 recording in the Trayvon Martin case came to be aired on the network. The investigation, reported by the Washington Post on Saturday, is in response to allegations that a recording of a conversation between a 911 operator and George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin, was edited by NBC News in a way that would make Zimmerman’s actions in the case seem to be more racially motivated than they actually were. This story started to gain steam on Friday when a key difference between the actual 911 recording and a version that had been played on NBC’s TODAY SHOWwas pointed out by Sean Hannity on his FOX News program Friday night.
Here are the two versions, according to various reports appearing on Sunday, including this one on the Hollywood Reporter Web site:
In the first, edited version, Zimmerman is heard saying: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”
In the second, unedited passage, he is heard saying: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.”
And the dispatcher says: “OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?”
And that’s when Zimmerman says: “He looks black.”
The crucial difference is that, in the unedited version, Zimmerman is saying the person “looks black” because he was asked by the 911 dispatcher to determine the individual’s ethnicity. In the edited version, Zimmerman is made to seem as if he’s volunteering that this person who’s “up to no good” . . . “looks black.” In the wake of the editing revelation, NBC is being accused of deliberately editing the recording to make it seem as if the tape proves Zimmerman “racially profiled” Martin before their confrontation. If the edit was intentional, the critics are saying, then NBC is guilty of deliberately fanning the flames in a case that has the entire country debating issues of justice and race.
Presumably, NBC’s internal investigation will be aimed at finding out if the edit was done deliberately for just that effect or, in what could be just as logical an explanation, it was edited merely to fit into a tight time-frame in which every second counts. That’s not an uncommon occurrence in the TV-news production process. Challenge what you think. Question what you see and hear and don’t rush to judgement. Having worked in the broadcast industry for decades, I am pretty sure I could find something in this report to edit for time constraints without changing the meaning of what someone said.
ORLANDO, Florida — (DMN) – Analysis of the emergency phone call made just before the unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martinwas killed in Sanford, Florida, have cast further doubt on the story of George Zimmerman that he carried out the shooting in self-defence. Zimmerman has claimed that the voice screaming on the 911 call was his own. He told police that Martin attacked him, punched him to the ground and bashed his head against the pavement before Zimmerman pulled the trigger. But voice experts contacted by the Orlando Sentinel told the newspaper that in their opinion the screams were almost certainly not made by Zimmerman, but were more likely to have come from Martin.
Since the shooting on 26 February, information leaked from the police inquiry has purported to show that Zimmerman was acting in self-defence. He has yet to be charged, having claimed immunity under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground law”. But in the past few days details have emerged that cast doubt on this version of events. The Sentinel asked Tom Owen, a forensic consultant, to analyse the 911 call that had been made by a woman in the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community in Sanford where the shooting happened. Using voice identification technology, he said he had found a 48% match between the recording and a separate tape of Zimmerman’s voice.
But given the clarity of the recording, Owen estimated that a 90% match should have been achieved. “As a result of that, you can say with reasonable scientific certainty that it’s not Zimmerman,” Owen told the paper, adding that he could not confirm the screams came from Martin because he had no tape of the teenager’s voice with which to compare. The shooting continues to inflame community feeling in Florida and beyond. On Saturday, thousands of protestors marchedthrough Sanford led by the activist Al Sharpton.
The Guardian contributed this report.
There is a reason polygraph examinations are not admissible in court. They are known to be wrong. That being said, police find them useful as an investigative tool and public employers sometimes use them in the application process. Two days ago, a story was leaked by an anonymous source at the Liberty County (Texas) Sheriff’s office that April Davis, little Devon’s mother, had failed part of a polygraph examination concerning her missing 2-year old. Did that admission taint public perception? I expect that it did. Was it newsworthy? At the time, I thought it was.
Here’s what is known. Distraught father Mike Davis asked to pray Saturday morning with volunteers who had spent four days searching the woods and bayous of Liberty County for his toddler son. “We knelt down there on the ground next to my van and we prayed that our Lord would lead our searchers to the young boy, and give the family peace,” said Texas Equusearch coordinator Ken DeFoor. The father broke down in tears, DeFoor said. About 45 minutes later, searchers reviewing high-resolution images from a drone aircraft spotted a red dot in the southeast side of an algae-covered pond.
