1 Part Vigilante-ism
1 Part Racism
*The tragedy that was the murder of Trayvon Martin was avoidable. But in the society conservatives strive to create such incidents would occur more frequently. That’s because the elements that contributed to Martin’s confrontation with George Zimmerman and the subsequent shooting are all hallmarks of contemporary conservatism.
Conservatives think of vigilante-ism as something that illustrates the can-do attitude and ability of an individual or small community to take responsibility for itself. But it is more accurate to identify vigilante-ism as a remnant of a time in which communities were much more homogeneous and there was not a budget for a professional peace keeping force.
The standard Republican talking point of lower taxes necessarily means decreased budgets which can lead to fewer law enforcement officers. It would be nice, but naïve, to think that under strained budgets municipalities would not cut their police force. But in the New York metropolitan area police are in fact on the chopping block in some communities; New York City has already considered closing fire houses – another vital civil service.
Of course vigilante-ism is not automatically a problem. But the likelihood of problems developing greatly increases when you add in the second element: racism.
At its core racism is a way of identifying people who don’t belong to the correct group. Creating a group that is “the other” always happens when there is a effort to justify who will receive society’s resources and/or who will benefit from society’s laws. In the case of Martin and Zimmerman, at stake was who belongs in a certain neighborhood.
In 2012 very few people are openly racist. But conservatives do openly alienate groups in an attempt to control who will be part of and benefit from society. This is why Republicans in Arizona advocate being able to question anyone who appears to be an illegal immigrant. Certainly illegal immigration should be lessened but it is also telling that the conservative solution involves racial profiling.
Racism can exist without the loss of life. But death becomes more and more a possibility when we consider the final element: the ability of private citizens to easily purchase and wield firearms.
The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution was created and ratified under the guise of arming citizens in order to form militias in case the community need to be defended at a moment’s notice. This scenario is a distinctly 18th and 19th century phenomenon. In the early 21st century there is very little chance that private citizens would arm themselves with weaponry advanced enough to repel an invasion of a foreign army or fight a force of our federal government.
Acknowledging that the original intent of the 2nd Amendment is no longer applicable, supporters of private gun ownership will argue that they should be able to defend themselves against other individuals. Such an argument essentially legitimizes lethal force.
Generally speaking I can accept private gun ownership. But because such ownership implies that the state is OK with private citizens killing people (if only in specific circumstances) it is very important that ownership be tightly regulated. Those who have been documented as having attacked law enforcement personnel, as Zimmer has, would not be eligible to own a gun.
Vigilante-ism is not by definition a negative. Gun ownership alone is not a problem. Seeing physical differences in people is not automatically a crisis.
But when you combine these ingredients, and change seeing physical differences to using physical differences to assess who is worthy, then there is definitely a problem on the horizon. Neither conservatives nor their ideas are inherently negative. But adopting those ideas undoubtedly will create a reality that encourages negative actions.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.