Politics: A Tragic Case In Which Blame was Misplaced

And, Mayoral Contest Tops Million-Dollar Mark.

The blame for Trayvon Martin‘s death lies not with one person but three, and none of them is named George Zimmerman.

First and foremost, the blame inescapably lies with Trayvon himself, and not because he made the fatal mistake of walking through an armed white man’s neighborhood at night with a hood over his head.

Rather, because he got himself suspended from school in the first place. If not for that, he likely would not have been anywhere near the Sanford neighborhood of his father’s fiance on the evening of Feb. 26, 2012; he would have been at home in Miami Gardens preparing for school the next day.

Therein lies the seed to the tragedy that claimed his young life and nearly cost the man accused of gunning him down in self-defense his freedom.

Let people say what they will in the aftermath of Saturday’s verdict – and much has already been said and will continue to be said – about the right to wear a hoodie without being construed to be a menacing threat, about the right to walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood without being accosted by a trigger-happy neighborhood watchman, about the right to use lethal force to defend oneself.

Let them talk about racial profiling, racial discrimination, racial anything.

Let them talk about anything and everything while avoiding the one subject which has gotten short shrift:

Here was a 17-year-old high school junior who was serving a five-day suspension from school at the time of his death.

That’s a subject I haven’t heard much talk about, and it’s certainly one that rates attention.

Much surrounding this tragedy and the resulting murder trial centered on other issues. Very little, however, was said about the avoidable circumstances that helped produce this tragedy:

Chiefly, that here was a kid who, for whatever reason, was not in school where he belonged. Where he would have been safer. Where he would have been gaining the tools that would equip him to go on later in life to achieve, to attain, to aspire.

NOT AN IMPOSSIBLE EXPECTATION

Empathy is a commodity that should be dispensed as if in rationed amounts.

Oh, there’s plenty to dole out. It’s not in any danger of depletion. But I find it best to bestow empathy only when appropriate and, when I do, to those who deserve it.

For instance, it’s hard to have empathy for a kid – any kid, for that matter – who gets suspended from school.

Makes no difference be he black, white, yellow, pink, purple, or green. It’s hard to have empathy for a kid who gets suspended from school.

Is it too much to expect of a typical American school student that he or she attend school diligently for a dozen years, focus on obtaining an education and earn that diploma, and avoid the kind of trouble that could get one suspended or expelled? I don’t believe so.

It’s not an impossible expectation. I was never suspended. Likewise, most American students manage to make it through twelve years of schooling suspension- and expulsion-free.

Struck down in the February of his final school year, Trayvon had already managed to rack up three suspensions in that school year alone.

News accounts say that the infraction that bought him his third was his being found in possession of a marijuana pipe and a baggie with traces of the drug. Previous suspensions were allegedly due to truancy and tardiness and spraying graffiti on lockers.

Whatever was his disciplinary record in his school years before that one, I am unaware, but that’s what it was in his final year.

Notwithstanding, Trayvon was said to have been a good pupil. One English teacher described him as an A and B student who “majored in cheerfulness.”

In the time since his death, we’ve heard talking heads incessantly yammer on about hoodies, Stand Your Ground, whose scream was that heard in a phone call, who was on top of the other, and more.

But the one question that was rarely if at all asked in all of this was why a kid would be out and about spending the weekend of a school suspension as if he were on a summer vacation?

SHOULD HAVE KEPT HIM HOME

The other two to blame for Trayvon’s death are his parents. That’s right. I said his parents.

In a society that so often repeats the mantra, “Discipline begins at home,” here was a case where discipline seems to have been woefully absent from the Martin home at a moment when it was needed most.

If it had been me who had been suspended from school – and I reckon this goes for most of us – I’ll bet my mother would have confined, consigned, and condemned me to my bedroom for the day.

You’re going to stay in your room for the day, young man, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, should have admonished him. Crack open a textbook. Catch up on your homework. Write “I will not get myself suspended from school” a thousand times. Something. Anything.

Had she kept him close at home, in his room, that day – following through on the punishment which the school administration of Dr. Michael Krop Senior High levied – Trayvon might be alive and well today.

But she didn’t follow through. She abrogated her role and responsibility as a parent. For that matter, both Trayvon’s parents abrogated their roles. His father, Tracy Martin, bears equal culpability.