It was the red shirt worn by 2½-year-old Devon Davis, whose body was floating in the pond about 300 yards from his family’s house. The pond had been searched before, but plants covering the surface kept the boy’s body from view, officials said. The discovery brought the desperate search for little Devon to a somber close. The boy disappeared from his home at the Sam Houston Lakes Estate near Cleveland on Tuesday. His mother, April Davis, said she put him down for a nap, bolted the front door, then went to sleep herself for 20 minutes. She awoke about 3:30 p.m. to find Devon gone and the door open. He was last seen wearing a red and gray jersey T-shirt and jeans.
Liberty County Sheriff’s spokesman Rex Evanssaid Devon’s death “appears accidental.” “We’re all human,” Evans said. “I don’t think (the mother) did anything intentional at all.” The family had just driven to Texas from Virginia, and she was probably exhausted, he said. The Davis family moved to Liberty County two weeks ago. They are living temporarily in the home of an Army buddy who helped Devon’s father, Mike, find a job as a machinist. Mike Davis was not home when Devon vanished Tuesday.
Almost 100 people spent four days looking for the red-headed toddler his mother described as “the sweetest child.” Sharpshooters accompanied search teams to protect them from alligators, wild hogs and poisonous snakes that prowl the area’s woods and bayous. “Our searchers are very exhausted,” DeFoor said. “It’s hot out here, these woods are thick, they’ve been going since Wednesday morning all day long, and it’s very taxing, but we’re very relieved that there’s a conclusion to the search. It’s a bad conclusion, but it’s a conclusion at least.” Texas Equusearch volunteers launched the drone about 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, the first day that weather permitted, DeFoor said. “Once we got the photographs from the airplane back to the outpost, we reviewed the images and you could see a red color that looked out of place,” he said.
A helicopter flew over to confirm, and Texas Rangersrecovered the boy’s body around 1:50 p.m. When authorities gave the devastating news to Devon’s mother, she “broke down hysterically,” DeFoor said. “April took it very hard,” he said. “I’m a retired captain of the Houston Police Departmentand I don’t care how tough you are, or how long you’ve been a policeman, if that doesn’t touch your heart, I don’t know what will.” And with this story a couple of thoughts come to mind. When it comes to missing babies, the first suspects are usually the parents and/or other family members. Right or wrong, that’s just the way investigations tend to go so, of course, anything that can help authorities find a missing baby is, as far as I am concerned, worthwhile information. In hindsight though, once again, the polygraph has shown why it is fallible and prone to error and once again another reason to not rush to judgement.
I really don’t have any sympathy for killers let alone cop killers but this is Texas home of a huge number of DNA and non-DNA exonerations. I am also not a proponent of capital punishment but if we are going to kill in our name…lets get it right. Like so many before him, Texas death row inmate Robert Gene Will IIsays he’s not guilty. Given the state of Texas’ record in seeing its death sentences carried out, the odds on getting the right people to believe him are not great. But there have been exceptions. Will insists that if he can get a fair hearing, he will be another one. He admits he was no saint in his younger days, that he ran with a bad crowd, and yes, that he and a buddy were breaking into a car on the morning of Dec. 4, 2000, when a spotlight suddenly caught them in its glare. Within moments his life changed forever, and Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Barrett Hilllost his.
Will claims he did not shoot Hill. He has claimed as much since the day of his arrest. He could not have done it, he says, because his hands literally were tied behind his back. “I am COMPLETELY INNOCENT,” Will wrote on a website dedicated to securing his freedom, “and I am sure anyone who takes the time to look into my case will come to that same conclusion.” Perhaps not. Those convicting of killing law enforcement officers are even less likely than most of death row’s 288 residents to find sympathy. So it was bound to draw notice when U.S. District Judge Keith Ellisonrecently showed legal solidarity even as he denied Will’s latest appeal. Ellison said legal limitations – technicalities, if you will – precluded him from siding with Will. “Questions as to Will’s possible innocence do remain,” Ellison wrote in a March 19 order granting Will the right to appeal to a higher court. “Unfortunately, the court is powerless to address the merits of additional claims raised post-judgment, unsettling though they are.”
