Friday, March 23, 2012

Where is Stand Your Ground Leadership?

30 thousand people show up in Sanford, Florida. The BBC covers the rally. Morning Joe has serious, thoughtful, long discussions. One million people sign an on-line petition. After weeks of denial, avoidance, obfuscation, refusing to take any responsibility, and stonewalling, now a few anemic actions are taken in the State of Florida. (Full disclosure: my home since 1991.)

For those unfamiliar with the case here are the bare facts: (Timeline )

On the night of February 26, 2012, teenager Trayvon Martin was returning from the store with candy and ice tea in a cloistered neighborhood in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, a local self-appointed neighborhood watchman was cruising in his truck, armed with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. Moments later the kid was dead on the street and the police did not arrest Zimmerman who invoked Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground law, which condones self-defense use of lethal force if you believe your life is in danger. The kid’s crimes? He was black. He brought Skittles to a gun fight.

What happened to the killer?
Nothing. Nothing!

Zimmerman went home, still packing. The cops, police chief, city manager, city council, and every other official went home, still wrapped in the odd notion of justifiable homicide of a kid who just wanted some snacks while watching the super bowl. No public statements of outrage or even a little handwringing over the tragic events.
The family demanded justice and got indifference. If this were the 1950s, maybe that would have been the end of it. But this is the age of the internet and the 24/7 news cycle. And this is not the South of the 1950s where I grew up and such travesties went unexamined. You can’t keep your dirty little secrets any more.

So yesterday 30,000 people showed up to say ENOUGH! By now a few small tokens of action have been taken.

But where were the leaders?

Where were the designated leaders who should have been standing their ground for justice and the American values we hear so much about in this political season?
  • Governor Scott finally made a public statement and started an investigation.
  • Authors of the original legislation said it didn’t apply in this case and defended the odious law.
  • The city council passed a nonbinding (?) 3-2 resolution suggesting the police chief step down.
  • The city manager, sounding like a corporate spokesman after an environmental disaster, stonewalled and said “we’re looking at it.”
  • The police chief finally went on leave.
Zimmerman is still wandering around out there, still armed. He appointed himself to: decide what a crime is and interpret the law; to bring the individual down; be judge, jury, and executioner.

Where are those defenders of the Constitution searching for original intent? Did James Madison intend to unleash vigilantes to stand their ground? Oops, Zimmerman wasn’t standing – he was running after the kid who was fleeing for his life.

This blog is usually reflecting on strategic leadership and our connection to the U.S. founding fathers. What has this to do with them? Everything…

True leaders stand their ground.

Certainly George Washington stood his ground when he faced enormous criticism from both political factions over remaining neutral in the endless wars between England and France.

John Adams stood his ground and lost his second presidential bid when he refused to go to war with France and pushed for a new treaty.

James Madison, no military man, stood his ground when he took his horse rode out to face the British invasion and defied his popular critics in the unpopular War of 1813.

In fact the Constitution exists because Madison, Franklin, Washington, and Hamilton and a few others stood their ground, conspired against the weak government under the Articles of Confederation, called the Convention, fought the new plan through state ratifying assemblies, and then made the experiment in republican government work.

So far, the elected and appointed leaders in this disgusting situation have not stood their ground. They have all been missing in action. The grieving family and their emerging multitude of supporters will overcome. Justice will eventually be done…that’s the power of a democratic society…if the leaders don’t lead, the people, standing their ground, will.

Of all the quotes on leadership that would fit this occasion, I’ll let founding mother, Abigail Adams, who always stood her ground, have the last word.

"We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them." 
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1 comment:

Mace Horoff said...

Today's leaders will stand their ground only once they know it's popular. Under those circumstances the term "leader" is an oxymoron isn't it?

A very sad event, made even sadder by the delayed actions.