Trayvon’s suspension should have been days of punishment, days for self-reflection and introspection. Not vacation days, or days for R & R, to knock off and go spend buying Skittles and Arizona tea from a convenience store hundreds of miles from home, during a get-away weekend at his father’s fiance’s home several counties north of his own Miami-Dade home.

It was a time to stay close to home, in his room, reflecting on what got him suspended from school, and determining to improve himself and do better.

School suspensions and expulsions should not be casually dispensed. Indeed, I think schools nowadays rely too heavily on these forms of punishment. When kids are put out of school, they are at risk of losing their way and falling into the throes of worse things than tardiness and graffiti-tagging.

And society does not benefit from kids being turned out of classrooms and onto the streets. In the end, it is better to keep a kid in school than to cast him out.

This, then, is the challenge society must demand school administrators accept: rather than resort to the easy – casting a disobedient kid out – endeavor to accomplish the difficult, of keeping a wayward one in and reforming him. When that happens, both he and society win.

ONE LESS CHILD IN A CASKET

He who opens a school door, observed Victor Hugo, closes a prison.

To that I would add that when a kid is in a classroom, that is one less child who has to worry – or for whom his parents have to worry – about winding up in a predicament leading to his being prematurely laid in a casket.

It is a lesson in the aftermath of Saturday’s verdict that is worth contemplating. One too late for Trayvon and his parents, but not too late for countless other troubled and at-risk students and their families who may be one school suspension or expulsion away from avoidable tragedies or consequences of their own.

JUDGE BITCH

“Way out of line,” Greta Van Susteren called it. “Incredible, ridiculous…inappropriate,” commented legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. “Obnoxious and pathetic…confrontational, argumentative,” added Mark Levin.

I don’t know where Zimmerman trial judge Debra Nelson got her law degree – whether from a Cracker Jack box or a box of Froot Loops – but her conduct on the bench proved to be just about the most disgraceful part of this trial, worse even than the state’s failed prosecution.

Whether it was her persistent, unprocedural questioning of the defendant over his attorneys’ objections, or walking out of the courtroom at one point as they were still addressing her, Nelson’s unprofessional behavior should merit her being brought up before a judicial review board and slapped with disciplinary sanctions.

At the least, she needs to be removed from the bench. How many other cases does this scold-in-a-robe preside over in the course of a year – cases that don’t attract anywhere near the massive media attention that the Zimmerman trial drew – in which she dispenses her twisted brand of justice, a brand that may now require closer observation?

At one point during the trial, attorneys brought out an exhibit dummy for demonstration purposes.

The trial’s real dummy, though, was the one presiding from the bench. Yank her off of it.

IT’S A MILLION-DOLLAR RACE NOW

The race to be the next mayor of Miami Beach, that is.

Campaign treasury reports for the second quarter of the year were posted by the city clerk’s office last Friday. The five men running for mayor have now, among themselves, raised a total of $1.02 million since the race kicked off in late 2012.

Half of that alone has come from the personal account of Philip Levine, the anti-establishment candidate who has dipped into his own checkbook and loaned his campaign a half-million dollars. Levine is bankrolling his run himself, choosing to eschew election law-permitted $500 contributions for a self-imposed $100 donation limit.

Levine, who loaned himself a hundred grand in the first quarter period, plowed another $410,000 into his campaign for the second quarter. He took in just slightly over $12,000 in contributions. To date, he has reported over $522,000 in campaign funds since throwing his hat into the ring May 5.

Which candidate of the five raised the most in public contributions in the last quarter? That would be Michael Gongora.

Gongora took in $80,000, bringing his year-to-date take to $206,000.

Jerry Libbin reports raising $46,000 in contributions in the April-through-June reporting period. He also loaned himself $50,000, for a total of $96,000 for the period. His to-date total is $142,000.

Showing unmistakably that he intends to be taken seriously with the other big boys in the race, Steve Berke pumped a $150,000 loan into his campaign, the largest lump-sum infusion of cash by any candidate thus far, larger even than any single one of Levine’s loans.

Not to be taken seriously, however, appears to be David Hundley, who reported a piddling $50 on his treasury form, all of it from his own pocket. That, when added to his first-quarter take, doesn’t scratch even $500.