In a separate opinion two months earlier, issued after a hearing at which Will was allowed to introduce evidence, Ellison reiterated his frustration at not being able to help, and he went further. Although he also denied Will’s motion, the judge made clear that Will’s case should get a broader review. He called one of the original trial judge’s rulings an “error of grave proportion” and said that the presence of rows of uniformed law enforcement officers in the courtroom “would have likely justified post-trial relief had the issue risen on direct appeal.” “The questions raised during post-judgment factual development about Will’s actual innocence create disturbing uncertainties …,” Ellison wrote in a Jan. 17 memorandum. “On top of the considerable evidence supporting Will’s innocence and the important errors in the trial court, there must also be addressed the total absence of eyewitness testimony or strongly probative forensic evidence. With facts such as these, and only circumstantial evidence supporting Will’s conviction and death sentence, the court laments the strict limitations placed upon it.”
Will, 33, admits that he and Michael Rosario were burglarizing a car when Hill came across them. They ran, but Will was apprehended. He claimed that he was handcuffed when Rosario showed up and shot the deputy. Prosecutors contended that Will shot the deputy and admitted as much to a motorist he encountered during a later carjacking as he was trying to escape. Will’s lawyers argue that the motorist did not mention that in any of her early statements to police. Will’s lawyers also have argued that Rosario, the son of a Houston police officer who was not charged in the murder, has admitted killing Hill to at least five individuals. They also point to an absence of any forensic evidence connecting Will to the shooting, and to a bullet graze on the back of a jacket Will wore that morning – consistent with a shot being fired by Rosario toward Hill when the latter was close by and in custody. Hill’s weapon was not fired.
Ellison’s sympathetic language after reviewing the case was the first good news Will’s legal team has had in a long time. But even better news arrived on March 20 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that simple fairness, if not the Constitution, requires that the lawyers who handle the early appeals of a capital murder conviction do so competently.
In a 7-2 decision in Martinez v. Ryan, the high court ruled those convicted of a crime can in some instances challenge the effectiveness of those hired for so-called habeas corpus appeals at the state level. It is unclear, experts said, whether such a challenge is limited to the very narrow circumstances raised by that Arizona case, or whether it can be applied to all manner of misconduct that results in a defendant being unable to raise an issue in future appeals, such as missing a deadline or failing to file certain claims. “I think it is arguable that Martinez covers the latter scenario and will be argued by defense counsel that way, but the opinion as written is pretty restrictive,” said Brad Levenson, head of the State Office of Capital Writs, a public defender’s office for appeals in capital murder cases that was established in 2010 in part because of concern over the consistence of legal representation. “I think only time will tell how far Martinez can be interpreted.”
If the decision turns out the be less restrictive than the specifics of the Martinez case, the ruling could be significant. Critics of the decision, including dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia, raise fears that it will prolong death row appeals and be a burden to states. Defense lawyers who specialize in capital cases say it could be a great boon to those who have drawn the black bean of a lousy appeals lawyer. Will’s former state habeas lawyer, Leslie Ribnik, filed a 28-page legal brief on Will’s behalf, the first 20 pages of which were the same — word for word, typo for typo — as the one he filed in the case of Angel Maturino Resendiz, the notorious “railroad killer” whose serial murders led to his conviction and ultimate execution in 2006.
Ribnik admitted making mistakes in Resendiz’s appeal and missed deadlines, which resulted in the default of some claims. Ribnik later removed himself from the appellate lawyer list and acknowledged he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and likely was feeling the effects even as he was preparing Will’s appeal. Nevertheless, Ribnik has previously insisted he did an adequate job on Will’s appeal. “I will own up to my screw-ups — I’ll take my lumps,” Ribnik told the Austin American-Statesman in 2006. “As for Will, I think I did a good job on that one.”
Will’s later appeals lawyers disagreed, pointing out that Ribnik did not investigate the statements from individuals about Rosario’s alleged statements about the shooting, or investigate anything. “The damage was real,” Will’s lawyer, Samy Khalil, said of Ribnik. Ellison seemed inclined to agree. If Will’s appeal is again placed before him, he may be able to do something. “It seems that Judge Ellison could hear the claim now,” Levenson said. “And from what I know, it could be a substantial claim.”
Glad I wasn’t in Lexington last night. Thousands of raucous fans swarmed streets near the University of Kentucky campus Saturday night, setting couches ablaze and overturning cars after the Wildcats beat rival Louisville in a Final Four matchup that had riveted the state. Many streets had been blocked off around Kentucky’s campus to make way for the crowds, but sirens blared and police began shutting down more streets as the blazes broke out. Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, said police made fewer than 10 arrests and that a few injuries have been reported. “Things have not gotten out of control,” she said in a telephone interview. By about 10 p.m. CDT — nearly three hours after the game had ended — crowds were dispersing, Straub added.
Twitter feeds reported police in riot gear moved in to disperse crowds as some people on the streets were overturning, vandalizing vehicles, and smashing glass bottles. Meanwhile upstate in Louisville disappointed fans at a pizzeria near the edge of campus were quiet after the loss, but swiftly moved outside and began chanting “C-A-R-D-S” while waving school banners and flags with about 100 others. A few hours before Saturday’s tipoff, Kentucky and Louisville fans were getting ready in bars, homes and even wedding receptions. “We had no way of knowing that the big game would be the same day as the wedding,” Louisville fan said Sean Glenn as he stood on the steps of a church near the University of Louisville campus minutes after his cousin was wed.
Glenn, a Louisville fan, said there would be a television at the reception, and he fully expected to catch the game “here and there.” While the bride wore white and the bridesmaids lavender, Glenn chose his attire to show his Cardinal pride: a red shirt and a red tie. Seventy miles away, in the University of Kentucky’s home of Lexington, roads around the perimeter of campus were closed hours before the game. “We got here at 11 (a.m.),” Kentucky alumnus and fan Alex Fossom said from his table at the Shamrock Bar & Grille in Lexington. Fossom and his fellow Kentucky fans were playing cards to pass the time before the early evening tipoff.
For the record you saw the National Championship when Indiana played Kentucky in Atlanta. As I opined at the time, if the Hoosiers had beaten the Wildcats, they would be the NCAA Champions. Worded another way, Indiana was probably Kentucky’s only potential “stopper” in this years tournament. I hope the police in Lexington are ready for Monday night and just a heads up, I would not park my car anywhere near the U.K. campus.
A political scrap over a specialty license plate has put the spotlight on the Indiana Youth Group, for a long time an unnoticed organization at the center of a long-simmering controversy over sexual orientation. The group helps self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, ages 12-20. Advocates say it boosts the self-esteem of young people at their most vulnerable age. But conservative activists and politicians disagree with the efforts of the nonprofit, questioning the age-appropriateness of the material it uses.
The debate over issues regarding sexual orientation of the young and old has been a political tempest in Indiana for several years. Republican lawmakers will take their final steps in 2013 to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions — and that will be settled by popular vote in 2014. The Indiana Youth Group found itself in the spotlight after some conservatives protested its specialty license plate. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued the plate in December after the nonprofit filed a lawsuit. Less than three months later, state senators found a contractual miscue and convinced the BMV to revoke the plate. The issue likely is headed to the courts.
Lawmakers and groups such as Advance Indiana and the American Family Association of Indiana say they are most concerned because the group — a United Way agency that receives corporate support — serves pre-teens. IYG maintains that children need its services. And according to research through the American Psychological Association, core attractions emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence — and people have little or no choice in whether they are straight, gay or bisexual.
Young children can need the support of an organization like Indiana Youth Group offers, because it will “give kids the chance to know they are not alone,” said clinical psychologist Pamela June. A Ph.D., she specializes in child psychology, and has worked in middle and elementary schools at Indianapolis Public Schools and Pike Township Schools. “There are a lot of things we like to put blinders on, and this is one of those things,” she said. “Even at a younger age than middle school, kids have some kind of a beginning of awareness that they may be different than their same-gender peers. Usually, when they get a little older, they are able to articulate it.” Dorothy Vanore was in a lonely place when she decided to come out to her family and friends.
An eighth-grader at the time, she knew of no support group to help. At her private Catholic school, homosexuality was considered a sin. In her neighborhood, she was assaulted by kids who had been her friends. She later found acceptance through the gay-straight alliance at Pike High School, but she says she never felt truly at home until joining IYG. “When I walk in the door, people shout my name, and they run up to give me hugs,” said Vanore, now 20. – “It’s a very strong family setting.”