Levine has burned through 90% of his funds thus far, while Gongora and Libbin have each spent about only 11% of their contributions.

Most of Levine’s expenditures have been on media buys and promotional events, including his May 5 kickoff – complete with free picnic food and drinks – at SoundScape Park.

One of the more eye-catching: a $400 payment for performers at a Brazilian Carnaval “Samba Sunday” campaign-affiliated event in June.

WHAT WE LEARNED: Of the five, Gongora has taken in the most public donations in both quarters, but Levine proves he can easily bankroll his campaign without depending on contributions.

STEINBERG’S STELLAR START

In the race to succeed Libbin in Group 1, Micky Steinberg has burst out of the starting gate big in this, her first filing.

In the race for just two months, Steinberg (reporting nearly $72,000) has already overtaken opponent Elsa Urquiza – who has been in the race for two years – in fund raising. Urquiza reports having raised $41,000 to date.

Dave Crystal took in $7,400 for the period, bringing his to-date total to $12,000.

Candidate Mohammed Islam didn’t report.

WHAT WE LEARNED: Steinberg’s numbers in so short a period are impressive. Can she now be on her way to being positioned as the one to beat in this race? She can no doubt use her support from Norman Braman to maximum self-promotional effect. Crystal will have to post better figures if he expects to remain competitive with the ladies.

GONZALEZ OUTRAISES EXPOSITO

If incumbent Jorge Exposito ever thought winning reelection would be a cinch, he might be rethinking that notion.

Challenger Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, in the race only two months, raised $15,000 – double Exposito’s $6,900 for the quarter.

He remains in the overall financial lead, though, reporting a total 2013 take of $26,000.

GRIECO LEADS; MATTI LAGS

The race to fill Gongora’s open Group 3 seat has become the most expensive of the three Commission seats up for grabs.

Attorney and South Pointe resident Michael Grieco has taken a commanding lead in this race’s fund raising. He reports taking in ten times what Sherry Roberts took in during the second quarter ($35,000 to her $3,500). He has now raised over $114,000 and is the only major candidate for a city office thus far not to dip into his pockets and loan his campaign money.

He also becomes the first Commission candidate – outside of the mayor’s race – to break into six-digit-figure territory.

Roberts has raked in a total of $25,000 thus far this year.

Joshua Dunkelman, who raised an impressive $35,000 in the first three months of the year, scored a paltry $915 in the second quarter, bringing his total take to nearly $36,000, placing him second behind Grieco.

 Mayor Matti Bower, in the race less than a month, chose to waive submitting a report for the quarter.

WHAT WE LEARNED: Grieco further opens up a lopsided – and perhaps insurmountable – money lead in this four-way race. Bower had better start raising money if she wants this seat, or else hope she can fall back on her name recognition and other merits – plus demonstrated ability to turn out the vote among her base – to carry her to the finish line. Grieco and his war chest are looking pretty formidable right now.

WHO’S SUPPORTING WHO

‘Tis the season to gift a candidate. Here are some who wrote checks to the City Hall hopefuls in the last quarter:

FOR GONGORA: Norman and Irma Braman, Miami Beach Arts Trust’s Harvey Burstein; philanthropist Michael Perlmutter; Medina Family Foundation’s Melissa Medina-Schnur; entertainment producer Joe Granda.

FOR LEVINE: Anthony Shriver and wife Alina; Shriver’s brother Mark and sister Maria; Ocean Drive magazine co-founder Jason Binn; producer/director Brett Ratner; Miami city commish Marc Sarnoff; banker Joy Malakoff; realtor H. Scott Huizenga.

FOR LIBBIN: advertising CEO Ric Roth; The Forge’s Shareef Malnick; professional speaker Michelle Villalobos; World Parrot Mission’s Steve and Judith Levinson.

FOR CRYSTAL: City corruption whistle-blower David Weston; 2011 Commission candidate Maria Meruelo; nightlife promoter Angel Febres; realtor Greg Hardcastle.

FOR STEINBERG: The Bramans; uber-lobbyist Ron Book; Golden Beach mayor Glenn Singer.

FOR GRIECO: Story nightclub partners David Grutman and Chris Paciello; Miami-Dade Family Learning Partnership’s Lisa Blair; attorney Frank Gaviria.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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