A converted home on Indianapolis’ Northside is headquarters for Indiana Youth Group, which serves about 760 adolescents. With homey hardwood floors, rainbow-colored curtains and comfy couches, youths say they feel comfortable, accepted and at home there. They can attend programs or just hang out. Advocates say adult monitors are always on site, and the facility is tobacco-, drug- and alcohol-free. The center offers about 20 support groups, including a writing group, book club, art and dance groups.
According to a 2007 Indiana University study, children who attend Indiana Youth Group and similar Hoosier organizations are better informed and had higher self esteem about being lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual. Also, fewer participants had used tobacco products in the past six months. But Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana said the evidence against IYG is all on its website — where calendars list a drag show, and other groups such as “Coming Out” and “Guys who like Guys,” and “Girls who like Girls.” He also disagrees with the center’s decision to offer HIV and STD testing, and to make condoms available.
He is especially troubled by a monthly program social workers from the Damien Center teach, called “Condoms are Cool and Dental Dams are Dandy.” Clark said such discussions are inappropriate for children as young as 12 and should be concerning for all Hoosiers. “The titles are enough to worry me. I can’t imagine what they actually teach.” It’s no different than a school sex education class, IYG officials say. June, the clinical psychologist, pointed out middle and high schools offer sex education classes. “In middle school, they talk about sexually transmitted diseased and prevention,” she said. “Of course, abstinence is the best way, but there are other ways.”
IYG program manager Christie Clayton said support groups can help youths through simple matters, like relationship advice, to complicated issues, such as coming out to family, friends or college roommates. The drag show, she said, is theatrical. And support groups, she continued, are age-appropriate — with explicit discussions left to the older youth. “If we are talking about things of a sexual nature that involve mature content, then we use discretion,” she said. Executive Director Mary Byrne said younger children have separate workshops — such as a tweens group — and points out only 14 percent of the members are younger than 16. While there are no strict rules about who can attend support groups with more mature content, she said younger members are steered toward more appropriate support groups.
The Republican and Democratic parties have sold or auctioned off low number license plates for decades. (DMNEWSI created image)
Staff and volunteers teach the support groups. They’re screened for educational and life experience, as well as an ability to reach young people. Discussions are geared toward health and safety, Byrne said. According to the CDC, 43 percent of teenage girls and 42 percent of teenage boys surveyed from 2006-10 had sexual intercourse. “We don’t preach abstinence,” she said, “but we definitely support that until a young person is mature enough to handle it.” While it’s a cause for concern to conservative activists, advocates defend the decision to provide help to IYG’s youngest members.
Volunteer Anita Saunders leads the coming out support group, and she said middle school is an especially tough time for the youths. She works for PassWord community mentoring, and is a former college psychology professor. “They are confused,” she said, “They know they are gay, but they just don’t know what they should do. It’s a tough time, because middle school is already treacherous. “Most of society is telling them the way they feel is wrong. Indiana Youth Group can tell them those feelings are fine.”
Vanore, now on the center’s student council, can relate. She said she knew she was a lesbian when she was 12. Raised to believe that was a sin, she struggled with self-loathing for years. She came out when she was 14, an eight-grader. “I just could not ignore the feelings I was having,” Vanore said. “Looking back, while I was watching Disney movies, I was imagining sweeping the princess off her feet.” She wishes she had found the Indiana Youth Group earlier; it would have made her internal struggles easier to resolve. “It’s a great way for us to have a place where we can talk and get advice on things like coming out to our parents, or dealing with dating a girl,” she said. “The stories we hear from others . . . I know girls who have been thrown out of homes, attacked, seriously hurt because of something they can’t control. But they can come here and share that with us and feel safe.”
With a $300,000 annual budget, the nonprofit relies upon a variety of funding sources. It is a United Way agency, and has received grants or sponsorships from companies such as Eli Lilly and Co., Dow Agro Sciences and Fifth Third Bank. Janice Chavers, Lilly’s director of human resources and diversity communications, said the company is committed to supporting diversity. “We are aligned with the group’s mission to provide a safe place for LGBT youth to go for resources and other support,” she said. “Our employee resource group, PRIDE, also has helped the organization with activities.”
Ellen Annala, president and chief executive of United Way of Central Indiana, said the youth group went through an intense screening process before being accepted as a United Way agency in 2008, including a review of its leadership model, financial books and services. It will undergo a similar review next year for its renewal. “They are a good agency,” she said, “and I’m sorry they are under attack.” Republicans unsuccessfully tried to muster through legislation in the closing weeks and days of the Indiana General Assembly’s session that would have rescinded the IYG license plate. They ultimately formed a summer study committee to examine how specialty plates are distributed. It’s likely groups will need legislation in the future, rather than administrative action through the BMV.
Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, will support legislation that limits who can have specialty license plates — eliminating organizations considered to be far to the left or to the right. “When you are talking about the state of Indiana giving its stamp of approval to a group that encourages sexual behavior, risky behavior, to kids as young as 12 years old . . . I’m not about to offer state approval on something like that.” The BMV rescinded the group’s license plates March 16, saying the nonprofit violated its contract by offering plates with low-digit numbers in exchange for contributions.
Byrne said her group’s plates were given as thank-you gifts, and no fees were charged. IYG was given no chance to present its side of the issue to the BMV before its plates were yanked. IYG, she said, needs the revenue stream. Organizations collect $25 for every $40 plate sold. IYG had sold 669 specialty plates so far. Byrne said she won’t be bullied into losing the license plate. “Bullies are people that try to push other people around, and take advantage of people who are not as powerful. And that is exactly what we feel is happening with the state legislature.” Conservative lawmakers and activist groups will continue to fight any re-issue of the plate. Clark says he’s not trying to shut Indiana Youth Group down; he just thinks a state-issued license plate appears to be an endorsement. “It’s their right to exist,” Clark said, “I just don’t think the state should sanction them.”
There are a number of problems with the situation in Indiana. First, both the Republican and Democratic parties have sold or auctioned off low number license plates for decades. You make a sizable donation to the party of your choice, get a letter from the political party county chairman to take to the BMV that “authorizes” your low number plate. On this issue alone, the state legislature attempts to take away the IYG plate stink of hypocrisy. Micah Clark raises a somewhat valid point. He does not think the State of Indiana should sanction the IYG by allowing the plate. If we accept this point, then any plate that supports a political position should be rescinded. Right?
The Indianapolis Star contributed this report.
Something has weighed on my mind for the past couple of weeks and I have struggled to put it into words without coming off as some kind of hypocrite or know it all both of which I strive not to be. I strive to be independent in thought. It’s this very centerpiece of journalism that lends credibility to anything I write, report or opine on. Yes, I have bias as we all do. There are things I feel strongly about and somethings I take less interest in but I try to weigh what I actually know against what I think I know…an important lesson for all of us.
The one thing I love about the blogs is that they are free from corporate influence OR they are tied to corporate influence but citizen journalism is, quite possibly, the freest speech on the planet. I have worked in the broadcast industry for more than 30 years. I have worked as the managing editor of newsrooms, a reporter, anchor, talk show host and a myriad of other jobs in between but in every situation, I was working for someone else. There is not a news entity in the United States that is 100% free from corporate influence.
These influences may or may not be obvious. There is a general assumption that the FOX News network is slanted to the right while NBC is slanted to the left. The point is that all of the American media entities have a powerful and far reaching influence on how we think. I am not suggesting that people stop watching the networks or reading newspapers but it’s important to realize that there is a slant, sometimes noticeable and sometimes a bit more subtle.
In Florida, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman shot and killed an unarmed teenager. The teenager happened to be black. Immediately, cries of racism went up from those with a cause and what about the other side…cries of reverse racism. Lost in the initial coverage of this tragedy were the issues that really matter. What are we doing shooting each other? Someone suggested that I perhaps was insensitive to the issue of race suggesting I would be more vocal if it had been a gay hate crime. I am sensitive to issues of race and hate crimes but just because Al Sharpton cries race does not make it so. And just because Ann Coulter says it’s not race does not make it so. As it stands right now…only one person knows for sure whether he is a racist or not and that is the shooter, George Zimmerman. Why can’t we allow the law to chart a course and investigate without demanding that this come out the way we want it to?
The answer here is simple. We live in a society built on debate and where there are at least two, normally contentious, sides to any issue. General George Patton said it best, “Americans love war, we love the sting of battle.” Patton went on to suggest we like those who succeed and loathe those who don’t. What bothers me is this. We are a society that takes our talking points from the networks and don’t do a lot of independent thinking. Would I be outraged if Trayvon Martin had been a white, gay teenager? Would Al Sharpton be in Sanford, Florida leading rallies for a white teenager, gay or straight. Would Ann Coulter be critical of the police had the shooter been black and the unarmed teen white?
Saying something is racist does not make it racist and far too often, we get caught up in the madness of the moment without a shred of independent thought. If those thousands of people rallying think this is a matter of racism…it must be. NOT! My point is this. This case is under review by the Department of Justice and law enforcement sources. If they determine it’s a hate crime, then so be it and lets proceed accordingly but in the meantime, why can’t we all look at this from a very human standpoint. An unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a man with a gun. This is a tragedy regardless of race, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of what kind of clothes he was wearing. It should not have happened. Not now, not yesterday, not tomorrow and not ever.
A classroom full of 10-year-old students is asked to solve a problem with children crossing the street on the way to school. The children come up with ideas that have been used successfully in other places: traffic calming devices, overpasses, fluorescent jackets and speed limits. All these ideas are conventional, exactly what the teacher wants to hear. Except for one. A student recommends that the school board sell the property and move the classroom online. This is not what the teacher was expecting.
This idea may not be practical, popular, or even possible, but when it’s ridiculed by the class it might be the last independent thought that the student dares to express — the death of another independent thinker. Independent thought is not popular — it is absolutely, pricelessly, rare. Nothing you read about in the papers or see on the television is independent. Whatever we take in from the popular media is regurgitated conventional knowledge. There is nothing independent about most of the world. This is a tragedy — independent thought is essential for progress. Conventional thinking moves us forward gradually at best (at worst it pushes us backwards). Independent thinking is required to achieve any substantial jump in performance.
Logically, when we think like everyone else is thinking, the best we can expect is to achieve what they’re already achieving. If our aim is to over-achieve, we need to avoid the same banal influences and think impossibly. We need to become independent from conventional wisdom. Fortunately, you don’t have to be particularly intelligent or well educated to think independently. Consider small children. Conventional wisdom says that shoes are for wearing and bananas are for eating. Independent thinking allows children try eating the shoes and wearing the bananas on their feet. Their lack of conventional wisdom and utter disregard for how others view their decisions allows children to experiment without anxiety. In this case they may be wrong, but in other cases they can be shockingly right.
Using these 5 strategies you can develop your independent thinking ability.
1. Disconnect from sources of conventional thinking
Instead of plugging into your TV, PC, or library for answers, think for yourself first. Without cutting yourself off from the world, you can increase your capacity for independent thought by limiting the conventional opinion you absorb. This means reducing the media you consume and the level of devotion you give to it. Independent thinkers aren’t necessarily contrarian, but they don’t agree with the status quo by default. They devise new criteria for perceiving the world rather than seeing everything through the screen of their computer.
2. Immerse yourself in experiences that conflict with your current perspective
Instead of substituting a new conventional thought for the old one, deliberately seek out experiences that challenge your views. These experiences may exist in foreign cultures, unusual subcultures, or between the pages of a book you disagree with. The point is not to adopt a new train of thought, but to disrupt the conventional railroad.
3. Watch the process from a distance
Leaving your normal life behind can give you the freedom to see issues from another perspective. Watching the world instead of eating it up gives you the peace of mind to think for yourself. Standing still from time to time gives you the opportunity to ridicule your own beliefs and explore new angles.
4. Randomize your sensory inputs
Instead of visiting the same places, eating the same foods, and talking to the same people, you can actively pursue new experiences. Many people cling to the familiar to simplify decisions and create a sense of security. If you truly want to think independently, you need to get outside your comfort zone.
5. Practice disbelief
Without becoming a cynic, you can develop the habit of instinctively distrusting thoughts that rely on conventional wisdom. Instead of assuming that these “truths” are self evident, suspend judgement until you’ve have confirmed that there is reality behind the logic. If all of this sounds too difficult, consider what can be gained from independent thought. Even microscopic steps towards thinking independently will increase your contribution to the world. You will see opportunities and solutions that others overlook. You will obtain a competitive advantage over less creative thinkers. Most importantly, your thoughts will be your own and not just recycled media.
Think independently and you create a world of limitless opportunity. But don’t take my word for it…find out for yourself. This is something I struggle with but try to accomplish everyday.
Atlanta, Georgia this morning.